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AOL CityGuide Clips

Last Updated on September 19, 2023

Over the course of my five-plus years (2001–2006) at AOL CityGuide (originally known as Digitalcity), I wrote hundreds of blurbs for events and venues across the country. The site went belly-up some time around 2008 (thanks in part to the coding team “fixing” out site search functionality, thereby rendering it practically useless) and not many of my clips can be found on The Wayback Machine. The following are a sampling of the few that I was able to salvage.

LA Surf Academy (Los Angeles)

Mary Setterholm holds many titles: Red Cross instructor and lifeguard, personal trainer, U.S. surf champion. But for the women who have learned to hang ten under Setterholm’s tutelage, the West L.A. native is a whole lot more. One former student describes her as “an angel of mercy, and a champion for women trying to take a chance with new sports and take charge of their health and well-being.” Surf Academy classes are held in Santa Monica, El Segundo, and Huntington Beach, depending on the season. Saturdays it’s wahines (women) only, but open group sessions and private lessons are available for men and women as young as 7 years old. The school provides wetsuits and boards, and class times are flexible. Wanna-be boarders have no excuse not to rip and shred the next time surf’s up. Contests, trips, clinics, and the Ohana Nalu (“family wave”) Surf Club offer further surf-community activities for those who just can’t get enough of waveriding.

Manoa Falls State Park (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Just a few minutes’ drive from the University of Hawaii, Manoa Falls lies hidden at the end of a .75-mile trail through lush vegetation reminiscent of a scene on Lost. Unlike at drier hiking sites, such as Diamond Head or Waimea Valley, Mana Falls gives visitors a glance at the wilder, wetter side of Oahu as they tramp through 20-foot stands of bamboo and spy nectar-loving birds by the side of a cascading stream. Ferns with eight-foot fronds are not uncommon, as are the brilliant orange-cupped flowers of the African tulip tree. After the 600-foot elevation gain, hikers are rewarded with a spectacular view of the 150-foot falls tumbling into a shallow pool. Although Manoa Falls is considered an easy hike, visitors should take precautions, owing to the many
opportunities to slip on wet rock or turn an ankle on a tree root. If you’re lucky, the parking attendant on duty will supply you with some much-needed insect repellant, as the little buggers run rampant. Although the falls look inviting, visitors are advised not to swim, owing to several rockfalls and bacteria In the water.

Mélisse (Santa Monica, California)

To the uninitiated, “French cuisine” conjures up thoughts of complicated sauces, rabbit-based dishes, and plates of escargot. La cuisine française, however, need not seem so foreign. At Mélisse, chef Josiah Citrin welcomes gourmands and newbies with fresh, inviting recipes that feel more akin to comfort food than unpronounceable potage from l’Hexagon. Mélisse (French for “lemon balm”) delights in natural herbs and delicate sauces rather than the over-produced plates more commonly associated with French cooking.

Traditional selections (rabbit, game hen) do surface on the ever-evolving menu, but equally as common are new varieties of ravioli (sweet pea, butternut squash) and unintimidating poultry (herb-roasted chicken) and meat (sauteed spare ribs, prime strip loin of beef). The Mélisse waitstaff is well-versed in service; expect exemplary help should you feel the need to ask for a wine pairing or a detailed description of a particular dish. For those with a yen for the Continental touch, an optional cheese course is offered. The prix-fixe menu allows the undecided to sample several courses of the chef’s selections.

Those wary of fine dining (and large checks) may find themselves persuaded to return by the restaurant’s relaxed atmosphere, dress code, and approachability of the waitstaff. Private rooms are available for large parties and special occasions. Check the website for information on chef-hosted events.

Old Creek Ranch (Ventura, California)

Ojai Valley’s historic winery has been in operation under various management since its establishment by the De La Riva family back in the late 1800s. Since then, the winery and the still-operating cattle ranch have changed hands several times and undergone some memorable moments, including a Prohibition-era raid by the FBI. Today John and Carmel Whitman run the business, producing the award-winning vintages that the vineyard has yielded since 1981. The winery’s staple cabernets and merlots are a product of Santa Maria Valley grapes and Napa imports, and chardonnay may soon be added to the list. When the winery is open, a tasting room affording spectacular valley views provides visitors with a scenic picnic location. The original winery still stands and serves as part of the label’s logo.

A view of the valley floor from a gondola on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
A view of the valley floor from a gondola on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (Palm Springs, California)

It’s been more than four decades since it first began transporting passengers up and down Mount San Jacinto and the world-famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is still one of the most dramatic vertical cable rises in the world — its rotating tramcars have no equal in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to the opening of the tramway in 1963, the only way to get to the top of majestic Mount San Jacinto, which overlooks the Coachella Valley, was to hike or take a mule train. Today, you simply relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery that passes before your eyes as the rotating cars make their smooth, 10-minute journey upward. The ride begins at Valley Station, surrounded by cacti and other native arid flora, then rises up through mountain canyons and chimneys until finally arriving at Mountain Station in an arctic-alpine forest with giant Ponderosa pines.

One thing to note: Temperatures at the starting point, which is 2,643 feet above sea level, can drop by as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the 8,516-foot summit. Even if you visit during the smoldering summer, bring a sweatshirt. At Mountain Station, guests can tour the many scenic viewpoints, enjoy a drink or a bite in one of the eateries, peruse the gift shop, and visit the Natural History Museum. If you want to learn more about this modern engineering marvel, don’t miss the 18-minute film “Building on a Dream.” Or, step outside the station and into glorious Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. Encompassing 14,000 acres, the park offers an array of summer and winter activities. During the summer, visitors can camp, go on nature walks, or hike 54 miles of trails. In winter, the Adventure Center rents out snowshoes, cross-country skis and snowtubes (weather permitting).

Tandoor-A-India (Playa del Rey, California)

PDR‘s only Indian restaurant has a small but loyal customer base comprised mostly of area residents and a smattering of lucky curry lovers who had the good fortune of getting lost taking a shortcut to LAX. Once you survive the parking — located almost on the restaurant’s roof — venture into the homey structure and settle in for an authentic meal. You can’t go wrong with any of the traditional Indian dishes — saag paneer (spinach and cheese), dahl (lentils), malai kofta (vegetable fritters in a creamy sauce), tandoori chicken — but make sure to request a specific spice level or your taste buds will be left at the mercy of the chef. Break out of your mango lassi rut and opt for the salty version of the yogurt drink, a surprisingly refreshing option for warm-weather days. Pass on the few unimpressive wines and opt for a Taj Mahal or Kingfisher, beers imported from India (although not served there). Weekday buffets cost under $10 and allow for sampling of several dishes. The back room is available for special occasions.

Exterior of Vikingsholm in Lake Tahoe
Vikingsholm one of the country’s best examples of traditional Scandinavian architecture, including a sod roof.

Vikingsholm Mansion (Lake Tahoe, California)

Leif Erikson never made it as far west as Tahoe, but the architecture of his forebears did, in the form of a magnificent Scandinavian summer home. Completed in 1929, Vikingsholm is the lakeside brainchild of Mrs. Laura Knight, who commissioned her Swedish architect nephew to design her dream home in a style that befitted the fjord-like scenery. The estate, considered one of America’s finest examples of Scandinavian architecture, was bequeathed to California in 1953 by then-owner Harvey West, a local philanthropist. Today, Vikingsholm and the surrounding lands, which include Eagle Falls, the only waterfall that flows directly into the lake, are a part of Emerald Bay State Park. During the summers, one of Mrs. Knight’s former guests still resides at Vikingsholm, acting as a tour guide (Memorial Day to Labor Day) for the many curious visitors who make the steep one-mile track down from Route 89 to the lake shore. Although entrance to the building is not permitted during the off-season, guests can still take in the eccentricities of the Nordic style, including an authentic sod roof, intricate doorway carvings, and hand-forged metal fixtures.

Waikiki Aquarium (Oahu, Hawaii)

Owing in part to its age (built in 1919, it’s the third oldest aquarium in the U.S.), the Waikiki aquarium doesn’t quite compare to its mainland counterparts, but for the admission, it’s a nice hour or so diversion. Grab a wand at the admission counter for a free audio tour to enhance your visit with additional info on the various marine life, which comes mainly from Hawaii and the tropical Pacific. A few sharks make appearances, but the Hawaiian monk seals — one of only two mammals native to the islands — are the stars of the show, being the largest of the animals on exhibit (notwithstanding the 600-plus-pound giant clam) and the focus of much of the research done by the University of Hawaii, the owner of the aquarium. Other highlights include leafy and weedy sea dragons, a relative of the seahorse and one of the most unusual critters you’ll ever lay eyes on; various species of jellies, including a blue-spotted mushroom-shaped blob that resembles a manga character; and reef fish that cover every spectrum of the rainbow.

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