Our Weekend in Claremont, California, The City of Trees

claremont logoIt’s been quite a journey getting down the road of childhood and parenting to the point where my son was ready to go to college and was accepted both. He did great and was accepted into Pitzer College, part of the Claremont Colleges, in Claremont, California. Pitzer has a 13% acceptance rate, so it really is a testament to his efforts over the last few years that he made it.

I’ll write about Pitzer and our great move-in experience separately, though. This time I just want to talk about our lovely weekend in Claremont, a real hidden gem in northeast Los Angeles. In fact, it’s just a few minutes from Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, about 40mi to Newport Beach and a modest 28 miles to Disneyland.

As a former Angeleno, though, I can attest that 28 miles can be 28 minutes or four hours, depending on the oft-terrifying LA traffic. That’s why it’s great that Claremont is such a neat and self-contained city. On the periphery are all the usual box stores and chains (including a very nice Whole Foods 365 worth checking out that’s just outside city limits) but Claremont itself harkens back to what I consider Old California. A time of sprawling streets, modest bungalow homes and locally owned businesses that comprised a picturesque downtown.

Indeed, the town of Claremont has a wonderful early Californian history, being created by the Santa Fe railroad back in 1887. A train station and Victorian-style hotel weren’t enough to get Angelenos to buy, however, but the area was quickly adopted by Pomona College. By the early 1900’s, all the land around the college was orange and lemon groves. Not any more, though all the houses are covered by the canopy of almost 25,000 city-owned trees.

Even with the more modern development as LA has grown so big,  the city of Claremont has managed to retain the sleepy nostalgic feel to a remarkable degree, whether it’s on campus with the xeriscaped Pitzer campus or the sleepy suburban streets notably devoid of those ghastly McMansions. It’s a great city to bike around, for sure, and the downtown, the area they call Claremont Village? It’s oh, so darn cute!

We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Claremont, which was darn nice. The pool area set the mood immediately and also reminded me how much I miss my undoubtedly nostalgic memories of California life:

pool complex, doubletree hotel, claremont ca

Our travel party was myself, my son Gareth, 18, who moved into the dorms halfway through the weekend, and my daughter Ashley, 21, who is already a college student at Denver University in Colorado.

All of my kids enjoy cribbage so one afternoon it was no surprise that Ashley and I found ourselves sitting in the Doubletree atrium, enjoying the weather and a highly competitive game of cards:

cribbage at doubletree inn claremont ca

Since much of the weekend was about Pitzer and move-in, we had less time to explore than we wanted, but that’s okay, we still managed to find some of the best of the city.

For lunch we popped into the Last Drop Cafe, a terrific little hole in the wall with its bright chalkboard menu:

last drop cafe, claremont ca

I had a chicken empañada and a thai iced tea (love mixing cultures!), Gareth had a fantastic sandwich and Ashley had a beautiful salad chock full o’ veggies. We all agreed it was a winner, and with its many outdoor tables, if it hadn’t been almost 93F we’d have definitely been outside to enjoy the sidewalk scene too. They also serve “boba” drinks with tapioca pearls. I’m not a fan, but both of my kids consider themselves boba connoisseurs.

We then spent some time just walking around the approximately 4 block x 4 block Claremont Village area. It reminded me of Balboa Island, though without the insane property prices and Pacific Ocean just a few steps away. Lots of boutiques, a couple of great thrift shops (Gareth got a very nice pair of Adidas shoes to upgrade his college wardrobe), and a terrific record and music store called Rhino Records. Definitely a solid match with the vibe of a college town and I’m sure Gareth and his new pals will be browsing there with frequency.

One block enclosed a plaza area – Village Plaza – that was quite lovely too:

claremont village california plaza

We headed to Pitzer for some move in and orientation activities, then back to Claremont Village for dinner.

At night the lighting is different and it had cooled off, so it was much nicer to walk around. What surprised us was just how much live music there was on the streets. At least a half-dozen musicians, duets or trios playing in different spots, all quite talented. I wondered if they were secretly auditioning for some bigwig LA record producer, but whatever the story, it was delightful.

We tried to have dinner at the swanky and popular Union on Yale

union on yale, claremont village, ca

But it was too darn popular and we decided we didn’t want to wait almost an hour for a table. On a Friday night. Go figure!

Instead we headed over to yet another popular Yelp-recommended option: Pizza ‘n Such, just a block away:

pizza 'n stuff, claremont village ca

Yet another great choice, I had pizza bread – basically a pizza hoagie – and Gareth had a big piece of lasagna that he raved over. Straight ahead Italian, but it definitely hit the spot.

Afterwards we walked around a bit more, which gave us the chance to see both how peaceful the downtown Village area is and be surprised just how close it is to the edge of the Claremont Colleges area; just a quiet suburban block separates them!

downtown street, claremont village ca

Most of the remaining time over the weekend was consumed by Pitzer new family and dorm move-in activities, but I already can’t wait to head back to Claremont both to see my son (of course!) and to spend more time exploring Claremont, the City of Trees. It’s definitely worth a visit, even for Angelenos.

Disclosure: Visit Claremont helped with the cost of our trip, including covering the hotel expenses at the Doubletree Inn and our meals as we explored Claremont Village. Which was darn nice of them, really.

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