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Exploring the Charms of Claremont, California

           Snap Man/Flickr

Whether you’re planning a couple’s escape or a girls’ getaway, Claremont - a Southern California community in the San Gabriel Valley dubbed the “City of Trees”  - should be at the top of your list. Located less than an hour east of Los Angeles, and two hours north of San Diego, Claremont maintains a small-town character with a population of 35,000.  Along with the Claremont College, considered by many to be the “Ivy League of the West,” and a beautiful residential area, this city of tree-lined streets has an historic, vibrant downtown area, Claremont Village. 

From now until the end of the year, visitors have an additional enticement to visit Claremont. Discover Claremont, in cooperation with area hotels (Hotel Casa 425, Doubletree by Hilton Claremont, Knights Inn Claremont, Claremont Lodge, and Motel 6 Claremont), is offering a package that includes lodging, and a $100 Discover Claremont gift card accepted at most local restaurants and shops. This offer is only available to those guests who book directly through the hotels. 

 

Recently, I joined a small group of travel writers to explore the many sights, stores, refreshments, and activities available in Claremont. We had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of different overnight accommodations.  We spent our first night at Hotel Casa 425 (425 West First Street), a lovely boutique hotel, centrally located in the heart of the town square.  The hotel offers free parking across the street and a continental breakfast in the lounge.  The lounge has a full bar and appetizer menu available after 4:00 pm, which is when happy hour begins.  My drink of the evening was Sunset on the Beach, a marvelous cocktail made with rum, apricot brandy, mango puree, lemon and cranberry juices. The guest rooms are spacious and each room includes a small refrigerator and wireless Internet. Guests can relax in the beautiful courtyard with shaded seating, water fountains, and glass fire pits.  

 

We spent our second night at the Doubletree by Hilton Claremont, located on historic Route 66 (local address 555 West Foothill Boulevard). After being greeted with Doubletree’s delicious signature chocolate chip cookies, we found our rooms to be well appointed and very comfortable, with a refrigerator and wireless Internet.  Remember to bring your bathing suit and enjoy the beautiful pool area. Complimentary “full” breakfast is served in The Orchard restaurant and lounge, with a full bar, and is open from 6 am to 10:30 pm. California fusion lunch and dinner are served. Check out the PianoPiano Dueling Lounge for a lively night filled with entertaining humor and interactive sing-alongs.

 

Claremont has an abundance of culinary options.  If you’re looking for Thai food, Bua Thai Cuisine (450 West 1st St.) will please your palate.  Upon arrival, you are greeted by a serene Asian-style entryway, complete with an elephant statue, exotic flowers, and a smiling, friendly hostess.  For starters, we ordered delicious Thai spring rolls with shrimp, served with a delightfully intense sesame-soy-ginger sauce; and silver noodle salad, a combination of shrimp and chicken atop delicate glass noodles. We chose our entrées from the specialties menu: crispy duck, glazed with a honey orange sauce; and South Sea, a medley of seafood in a spicy, herbaceous sauce.

 

Satisfy your Italian food cravings at Tutti Mangia Italian Grill (102 Harvard Avenue). The traditional Italian Filone bread is served with an olive oil that is eminently flavorsome.  When we inquired about the source, general manager Richard Joos informed us it was Corto Olive Oil, produced in California. Our antipasti was a chef’s special, Rainbow Canyon Ranch Tomato Insalata, an artfully prepared platter of fresh heirloom tomatoes, arugula, ricotta, prosciutto, and shaved black truffles, drizzled with balsamic dressing. We enjoyed the zuppa del giorno (soup of the day), coriander tomato bisque, garnished with crumbles of smoked blue cheese. Our entrées for the evening were all deliziosi - halibut and curried risotto; tiger shrimp and scallop linguini in a creamy garlic sauce; and mafaldine, a wavy, ribbon-shaped pasta, served with Italian sausage, mushrooms, roasted garlic, Pecorino, sage, and truffle oil. Tutti Mangia has an extensive global and domestic wine list.  We selected a Siduri 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands, a deep ruby-colored wine with dark cherry and berry flavors and firm structure, typical of the grapes from this cooler northern California coastal appellation. 

 

If you want a hearty meal with a menu beyond the ordinary, check out Walter’s Restaurant (310 North Yale). Owners Nangy and Fahima Ghafarshad purchased the fifties burger restaurant in 1973 and introduced dishes from their native Afghanistan as well as creative global cuisine. Alongside crispy Afghan fries and Afghan burgers, the menu includes food with an Asian-Mexican twist - burritos and fajitas made with lamb.  Works from local artists adorn the walls of the restaurant.  

Some Crust Bakery is a baked-goods lover’s paradise - cheese danishes, bearclaws, muffins, cupcakes, pies, and cookies galore (119 Yale Avenue). 


For an unusual frozen treat, head to À la Minute Ice Cream in the Packing House (536 West 1st St.), where each batch of ice cream is frozen with liquid nitrogen, creating a creamier treat with fewer ice crystals.  Two of their flavors may sound incredible, but they are deliciously luscious: strawberry balsamic ice cream and butternut squash black garlic ice cream.

 

Brewski aficionados will appreciate not only the toasted French roll subs and specialty pizzas, but also the extensive selection of craft beers offered at Pizza n’ Such (202 Yale Avenue).  Can’t decide on which beer to taste?  Order a beer flight, four 5-ounce pours of your choice.  I ordered the regal Pomona Queen, a California amber lager with a balanced hop to malt flavor, from the nearby Upland handcrafted brewery, Last Name Brewing.

 

At the heart of Claremont Village is the Claremont Packing House.  Steeped in both agricultural and architectural history, the restored circa 1916 packing house has packed in a diverse group of retailers:  boutiques, art classes, outdoor specialties, entertainment, eateries, wine, and fine dining.  We had the opportunity to taste some fabulous wines and dine on some incredible food at Packing House Wine Merchants (540 West 1st St.).  In an environment of casual elegance, proprietor Sal Medina, a former educator, has combined his love for learning and teaching to create a trifecta for the senses – a wine shop (offering over 1400 different wines on premise or online), a premier wine tasting bar, and a gourmet dining experience.  A bar menu is available during wine tasting hours, with dinner served from Tuesday through Sunday.  Chef Noah Lutz is committed to using fresh, local ingredients in his epicurean cuisine.  The Tacos al Pastor are truly some of the best I’ve ever had.  Based on shawarma (seasoned meat cooked on a rotating spit) from the Lebanese influence in Central Mexico, adobo pork is mounded atop corn tortillas, and Chef Lutz adds a slaw of fresh cucumber and jicama to the traditional accompaniment of pineapple, onion, and cilantro.  The blend of flavors in the delicious Mac and Cheese is a decidedly “not your mother’s mac and cheese,” with four different kinds of cheeses (aged Irish cheddar, Swiss gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Italian fontina) freckled with Nueske's smoked bacon. I wanted to enjoy both white and red wines with this fabulous food, so I selected the "Big Six" from the wine tasting menu. This tasting consisted of Dr. Loosen Kabinett Reisling (Germany), with kabinett referring to the reserve quality and drier flavor; Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), a citrusy fruit forward wine with a crisp finish; Abundance Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), with the typicity of intense flavor predominant in this cooler Monterey coastal appellation; Solena Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), with black cherry notes and soft tannins; Valdez Zinfandel (Sonoma County), with refined berry fruit flavors; and Daou Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles), a personal family favorite with a full-bodied velvet texture and flavors of black current and plum.

 

The Cheese Cave (325 Yale Ave.) can only be described as a cheese enthusiast’s nirvana. Cheesemongers Marnie Clarke and Milan Dragojlovich greeted us with a tray of magnificent artisan cheeses to sample.  Bishop’s Peak is a California cow’s milk cheese, made in the style of a European Alpine cheese, and has a flavorful, tangy taste. Tomme Dolce, another wonderful California cheese, is made from goat’s milk, and Nancy’s Camembert, is a luscious blend of sheep and cow’s milk made in Hudson’s Bay, New York.  In addition to cheese, the family-owned Cheese Cave sells boutique wines, local craft beer, artisan salami, an assortment of sweets, an array of condiments, and small kitchen items. And I just had to become the owner of a couple of attractive cheese knives.

 

Enjoy tastings of distinctive olive oils, vinegars, wines, and spirits at Vom Fass (101 North Indian Hill Blvd.).  You choose your bottle from an assortment of sizes and the staff will fill it with your desired selection. I especially liked the Honey Balsamic Star and will definitely try the recipe for duck breast in honey glaze listed on the back of the product description card. A gift from Vom Fass would please your most discerning friend or family member. 

 

If music is your gig, head on over to the Folk Music Center and Museum (220 Yale Ave.), founded in 1955 by Charles and Dorothy Chase, currently owned by their grandson, folk, rock, and blues artist, and Grammy-winner Ben Harper. You will find a variety of instruments for sale, including many antique guitars and ukuleles. Along with the museum exhibits, the Folk Music Center repairs folk instruments, provides lessons for banjo, ukulele, guitar, bass, piano, and voice, and sponsors folk concerts, including the annual Claremont Folk Festival at Pomona College.

 

There is so much more to discover in this Southern California college town nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains – more restaurants, more boutiques, more pubs, and more museums.  There are art galleries, day spas, a wilderness park, a botanical garden, bicycle paths and trails, and other scenic outdoor activities available.  A tour of the city reveals diverse architectural styles:  19th-century Queen Anne Victorian, turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts, New England Colonial and Spanish Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and post-war California Ranch.  Now is the perfect time to visit Claremont and take advantage of the Discover Claremont gift card and hotel package.

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