A Study of College Towns
There’s may places where you say, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Well, Claremont inspires a twist on that saying. It’s a nice place to visit, and it would be a nicer place to live, especially if you are a college student.
It’s easy to see why this small town is often called the quintessential college town. There are, after all, seven colleges within its boundaries, and it’s clear the town’s commerce district, called “the village” — chock full of coffeehouses, cafes, bars serving a plethora of craft brews, movie theatres, a comic book shop, and the obligatory Birkenstock store — is designed to be a mecca for college students.
The streets are also college-kid friendly, with bike lanes and streets lined with and plenty of gorgeous old-growth trees, providing shade as well as picturesque riding routes to classes. It’s obvious by the street names, like Yale and Vassar, the town trades on its reputation as a college town, and from the looks of neighborhoods around the city center, comprised of a sprawl of modest, float-roofed homes with multiple cars parked in the driveways and streets, the students pretty much own this place.
A Getaway that Gets an “A”
For a weekend retreat, Claremont offers a far-away from LA feeling, though it’s only 30 miles from the metropolis. It’s a perfect getaway to enjoy a spa day or shopping day, with several day spas and salons and adorable boutique shops featuring unique jewelry, home décor, art, and antiques.
Eco-conscious shoppers will appreciate that Claremont is the first Fair Trade Town in Southern California. This designation means its merchants support small producers locally and worldwide that adhere to environmental standards to protect the planet, safe working conditions, fair prices and no forced child labor.
While it’s summers can be unbearably hot, during cooler months, the local hiking, mountain biking, golf, theatre al fresco, and garden tours make for lovely outdoor activities. The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in fact is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants. In winter, Mt. Baldy Ski Resort is a best-kept secret for snow sports and playing in the snow.
Visiting with two young kids in the summer, it was a little challenging to find family activities, particularly since it was about 98 degrees in the shade, and outdoor options were limited. Luckily, the Doubletree by Hilton Claremont where we stayed featured a refreshing pool in a shady courtyard where we could take a dip. We also cooled our heels at the local ice cream shop, Bert & Rocky’s Cream Company, featuring dozens of different flavors of ice cream, sorbet and sherbets, and a very patient staff who didn’t seem to mind that the kids asked to taste 7 varieties before choosing their flavors.
There a handful of hotels in Claremont with a variety of price points for visitors of all budgets. If you shop accommodations for a good deal, you may be able to find hotels packages that include Discover Claremont gift cards, which are redeemable at over 140 participating merchants and businesses.
We loved the chic-yet-laid back Casa 425, which hosts a lively lounge and a large outdoor living room with fountains and firepits. While its size defines it as a small hotel, the spacious suites offered plenty of room to spread out, and a mid-room giant bathtub made me want to come back — sans kids — another time. Our corner room on the second floor had great views of the village, with two sets of French doors leading out to a standing-room-only balcony, where we could hang out at night and people watch.
The other hotel we visited, Doubletree by Hilton Claremont, is an older property but decently maintained. It’s a solid three-out-of-five-stars hotel, though the service strives to be five-star. Everywhere you go, eager-to-please service members hold doors for you, greet you, and ask if you need anything, The hotel also feature touches like extra push pool towels, and a daily reception with complimentary wine, cheese, grilled vegetables, and even a shrimp salad.
You won’t be hard pressed to find dining options for every taste. For lunch we found a cute 50’s-style diner, The Village Grille, that makes their own spaghetti and meat sauce. The décor included glass cases of vintage items like a faded Frosted Flakes and Cracker Jack’s boxes, but the service was LA-fast, without the LA attitude, with a little college-town PC thrown in, as in straws were available by request only, and they were paper.
For dinner, we ordered take out from Pizza ‘N’ Such, which prides itself on its authentic New York style pizza, and they nailed it. It was hard to choose where to go for dessert, with so many treats places, but namely for the name, we went to I Like Pie Bake Shop where we had, you guessed it, scrumptious pies, individually-sized. Yum.
Claremont was definitely a town you could eat your way through, and then you could work off the calories walking or biking through the village, and you could feel comfortable making your way through the streets at any hour. It feels like a true community, where people say hello and smile when they pass you on the sidewalk. It’s amazing that it is under an hour’s drive mile away from LA, in good traffic, yet it feels a world away, or like a place from decades ago; kind of like when I was in college.