Savor the Many Tastes of Claremont
by Susan Montgomery
Claremont is the perfect Southern California two- to three-day getaway. Located less than two hours from anywhere in San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles or Orange Counties and a short distance from the Ontario International Airport, this picturesque, tree-lined town is easily accessible and offers visitors everything they might want in a captivating getaway: outstanding, reasonably priced accommodations; a range of varied, excellent culinary options; unique boutique shopping; an aesthetic sense reflected in numerous art galleries, museums and striking murals all over the city; a beautiful botanical garden, and plenty of other outdoor hiking and biking opportunities.
With its seven prestigious Claremont Colleges (5 undergraduate and 2 graduate), Claremont also offers visitors the cultural stimulation and lively ambiance of a thriving college town. You can easily walk around the colleges’ one square mile and admire the lush landscaping and interesting architecture.
There are a variety of welcoming accommodations in Claremont, including the two exceptional hotels where we stayed during our recent two-day visit. We spent our first night at Casa 425, a stylish boutique hotel with modern, imaginatively decorated rooms and a vibrant lounge that offers handcrafted cocktails and a nightly happy hour. The lounge opens to a spacious patio where you can sip your drinks and relish the relaxing setting.
The second night we stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel where the recently updated rooms were comfortable and attractive. We particularly enjoyed the hotel’s breakfast, which included made-to-order omelets along with a buffet of other appealing breakfast items, such as the delicious apricot, peanut butter, monte cristo sandwich.
Both hotels (along with Motel 6 Claremont, Knights Inn Claremont and the Claremont Lodge) offer a Discover Claremont package through the end of the year. Along with your guest room, the package includes $100 in Discover Claremont gift cards that can be used at more than 140 restaurants, shops, day spas and entertainment venues. We had great fun applying our gift cards to a variety of wonderful meals. Discover Claremont gift cards are available through the Claremont Chamber of Commerce or they will be included with your purchased hotel package.
While there is so much to do in Claremont, our focus was its enticing cuisine. It’s not surprising that NBC Los Angeles and LA Weekly have declared Claremont a “food neighborhood” that is “worth the drive.” We started out by having a delightful lunch at Bua Thai. We began with fresh rolls that were crunchy and flavorful. We also shared a refreshing Silver Noodle Salad, rich and savory Crispy Duck, and a tasty South Sea Seafood Medley.
Later that evening we returned to Tutti Mangia Italian Grill, where we had had a fabulous lunch a year ago. It was just as fabulous a year later for dinner. The setting is pleasantly upscale, the service exemplary, and the dishes creative. Every dish was delicious, but highlights included a special Rainbow Canyon Ranch Tomato Salad with black truffles, prosciutto and ricotta; a tomato bisque with smoky blue cheese crumbles; a delectable Linguini Fini with large tiger shrimp, fresh sea scallops, caramelized red onions, tomatoes and garlic cream; and the rich and flavorful Mafaldine, a ribbon pasta dish with Italian sausage, mushrooms pecorino, sage and truffles, which was my favorite dish. We paired these savory dishes with a bold, earthy Siduri Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. The wine list at Tutti Mangia is extensive and the staff is helpful in making wine recommendations for every price range and palate.
Our first morning in Claremont, we had breakfast at Walter’s Restaurant, a well-known Claremont institution with historic and artistic charm. We learned that the owners bought Walter’s in 1957 when it was a popular hamburger place and have turned it into a wonderful fine dining restaurant with a varied cuisine that reflects touches of the owners’ native Afghanistan. We had delicious omelets for breakfast and particularly savored the Afghan fries. We would love to come back for lunch or dinner since the menu was so appealing.
After a warm day of walking around, I indulged myself with a delicious, old-fashioned ice cream soda from Bert & Rocky's Cream Company and later in the afternoon we tried Pizza n’ Such for a much welcomed beer and salad break, although the pizzas being delivered around us were also tempting. Next time we’ll return and try one of this popular restaurant’s made-from-scratch pizzas, such as the fresh pesto or BBQ chicken pizzas.
Our dining and drinking highlight of the day was Packing House Wines, where personable owner Sal Medina led us through various wine tastings. The Packing House is a unique combination of wine retail outlet, wine tasting room, and trendy restaurant. The setting is casual but stylish with a contagious vibe. We sat at a high table ready to taste some good wine and have fun—and we did both with gusto.
I chose to taste a flight of premium wines called the Big Six. Others at the table chose other flights such as all-red or all-white flights. Sal described the wines as he poured them, impressing us with his knowledge of each wine’s origin and background. My flight tastes ranged from a Dr. Loosen Kabinett Riesling from Germany, which was surprisingly refreshing and mellow, to a flavorful Solena Pinot Noir from the Williamette Valley. My favorite was the rich, fruity Daou Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles.
We paired our wines with a variety of dishes, including a beautifully presented charcuterie board and yummy soft tacos with spicy pork, jicama, onion and micro greens. And somehow two irresistible bowls of mac and cheese magically appeared on our table. Made with four different cheeses and topped with bacon, this dish was scrumptious and paired especially well with the richer wines. Of course, we couldn’t leave without purchasing some of the special wines we had tasted. This is a must-stop place for any wine lover visiting Claremont.
One of our favorite stops in Claremont was the Cheese Cave, which was launched by two sisters, Marnie and Lydia Clarke, in 2010. This tantalizing shop offers customers a wide selection of unique cheeses from all over the world. The staff of “cheesemongers” offers customers samples and great advice. Milan, a very helpful “monger,” chose a diverse sampling for us that included Bishop’s Peak from California; Tomme Dolce, a California goat cheese; and Nancy’s Camembert, a luscious blend of sheep’s and cow’s milk, from New York. These cheeses were new to us and so delicious. Needless to say, we purchased some of these cheeses for our next dinner party. (Along with our wine from the Packing House, what else do we need?)
Another not-to-be-missed stop is Vom Fass, a unique shop where you can taste a distinctive selection of vinegars, olive oils, whiskeys, wines, and apertifs. It’s fun to sample right out of the barrels. This is an ideal place to find that perfect, beautifully bottled or packaged gift.
Between our eating and drinking ventures, we also found lots to do until we could eat and drink again.
We enjoyed visiting the Folk Music Center & Museum owned by Grammy-winner Ben Harper’s family. Walls are covered with rare musical instruments and all kinds of unusual souvenirs and gift items are available for purchase. This is a place to wander and shop.
We also enjoyed just driving around Claremont, admiring its striking wall murals, its historical buildings, including the Claremont Post Office, and its charming tree-lined neighborhoods with varied architectural styles.
Claremont has appropriately been called “a hidden gem.” It is so much more than a suburb of Los Angeles. It is an idyllic destination for couples looking for a peaceful, romantic getaway, for families looking for lots of activities for all ages, or for traveling friends who just want to have fun together. Everytime we visit Claremont, we say “we’ll be back” and we always come back.
Photos taken by Todd Montgomery.