Due east from Hollywood, at the edge of Los Angeles County, lies a town that a studio executive might have ordered up as a real-life Main Street USA movie set.
It might look like an Eastern seaboard village with blocks of bustling, locally owned shops. Or maybe a small Midwestern, railway town with a train depot within walking distance of trendy restaurants and hearty pubs. Or even a Southern community with its tree-lined streets of well-kept craftsman homes providing the ideal setting for a leisurely bicycle ride.
Beyond the beaches, but not quite to the mountains or desert. Beyond the master-planned suburbs, but not quite to sprawling bedroom communities. Beyond the Kellogg Hill interchange, but not quite the Inland Empire. It’s the kind of town that you fell in love with on a vacation to Maine – or was it Indiana? – but never thought you’d find again in Southern California.
“The City of Trees”
The eastern-most city in Los Angeles County and the gateway to the Inland Empire, Claremont is 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles along Interstate 10. It’s a destination quite unlike any other in Southern California: A hidden gem within the sprawling, urbanscape of the L.A. basin.
Claremont is known locally as The City of Trees, a legacy born more than 100 years ago with the founding of Pomona College amidst acres of foothills adorned with citrus ranches. In fact, it was only in 1889 that the town’s “shade tree committee” reported a gift of 250 trees, which were planted throughout the community shortly thereafter.
But the city is so much more than its seven nationally renowned colleges and 23,000 city-owned trees: It’s a true getaway from the everyday bustle of commuter Los Angeles, and a gateway to the mountains and deserts.
It begins with a walkable, tree-lined downtown. Claremont Village is adorned with more than 150 locally owned boutiques and galleries, restaurants, eateries and pubs with entertainment and music. The Claremont Depot, a California historical landmark, greets visitors at the south end of downtown, servicing the Amtrak and Metrolink trains that stop there daily.
Leaving the depot, pleasant strolls along Yale and Harvard Avenues and Claremont Village’s numbered streets await visitors, calling to mind a classic New England cape town or a mid-American downtown. The architectural features of Claremont’s downtown buildings reflect a city that came to rise in the early 1900s, with its classic bank and shop facades, and then grew with the rise of the automobile as seen in some of its more modern storefronts.
Across Indian Hill Blvd. are two unique shopping and arts centers – the modern Village Square Public Plaza, built in 2007, and the sharply retrofitted College Heights Lemon Packing House, a tribute to the city’s citrus roots that reopened in 2007.
The Public Plaza is surrounded by shops, restaurants and the boutique hotel Hotel Casa 425, and is home to the Laemmle’s 5 Claremont Theatre. A modern public art fountain meanders through the square, providing both soothing water sounds as well as space for outdoor picnicking and music.
The Packing House is one of four working packing houses that lined the railroad tracks during the city’s citrus heydays. In fact, Claremont citrus growers were among the first to organize a cooperative method for marketing their fruit, a coop which later became known as “Sunkist.” Art galleries, two night clubs, a wine bar and other dining choices now call the Packing House home.
Historic Route 66
While much of Claremont was built close to the train depot, Historic Route 66 runs along Foothill Blvd., 12 blocks to the north. The businesses and restaurants along this district include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Claremont and the popular Candlelight Pavilion dinner theater that is housed within the gymnasium of the Old School House, Claremont’s original 1911 school building that now is home to additional, unique retail shops and eateries.
Just up College Ave. from Route 66 is the famous Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, the largest botanic garden dedicated exclusively to California’s native plants. Encompassing 86 acres, the Garden displays about 2,000 taxa of California plants and includes those native to the California Floristic Province as a whole – from southern Oregon to Baja California. In addition to featuring a world-class botanical library and graduate-level education program, the Garden offers horticulture and community education programs to the public to encourage the use of California native plants in home landscapes.
The Claremont Colleges is a consortium of five undergraduate liberal arts colleges and two graduate institutions reminiscent of the Oxford-Cambridge model. The undergraduate colleges include Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Pomona College and Scripps College. The two graduate institutions include the Claremont Graduate University and the Keck Graduate Institute. Each has its own campus its own students and faculty, and its own distinctive mission. The seven independent institutions on adjoining campuses offer rigorous curricula, small classes, distinguished professors, and personalized instruction in a vibrant residential college community that provides intensive interaction between students and faculty. With 6,900 students and 3,600 faculty and staff, located on more than 560 acres of land, the consortium generates an endless variety of intellectual, cultural, and social activities.
Arts & Culture
Theater, orchestral and dance performances at The Claremont Colleges’ famed Garrison Theater provide a local window to the arts. Claremont museums include the Pomona College Museum of Art; The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, on the campus of the Webb Schools; the Folk Music Center, owned by musician Ben Harper’s family; and other galleries on the campuses and around town. Walks about the Village and college campuses will reveal dozens of pieces of world-class public art.
A Way of Life
To visit Claremont is to be welcomed into a town that embodies the phrase “community spirit.” Its annual Village Venture Arts & Crafts Faire each October welcomes more than 20,000 visitors to Claremont Village. Community-oriented events such as Friday Nights Live! (summer), the Claremont Farmers and Artisans Market (Sundays), and First Friday Art Walks reflect a true slice of Americana in Southern California.
At just 14 square miles Claremont is easily navigated on bicycle, and the city takes great pride in being a leader in providing bicycle-friendly initiatives for visitors. The League of American Bicyclists has acclaimed Claremont as a Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Community, noting Claremont’s funding of bike lanes, road diets (reducing the number of vehicle lanes), and intersection improvement. The Claremont Wilderness Park has an additional 10 miles of mountain bike trails and five miles of shared use pathways. It’s no wonder Claremont was selected as a host city for the 2011 AMGEN Tour of California.
And indeed, Claremont is still a city of trees: It has been a winner of the National Arbor Day Association’s Tree City USA award for more than 20 years running.
A Surprising Retreat
With its lush, European village-like setting, Claremont is an ideal destination for intimate, relaxing getaways. Couples will discover an idyllic, romantic setting as they stroll tree-lined streets adorned with charming shops, outdoor cafés and historic neighborhoods. And Claremont’s thriving community of spas, salons, yoga and pilates centers are ready to provide visitors with an array of personalized services and treatments to make their getaways complete.
Now you get the idea why many chose Claremont to live, to learn, to enjoy nature…and to relax.