I had never heard of Claremont before being asked to take a trip there. Now, I am obsessed. This cool little town on the border of LA County and Inland Empire (only 30 miles from DTLA) is often referred to as the “City of Trees” (25,000 city-owned trees) and they’re the first certified fair trade town in SoCal. Claremont encourages its merchants to support small producers locally and worldwide.
Claremont was created by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1887 when they made a new route between Chicago and Los Angeles. The land boom fizzled and a young Congregational college was offered land and Claremont became the home of Pomona College. As the college community grew, so did the spread of citrus ranches. By the early 1900s, all of the open land was orange and lemon groves. At one time there were four citrus packing houses, an ice house and a precooling plant. The beautiful ranch houses, barns and pumphouses still stand and are among the best examples of stone architecture in SoCal.
Claremont reminded me of a modern day pleasantville. People out and a bout, eating, drinking, shopping, and enjoying the downtown area with smiles on their faces. We dropped our stuff off at the Double Tree that was just a mile from downtown. Downtown is filled with day spas, shops, and restaurants that are mostly independently owned. (Plus, there is always parking…and it’s free)! I relaxed at the small Cielo Mio Spa, where I got pampered with a mud wrap and a manicure. The mud wrap was warm and left my skin so smooth. It was the prefect way to spend a Saturday before a night out. The night life includes Jazz, comedy, dueling pianos and plays at the Candlelight Pavilion.
Their real-life Main Street USA may remind you of an Eastern seaboard village with blocks of busy, locally owned shops. Or it could be a small Midwestern town with a train within walking distance of restaurants and pubs. Or even a Southern community with tree-lined streets, perfect for a bike ride. Claremont is beyond the beaches, but not quite to the mountains or desert. It’s a place I never expected to find in Southern California. Known for its seven nationally renowned colleges, Claremont is a hidden gem and an ideal destination for intimate, relaxing days and nights.
We were extremely lucky to try three unique restaurants in one night! John Solana, owner of The Back Abbey, Union on Yale, and Petiscos started out doing chimneys, which he did for 22 years. He was good at it and a hard worker, but found himself frustrated because the passion was lacking. With no experience in the restaurant world, but a love for food and flavors, he took a stressful risk and opened The Back Abbey. This restaurant seemed so off-the-wall at that time, but looking back it he says it was such a natural fit. He loves flavors, quality, and to create experiences for people through food. Food brings community, memories and opportunities. He explains, “It’s totally different when you are making food to make money, or making food to not be hungry, or making food to enjoy it and appreciate it and love it. It’s a whole new experience.”
The Back Abbey is your casual, neighborhood, gastropub. It seems everyone knows everyone here. Priding themselves on their huge craft beer selection and their straight forward, delicious menu, you can’t go wrong with whatever you chose. We sat at the communal table and watched as families ate of each others plates, young and old chatted during their dates; everyone leaving satisfied. We noshed on their fresh charcuterie and dove head first into the The Back Abbey burger, which is a must order, along with a Voortrust (beer that is sold exclusively at The Back Abbey and Union on Yale). I got The Man Salad, which I wish more restaurants would take note on. A salad with steak? Right up my alley.
We quickly walked the two blocks to our next destination, Union on Yale. This upscale, relaxed restaurant has indoor/outdoor seating with fire pits, a bocce court, and an extremely innovative kitchen. I was impressed how every detail was thought of. From the waiting area that looking like an airport to the decor that featured old suitcases to the menus that looked like records coming out of their sleeves, you could see the pride that was put into the eatery. The food here blew my mind. We started out with a few cocktails, and feasted on Crispy Skin Duck Breast with corn, black rice, duck cracklins, and tomato jam; The Union Pizza with tomato sauce, speck, burrata, arugula, and pine nuts; and Pan Roasted Garlic Chicken with creamy polenta and pancetta Brussels sprouts. Have you ever had chicken that melted in your mouth? Here, I had the best chicken to hit my lips!
Lastly, we rolled over to Petiscos, Solana’s one-of-a-kind taco stand. I wish I lived closer to this spot. I can only imagine how busy it gets during the summer. Walk up to the window and order gourmet, tasty selections of tacos like The Gringo with slow braised dry aged prime ground beef in a fried tortilla with Salvadorian crème, Romain lettuce, tomato, Montery Jack and sharp cheddar; The K-Town with marinated short rib with toasted sesame seeds, scallions, lightly fried shishito pepper, and shaved Fresno chilies; and The Halibut, which was my favorite. It was savory and lightly fried with Old Bay crème, Savoy cabbage, red onion, and Fresno chilies. They also have plates like Ceviche, Tamales, and Street Clams; Beef or Pork Tortas; and beer & wine. Besides the elavated tacos, the atmosphere can’t be beat. Touches like kegs made into seating, lunch boxes that hold napkins, and a DJ spinning vinyl (no apple computer here) makes this a unique spot that I would want to hit every Saturday.
Thank goodness there are a ton of out door activities because after our 3-in-1 last night, we needed it. Claremont is only 14 square miles and can easily be enjoyed by bicycle and offers Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community, awarded by the League of American Bicyclists. The Claremont Wilderness Park, which we hiked, has 10 miles of mountain bike trails and five miles of pathways (and amazing views of the quaint city). Claremont definitely has it all and is a perfect break from the Los Angeles lifestyle. I can’t wait to go back.
Claremont Chamber of Commerce, 205 Yale Ave., Claremont, CA 91711; 909.624.1681; email@example.com