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Spanish Charm and California History in Cozy Claremont

Claremont is a sleepy college town full of history, charm and great cuisine. – Photo by Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon 

 Claremont is only about 30 miles from Pasadena, but my recent trip to the sleepy college town transported me much further away, to a relaxing and beautiful place reminiscent of a mountain resort community with touches of Spain.

My getaway to Claremont began when a friend and I checked into a luxurious suite at Casa 425, a Spanish-styled boutique hotel in the heart of the town square. Replete with a red tiled roof, white stucco exterior, classic Spanish arches, and an interior, tree-lined plaza courtyard, the 28-room hotel is an alluring structure in the small town, located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The rooms at Casa 425 are no less grand. Our second-floor accommodations featured a large glass-wall entry way that overlooked the hotel’s lounge and courtyard. Inside the suite we found a huge soaking tube, separating the living room from the bathroom. Other room highlights included a comfy king bed, with down comforter and fine linens, large wall-mounted TV, separate shower, small refrigerator, coffee maker, and free wireless Internet.

Besides well-appointed rooms, the hotel also offers a complimentary European breakfast, and boasts Casa 425 Lounge & Bar. This signature hang-out has a full bar and serves savory small plates in an intimate setting, with a cozy indoor room and outdoor seating in the courtyard, surrounded by glass fire pits and heat lamps.

Across the street from the hotel is the Packing House (claremontpackinghouse.com), the largest historic building in the Claremont Village. With scores of restaurants, shops, and businesses located under its metal roof, it has become one of the hottest destinations in town.

The history of the Packing House began in the 1890s when Claremont was a major fruit-growing area. Around this time, local growers founded the state’s first agricultural cooperative and built the Packing House in 1922 to process fruit, pack it in boxes with distinctive commercial art labels and then ship it around the world. 

As local orchards disappeared, the Packing House eventually shut down in 1972 and stood empty until the city purchased the building and restored it in 2007.

Today, the Claremont Packing House is the new home of legendary Gus’s Barbecue (gussbbq.com). After decades in South Pasadena, the restaurant moved to the Packing House in Claremont in July 2018. The historic building is also a centerpiece of the community, with historic architecture mixing with fine dining, jazz concerts, stand-up comedy, hip boutiques, wine tastings, art classes, art walks and festivals.

After touring the Packing House, my friend and I strolled a few blocks through town to dinner at Viva Madrid (vivamadrid.com), an authentic Spanish restaurant teeming with tasty tapas in a colorful, home-styled, antique store-type setting.

Our meal began with Gamba al Ajillo, a favorite tapa in Spain, with shrimp cooked in garlic, white wine, parsley, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. Next we devoured espárragos con salmon, a delightful dish of asparagus wrapped with smoked salmon. Continuing down the extensive tapas list, we enjoyed croquetas de pesaco tapas, with crab, shrimp, tuna, onions, and bread crumbs; followed by calamares con chorizo, which is squid stuffed with chorizo in an onion, herb, and tomato sauce.

While eating we sipped Estrella de Galcia, a smooth, refreshing Spanish beer, and admired the restaurant’s Spanish-styled décor, with a large, old wooden front door, wooden chairs, a faux balcony, and walls lined with a bull’s head, swords, sculptures, mirrors and paintings. 

After dinner we walked back to the Packing House for a couple memorable scoops of hand crafted vanilla and salted caramel ice cream at À La Minute (alaminuteicecream.com). Known for extra creamy desserts, the parlor uses liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze ice cream, which reduces the size of the ice crystals and results in a much creamier ice cream. 

The next morning we concluded our getaway at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (rsabg.org). Home to the 10th largest herbarium in the U.S., the gardens house more than a million plant specimens, almost half of which are California plants.

Casa 425 is located at 425 W. First St., Claremont, CA 91711. For more information on staying at Casa 425, visit casa425.com or call (866) 450-0425. For more information on visiting Claremont, visit discoverclaremont.com.

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