BERKELEY - Sometimes a modern, big-city hotel just isn’t enough – you want that spectacular old-world hotel on a hill drenched in charm, promising something way out of the ordinary for your escape from every-day life. The Claremont Hotel, Club & Spa is one of those places.
You’ve seen this type of hotel before – maybe on the Travel Channel or in the pages of a major travel magazine when they do their lists of the world’s best hotels. These kinds of hotels share a certain sense of style and place, an elegance that is evident from your first turn into the parking lot. It’s the kind of place you pass by and remind yourself that this is one hotel you’d like to visit when time and finances permit.
The Claremont has held its commanding view of the San Francisco Bay since 1915 and in fact caught the attention of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who referred to it as “…one of the few hotels in the world with warmth, character and charm.” The hotel, in fact, looks almost like a castle on a hill, a stately manor that seems more European in flavor and completely dominating the surrounding real estate. Walk into the luxurious high-ceiling lobby past the high-end retail shops and you discover a quiet sophistication that will be the hallmark of your unforgettable getaway.
The hotel is tucked away on a 22-acre parcel of prime view property just minutes from downtown Berkeley and the nearby University of California. Many of the rooms at the Claremont offer a panoramic view of the bay and downtown San Francisco. There’s no mistaking where you are, yet you’re seemingly far away from the bustle of the big city. The hotel’s gardens and well manicured grounds feel more like a country estate that a big-city hotel.
We arrived at our room on the fourth floor to discover a spacious unit with plenty of room for two queen beds, a desk area, an entertainment area with a 37-inch flat-screen television and lots of open space in the middle of the room. An easy chair was positioned for television viewing. The windows were smaller than modern designs, yet they allowed us to look directly across the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge. The room had a more than adequate bath area with a closed-in tub/shower, marble vanity and stylish wall designs. The verdict: A comfortable, spacious room but just a small part of the charm of staying at the Claremont.
A big attraction at the Claremont is the Club at the Claremont, where guests have exclusive access to recreational resources popular with the Bay area elite. The facilities include two 25-meter heated swimming pools, an Olympic-size lap pool, a children’s wading area, a jet-stream whirlpool hot tub and four saunas. There also is a 20,000-square-foot fitness area with the latest in state-of-the-art exercise equipment. Tennis courts are nearby and, whenever there is sunny weather, they are in constant use.
For those who visit a luxury hotel simply to be pampered, the Claremont offers Spa Claremont, named by Elle Magazine as one of the top 20 spas in the country. This is not your run-of-the-mill spa – you’ll find a 20,000-square-foot facility with 32 treatment rooms including separate facilities for men and women.
We did not sample the formal dining at the Claremont – although the Meritage is reputed to offer scrumptious California cuisine expertly prepared by Chef Josh Thomsen – but we did stop by the Paragon Bar & Café for some light sandwiches and drinks. This restaurant seems to be quite a popular place for Bay area singles and couples to mingle while they enjoy spectacular views of the bay.
The Claremont is well-situated for you to drive into San Francisco, or perhaps take advantage of the BART train that will take you across the bay to where you can use trolley cars and cabs to get around downtown. But you might also consider spending a little time right in Berkeley, a city you’ll likely remember as the center of the “counter-culture” in the Sixties that, to this day, retains that same independent spirit.
Today Berkeley is quite a destination for the visitor interested in performing or visual or culinary arts. Addison Street, for example, boasts live theater and music most every night. Restaurants are plentiful, many focusing on food that is fresh, local and organic. Berkeley also offers hiking and biking trails along the bay as well as several regional parks.
History buffs will find that Berkeley features dozens of historic monuments and architectural treasures, many found on the University of California campus which is definitely worth a stroll while you’re in the area. Free campus tours are held daily, seven days a week and the 90-minute walking tours offer a great insight into campus and student life at Cal.
UC Berkeley has one of the finest botanical gardens in the country where you will find 13,000 species grouped according to regions of the world. The UC Botanical Garden also has many plants native to California. Be sure and bring a lunch that you can enjoy at one of the picnic tables available in the gardens
First-time visitors to Berkeley will be interested to know there are several other tours available, including a number of walking tours that allow you to get a little exercise and, at the same time, learn about this fascinating city. For example, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association has published a booklet entitled “41 Walking Tours of Berkeley” featuring tours through specific neighborhoods, and at certain times of the year the association sponsors guided walking tours. The Berkeley Historical Society also offers walking tours throughout Berkeley in the spring and fall.
The beer-drinkers in your group will no doubt want to visit the Pyramid Alehouse, home of the award-winning Pyramid Ales and Lagers, and Thomas Kemper Soda. Tours are 45 minutes long and explain the brewing process, the history of Pyramid Breweries, and offer visitors samples of these popular beverages.
Another favorite attraction in the area is the USS Hornet Museum in Alemeda where you can explore an authentically restored aircraft carrier. Visitors can tour the ship from top to bottom and explore every nook and cranny. A national Historical Landmark, the USS Hornet participated in World War II and the Apollo 11 moon mission. Onboard you’ll find aircraft exhibits as well as a comprehensive display of items from the Apollo program.
Of course, many visitors to the Claremont are quite content to stay on-site and soak up all the luxury during their entire stay. And, with a hotel and grounds designed to overwhelm the senses, who can blame them?