by Wendy Irvine
Berkeley is famous around the globe for it’s ’60s hippie radicalism and the University of California, Berkeley campus. But for those in the know, a tony Berkeley neighborhood is home to the much beloved Grande Dame of yesteryear: the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa.
Awash in Old World splendor and reigning just 12 miles from San Francisco activities, the drive to the city is about 15 minutes total. With rush hour traffic, you might be in the car as long as 30 minutes, but with a wondrous view for companionship: the San Francisco skyline and bay.
So with the drive, why choose the Claremont? For starters, the 22 luxurious acres dotted with tennis courts (with lights), highly rated fine dining, sparkling pools and an active Kids’ Club is sheer pleasure to return to after a long day hoofing it through San Francisco.
Did I happen to mention the view? From the moment you pull into the parking lot, the necessary unloading of suitcases will cease and a good long stare will commence (remember to breathe). Yes, even the Claremont’s parking lot has a magnificent (and unparalleled) view of San Francisco, the bay and those two stunning bridges.
To add to the charm, Berkeley is brimming with outstanding dining (if you didn’t know this little fact, you’ll soon see), great activities for families, a bevy of beautiful and rambling parks and awesome shopping.
Additionally, Berkeley is considered the birthplace of California Cuisine; the Claremont’s two fine dining restaurants reflect the high standards of the “fresh and local” movement.
For history buffs, the Claremont has a rich and fascinating past including being the site of a gold prospector’s home where he soon lost the property (the house had burned in a fire) in a famous game of, yes, checkers. In 1915, the property became what we now know as the Claremont Hotel. Its most recent dramatic event was a terrifying firestorm that engulfed the Oakland Hills in 1991, killing 25 people, taking out a multitude of fine homes and coming just feet away from decimating the Claremont.
With decades-old rosebushes, impatiens of every hue and palms swaying with the California breeze, a visit to the Claremont is a restful retreat that will leave you with only one simple desire: to return again on your next visit to the Bay Area.
Our Editor Loves
- Unparalleled view of San Francisco
- Ultra-active kids' club
- Three large pools and hot tub
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Applause to the Claremont for having maintained its yesteryear splendor in the public areas of the resort while updating the 279 guest rooms into modern necessities. Sporting a blue-and-gold color palette, several room types are well-suited a family. Every room includes a sleeping area, desk, flat-panel TV, cable TV with pay movies and video game consoles, in-room safe, two telephones, Honor Bar, plush spa robes, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, and signature bathroom amenities.
The Classic guest room has a king and two doubles and beautiful views of the Berkeley hillside. Crave a stunning view of the San Francisco Bay and skyline? Then ask for a Distinctive room, which comes with one king or two double beds. The Spa Elite is a specially appointed room with extra pampering amenities and is situated very near the Spa Claremont. The bathrooms in the Spa Elite rooms are also beautifully renovated boasting a separate tub and shower.
But best of all the Studio Suite may very well be the top choice for a family thanks to the choice between a king or two double beds and a sofa sleeper. A spacious seating area generously welcomes parents and kids to kick back and enjoy the view of the San Francisco Bay.
On a recent trip to California, we stayed at the Fairmont Hotel - Claremont Club for 3 nights with our grandchildren. We were very much impressed and pleased with every staff member, with the activities for children and with the venerable old buildings that are a testament to the visionary drive of 19th century Californians and the resourceful imagination of 21st century Californians.
Because of our grandchildren's ages (3, 6,7), we were anxious about how we would keep them entertained and happy while their parents took a short trip. We did not need to worry; every Fairmont/Claremont person we dealt with were superlative: check-in, housekeeping staff, room service, concierge, pool personnel, all were uniformly friendly and helpful.
A special note of thanks should be given to the concierge staff: Brooke, Jeanne and Shannon, who did so much to make our stay wonderful. We informed them that we were celebrating the birthday of our grandson and that night, when we arrived back at the room, Shannon had left a sweet note and a plate of chocolate chip cookies for all three children. The next day, Brooke delivered birthday cupcakes to our room and joined in while we sang Happy Birthday. Jeanne provided insightful information on where to take our grandchildren for an excursion.
The heated pools were wonderful for the kids and there were plenty of fluffy towels to dry off with afterwards. The Friday night Kids Movie night was a great hit and the ladies who ran it were charming. They even led the kids in a dance party after the movie was finished!
The Fairmont-Claremont Club did much to make our stay there fun, relaxing and memorable and it will be our go-to place whenever we visit our family in the Bay Area.
After nearly 40 years of affiliation with the Claremont Club and Spa , Thru the various events we’ve hosted there and our 39 year loyalty of a pool and tennis club membership, our daughter choose the Claremont for a block of rooms for her wedding party, many out of town guests and her wedding nite. We can not express enough our frustrations and non professional experience we encountered
With management in the group sales dept when trying to reserve a block of rooms for our guests 11 months in advance. It was by far the most stressful part of the entire planning of our daughters wedding. We would have eliminated this hotel entirely if it wasn’t the brides dream.. It wasn’t until a month before the wedding date that we received a warm welcoming email from Amanda Soto, Sales & group Coordinator, at the Claremont. Amanda introduced herself as our primary contact to assist with our wedding group Her professionalism and eagerness to assist in any way possible was very apparent and like no other, She listened , took our concerns seriously & went out of her way to smooth a situation the best she could We feel strongly Amanda took a very understanding and caring approach and helped us in every way she could to see that our experience with the Claremont and our daughters wedding nite went as smoothly as possible. She also followed up with us a few days after the wedding to learn how everything went. Amanda Soto definitely left us all with a better feeling at the end
Claremont Kids Club
The Claremont Kids' Club, for kids 6 weeks to 10 years of age, is much more than just a little room hidden on the ground floor of a hotel. At the Claremont the action takes place in a sweet renovated home from yesteryear that sits directly on the Claremont property not far from the pools. The Club has a front yard, a nice-sized indoor space well divided for various-aged activities and an elaborate backyard with a sandbox, a basketball hoop and an impressive climbing structure that leave kids hanging around for hours. Free play is the game of the day in the Club and staff regularly read a story and bring out fresh board games and arts & crafts.
While beautifully set up for older children, the Kids' Club also has a toddler area, a childrens' bathroom and an infant room with 2 cribs.
Bonus: As a guest at the Claremont, you'll receive three hours of care in the Kids' Club for every night you visit! (If you have more then one child, the three hours are divided evenly: two kids from one family equals 1.5 hours of Kids' Club complimentary time.) Spa guests also receive the three complimentary hours for your one child in the Kids' Club Mondays through Thursdays.
Adventure Summer Camps
June through August, the Claremont gears up for its popular Adventure Summer Camp (kids 5 to 10) offering half- and full-day camps with a bevy of activities including ample pool time, wildly fun field trips (Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Zoo to name just two), arts and crafts and story time. The kids clearly have a blast and some are known to howl when it's time to say good night to new friendships.
Year-round, guests are encouraged to enroll their children in Sunshine Kids, an early childhood development program offered Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Little ones will be gently taught their alphabet, numbers, days of the week and colors. Daily story time, art projects and lots of free play are incorporated.
The Claremont offers three enticing and very kid-friendly pools with a community pool, a childrens' activity pool with a beach entrance, a lap pool and a generously sized whirlpool hot tub. The pools are flanked by an army of luxury chaise lounge chairs and the Bayview Cafe is just a step or two away for a fun snack.
The Claremont's signature activity is tennis. With 10 beautiful courts (six set up for night play) the Claremont tennis program has instruction (both private and group), teams, leagues and camps for every age group starting at age 4. Whether you have a young child or a teenager, you can fully expect that she or he will increase their skills and the love of the game by learning and playing on the Claremont courts.
Meritage at the Claremont
The Meritage dining experience begins with a panoramic view of sheer beauty; a wonderful spot to unwind and enjoy a remarkable meal with the gorgeous San Francisco Bay just off in the distance. The Meritage is all about Snow White tablecloths, tall pillars and beautiful greenery. But it's not only about the knockout view.
Bay Area chefs are renowned for being formidable players in the "fresh and local" movement that has swept the planet. Picking ripe tomatoes or grapes from the vine and rushing them to the kitchen and immediately to the table is the only way to eat produce as far as these good people are concerned.
And to answer the big question: would I take children into the Meritage? Absolutely for breakfast and brunch. I probably wouldn't be so quick to include a child at dinner, but the Meritage more then welcomes polite children with a kids' menu that even pickiest will appreciate.
Paragon Bar & Cafe
Whether you're sitting inside or out on the patio for the practically unbelievable San Francisco view (with heaters galore for the chilly days), this is a sublime spot for a truly enjoyable meal with your family. Trendy (in a good way), the feel of the Paragon is upper echelon "cool" without leaving anyone feeling excluded (this is Berkeley, after all). Every Friday and Saturday a jazz trio plays occasionally accompanied by a vocalist: a perfect accompaniment to the food, the drinks, the "feel," and the view. (Oh, that view.) Lunches starting at 11:30 a.m. include BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, grilled cheese for adults and steak tacos.
The Bayview Cafe is perfectly situated beside the Claremont pools and not far from the health club. A great spot to grab classic summertime fare such as hamburgers and fries, salads and sandwiches. Some days the Bayview pulls out all the stops and grills hamburgers and hotdogs poolside so that guests don't even have to leave the comfort of their chaise for a great snack.
Planning & Tips
The Claremont is located 20 minutes from the Oakland International Airport (30 minutes in traffic) and 35 minutes from the San Francisco International Airport (an hour and 10 minutes in traffic).
All about the Extras
On Wednesdays guests are greeted with a smile and a glass of wine provided by a local winery.
The daily resort fee of $24 includes the unique benefit of three hours of childcare for every night you book along with what you'd normally expect in a hotel resort fee: free Internet, fitness center use including the use of a multitude of fitness classes, access to the three pools, 24-hour room service and 24-hour security.
Private car and SUV service to and from the airport can be arranged through the concierge.
The Claremont has an elaborate kids' club on property and the concierge will provide childcare names and contact information upon request.
The Claremont's 25,000-square-foot fitness center rivals any hip health club you can name. Packed with rows of ellipticals, treadmills, bikes and machine and free weights; spacious rooms are also set aside for fitness classes galore. You'll be hard pressed to remember ever staying in a hotel with a fitness club this nice. The club shoulders the pool so a dip in the pool or a soak in the hot tub will be the perfect ending to a rigorous work out.
The Art of Smart Timing
It's a well-kept secret that Berkeley is absolutely lovely in the fall. The summer crowd is back in school and at the office and glorious weather reigns: you just can't beat it. However, the fall is also when you can find home games at Cal Berkeley. Now some guests are thrilled and visit Berkeley just to see a game. Other guests don't want to deal with crowds. Call in advance to check the football schedule. Summer is the Claremont's high season and they're understandably full from Thanksgiving to the beginning of January.
They say that Berkeley touts a "Mediterranean climate" which is a fancy term for dry summers and wet winters. However, even in the summer mornings can be a tad chilly so packing a sweater is vital. Winters can be downright cold along with rain, so pack socks, long sleeves and warm jackets. Snow isn't really an issue. Once or twice in several decades, Berkeley has seen a touch of snow, but it's gone by late morning.
Spring and fall bounce from being warm enough for shorts to chilly enough for a light jacket. So pack accordingly. Unfortunately the Berkeley region isn't the destination where you should "pack lightly" or you might find yourself needing either a sweater, or conversely, shorts. Bring a little bit of everything except in the winter when you'll reach for warm clothes and possibly an umbrella without a second thought.
For Mom and Dad
If you need a day now and then of pure relaxation, the 20,000-square-foot Spa Claremont awaits. Let's begin at the whirlpool. It's luxurious, huge and faces a whopper of a panoramic Bay view. Sitting nearby are two beautiful private tubs for those who want to relax solo. The spa decor, soft, serene and bordering on opulent, is paired with a delicious treatment menu brimming with hot stone, aromatherapy and deep tissue massages. The extras alone -- such as the deluge shower, the steam rooms and rain showers -- are pure pleasure and worth every moment of your time. Arrive to the spa early -- at least an hour before your actual treatment time and maybe even earlier -- for an absolutely magical spa experience.
Yes, you're reading correctly: each spa guest receives three hours of complimentary childcare for the kids in Kids' Club. (Monday through Thursday only.)