Sometimes you just need to get out of the city. Explore someplace new, someplace pretty, someplace where you neither work, nor live. A day get away to discover some tucked away little town. Santa Barbara up the coast, La Jolla down and Palm Springs in the desert all fit the bill – and you’ve been to each, several times. How about a pretty little college town, with shopping & eating, hiking & biking, art & more? Throw in the fact that it’s a mere hour out of town and there’s plenty of fun for kids, you’re probably already heading to the car. Destination: Claremont.claremontandcray_0077

It’s Like a New England College Town
…with some spectacular Spanish architecture, California craftsmen lined aves and only minutes from a desert garden and mountain skiing. So, kind of the best of everything. Claremont is home to 5 colleges (7, if you count the two grad schools) but the student population still only totals 5,000, so the town isn’t overrun with a party college atmosphere. Nope, the collegate atmosphere only extends to the good stuff – lots of coffee shops, bike lanes, trees and fair trade shops.

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Plenty O’ Budda
First thing to do when you get here is orient yourself, so head to the center of town. Yale Avenue runs right through the village part of town, so park (free parking everywhere!) and walk to explore. There are wine, cheese, bath shops and spas that speak to mom & dad, while the music stores, toy store (and sweet treat hubs) grab the kids. And it might just be the fact that it’s the first Fair Trade City in Southern California, but there are also more Tibetan and Buddha shops that anywhere in LA. Buddhamouse Emporium and The Himalayan Collection entrance the kids; they love examining the crystals and Buddha figures.

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Folk Music and Rhino Records
What college town would be complete without a music scene? First you stop and poke in Rhino Records for anything from the sixties on up, but the real draw here is the Folk Music Center. Musician Ben Harper’s family owns this shop that has rare and antique musical instruments from all over the world. And they are extremely friendly and kid-welcoming, letting kids touch, play and ask questions. You can lose half a day in this shop alone, especially if you have budding musicians in the family. (And if you do, plan on coming again on May 31 for the Folk Music Festival – which is a family friendly day filled with music.)

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Time to Eat
There are plenty of places to eat with kids, depending on your tastes. For a more elegant meal, stop in at Aruffo’s Italian Cuisine – they have great salads and entrees for grownups paired with a nice wine list and relaxing environment, but they also get kids. Warm bread arrives instantly, covered with cheese and accompanied by dipping marinara sauce. That keeps ‘em occupied while they wait for their meal off the kids menu that is followed up with a dish of ice cream. If burgers are more your speed, Eureka Burger makes great ones (and Lollipop Corn Dogs with cheese dipping sauce, that kids adore) and the 42nd Street Bagel Cafe serves the food all kids will eat (bread!), and is great for a picnic pickup–the scenic college campus lawns provide a perfect spot to eat. If bagels aren’t the picnic fare you dream of, while they make the kids dough to go, pop into the Cheese Cave just up the street – there you can get the makings of a superb meal on the grass. Hungry for something sweet? There are bakeries and chocolate shops to tempt you, but we recommend holding out for Bert & Rocky’s Cream Co. The servings are big, the prices are small and the flavors are numerous, original and delicious. (Try the drumstick. You won’t be sorry.)

Kid Friendly Museums
If it’s warm out and you want to duck indoors, there are two spots we recommend with the kids. First off, check out the Pomona College Museum of Art. It’s a good first stop on a stroll through the campuses to work off that ice cream. Or if you’re ready to move on from town, little paleontologists will dig the Alf Museum of Paleontology. It has the largest collection of fossil footprints in the western US, and it’s all been collected by high school kids. But really, if you’re here, you want to be heading outdoors…

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Gardens and Mountains and Park Play, Oh My!
So, you’re nestled in the foothills. Which means one thing – hiking! Sure, the kids will resist, at first, but you’ve got two secret weapons. One, the lure of ice cream after the hike. And two, your first stop is the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens. A fascinating spot for parents, who will enjoy the all California native plant landscape (over 22,000 varieties), it’s also a fantastic outing for kids. Here’s the key: don’t forget to pick up the Kids’ Guide, which doubles as a scavenger hunt. Kids have a blast searching for things as different as woodpeckers (fun to listen for), boojum trees (fun to say), and scat (fun to learn that it’s a fancy word for animal poop). Moving on from the Gardens, make your way to Mills Ave and the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park – an ambling hike up a mountain that quickly get you high enough for sweeping views of the valley below. Need an outdoor play break? The city is filled with cute parks and play areas – Higgenbotham Park and Memorial Park are both convenient and great stops for little ones.

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Keepin’ it Green
You can make this a good-for-the-universe day trip (or mini vacay) by bringing bikes on the metro – the metro comes right here from Union Station (the local station is a beautiful Spanish Colonial revival building, built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, for and Judy Garland fans) and the trip takes a mere 50 minutes. The town is eminently bikeable, and there are plenty of trails in the mountains if you’ve got hard core mountain bikers in the family. Jax Bicycle Center is a great bike shop in town, if you need a tune up, too.

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Did Someone Say Vacay?
If you want to spend the night, you can be at Mt. Baldy in less than half an hour in the winter, Raging Waters in the summer, and Ontario shopping outlets for back to school shopping. We love the DoubleTree here, with the staff that totally gets kids (you’re greeted with a warm cookie at check-in), and has an outdoor pool for starting and ending they day. Just sayin.

Claremont is located 30 miles east of LA, along the 10 or 210 freeways.

What’s your favorite hidden gem of a town in Southern California? We’d love to know!

-Meghan Rose

Photo credits: Meghan Rose and the Claremont City of Commerce.