Photo: The Claremont


When I was in college, I took a summer class at U.C. Berkeley and spent three months eating $1 slices of pizza from Blondies and going to see punk shows at Gillman with my Berkeley friends (yeah, I’m old, and I think I’m cool). It was almost the end of the summer before I stumbled upon the Claremont Hotel. I took a wrong turn while looking for Pete’s Coffee one day and happened upon this immense, white clapboard structure that literally took my breath away. Built in 1915, the resort sits hidden in plain site, standing guard over the North Berkeley Hills and feeling much more like the Catskills than The East Bay.

Overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Oakland and Berkeley, it’s a luxurious resort that’s been updated just enough to keep it comfortably upscale without sacrificing any of its historic charm. This is the kind of place I imagine Presidents and visiting dignitaries once stayed. I don’t think my summer-at-Cal-self would ever have imagined staying there, but a cousin’s Bat Mitzvah brought me and my son for a visit in a very warm January.

Which brings me to the pools: There’s a 25-meter lap pool for serious swimmers, alongside a huge 25 meter “big” pool where the real swimming takes place. It’s as much as 11-feet in the deep end, rare for a hotel pool these days. I’m guessing that perhaps at one point in the hotel’s history there was a high dive, one that has long since gone the way of affordable insurance premiums.

The pools were were well-heated in winter, and there’s a cool circular entry that, while maybe meant for safety, my son loved playing in as if it were it’s own private kid pool. The actual kiddie pool has a fountain and water features and is the perfect splash zone for the floatie set–though better in the warmer months. There’s also an outdoor jet-stream whirlpool and plenty of chaises and to enjoy the view (so long as the fog hasn’t arrived for one of it’s long-term stays).

There are tennis courts along with a full fitness center/gym and spa. Local residents (i.e. my cousins)  can purchase memberships, participate in fitness classes and take swimming lessons. It’s a great deal for area families so you’re likely to see plenty of locals mixed with guests at the hotel. They’re nice enough, and give the place an old-school club feeling: exclusive, but welcoming and nothing like I would have imagined way back when. It’s a great family place and a rare, unspoiled find.

Check for AAA rates and other special offers at the hotel. In the winter months, rooms can be had for  as low as $210 per night.

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