Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel
Urban Retreat, $$
If, at some point at the turn of the 20th century, you had found yourself on the very good receiving end of the California Gold Rush, you might have built yourself a nice little English-style castle on a hilltop with a sweet view of San Francisco Bay. It would have been Tudor in style and imposing enough to impress visitors who made it through the gates. You probably would have added a swimming pool and a tennis court, since you have to put something on all this land — 22 acres in all.
But let's assume you were doing other things in the early 1900s. In which case, you missed the building's colorful history: how the joint burned down, was won in a checkers game, took a hit during the Earthquake of 1906 before opening as a hotel in 1915, and then — let's speed this story up and skip a century — was given a top-to-bottom renovation by Fairmont in 2015. Which brings us back to you and what the landmark estate has become: Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel in Berkeley, a striking and expansive resort twelve miles from San Francisco in the Oakland Hills.
Small it's not, with almost 300 rooms, a few restaurants, and 23,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a special office for alumni of the University of California at Berkeley, which is right down the road. Most impressive is Claremont's award-winning health club, which includes ten tennis courts and three swimming pools. Most charming is the Hillary Tenzing Room, a library-lounge just off the lobby filled with artifacts and artwork celebrating Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who were the first to climb Mt. Everest. Claremont's owner, Richard Blum, is also the founder of the American Himalayan Foundation. You can spot him in some of the photos. If this all sound like a lot more than even a grand hotel needs, you're right. Claremont Club & Spa is also a members' club, ensuring the resort is reliably frequented by locals.
At a Glance
The Vibe: A gleaming, all-white, castle-like city on a hill.
Standout Detail: It's a toss-up between the outdoor rooftop deck in the Tower Suite and the Hilary Tenzing Room. But since everyone has access to the latter, let's give it the edge. Also because, in addition to the Nepali pieces (teapots and tigers) lining the bookshelves and the photos that look like Ralph Lauren's dream ad campaigns, Sir Hilary's signed climbing axes are on display in a glass case.
This Place Is Perfect For: A fitness-minded escape close to San Francisco, and visitors to Berkeley.
Rooms: 276 guest rooms and suites in total, recently renovated in soothing shades of blues, purples, and greens with geometric-patterned textiles. Let's call the style executive elegant. Bay View Rooms and Suites have views of the San Francisco Bay. The hotel’s Tower Suite has an outdoor roof deck with amazing views. Bathrooms amenities are by Le Labo bathroom.
On Site: As mentioned, ample and flexible meeting space for business meetings as well as personal functions like weddings and parties. The Club was recently named Best Hotel Gym 2019 by Shape Magazine, and it's easy to see why: spacious cardio and weight rooms, 90 fitness classes per week, dedicated spin and Pilates and Kinesis studios, three heated pools, including a children's pool and a lap pool. They offer a master swim program if you're looking to rev up your laps. Of course they offer child care services for guests and members. The first three hours are free.
Food + Drink: Limewood, the main restaurant located right at the entrance, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and specializes in California cuisine. Don't miss the oysters, as the restaurant is involved in a terrific wild oyster project wherein shells get recycled back into sea beds. If you can, grab a table outside, as the views are terrific. I like the handsome lounge off the lobby for drinks. East Bay Provisions opened in February and serves an array of prepared foods — salads, sandwiches, baguettes, pastries, sodas, and wine, all sourced as locally as possible. Bayview is the seasonal eatery located by the pool.
What to Do Nearby
I spent a semester at UC Berkeley in college, a gorgeous campus that's great for a stroll. It even has a Botanical Garden open daily. Berkeley itself is a cute college town — Telegraph Avenue is the main drag, and you'll see traces of its hippie past everywhere. Cafe Milano and Caffe Strada are the perfect university cafes, while the movie-set-ready bookstores are Moe’s Books, Pegasus Books, and Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore. Of course, you can't leave Berkeley without having a meal at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, the restaurant that arguable invented modern American cuisine and farm-to-table dining. San Francisco, by the way, is right across the bay.
Keep exploring the Bay Area with our San Francisco guide.