In Claremont — the college town at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains where thousands of acres of citrus groves once thrived — the locals have taken lemons and made lemonade. The booming citrus industry began in this leafy hamlet in 1887 when the Santa Fe Railroad arrived, but as tract housing supplanted citrus ranches in the early 1970s, the town’s many packinghouses closed and were demolished. The College Heights Lemon Packing House, built in 1922 on the railroad tracks just west of Claremont Village, is the last one standing. Long used as a warehouse facility, the renovated structure opened to the public in April 2007 as a stunning mixed-use building with boutiques, restaurants and a contemporary art museum. The Packing House, along with the spanking-new Claremont Village extension known as Village Square, has made the neighborhood a destination for more than just students from the Claremont Colleges.
Claremont Museum of Art
Taking full advantage of the industrial design details of the Packing House, including corrugated metal walls, expansive skylights and a saw-toothed roof, the Claremont Museum of Art explores a contemporary aesthetic through both the permanent collection of local artists and rotating exhibitions. 536 W. 1st St., (909) 621-3200, www.claremontmuseum.org.
Nestled into the northwest corner of the Packing House is Three Forks Chop House, which brings high-minded Montana-style grilling to the Inland Empire. Prime aged meats, such as a “Tomahawk” rib-eye and Colorado lamb chops, are grilled in full view of diners over olivewood and charcoal. Also served: seafood and game. Smothered wild boar chops, anyone? 580 W. 1st St., (888) 93-FORKS, www.threeforkschops.com.
Where the Locals Go
Old-timers and freshmen alike gather at Some Crust Bakery (119 Yale Ave.,  621-9772, www.somecrust.com) to ponder philosophy and politics over huge, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and espresso. Locals have also embraced newcomer The Back Abbey (128 N. Oberlin Ave.,  625-2642, www.thebackabbey.com), a Belgian gastropub with a wide selection of imported beers on tap paired with hearty burgers and sausage sandwiches.
Situated on 86 acres, the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden showcases the state’s native plants. Depending on the season, you can glimpse wild lilacs, flowering manzanitas and all manner of butterflies. The California Garden Shop is open daily for “herban” essentials such as walking sticks and plant presses. 1500 N. College Ave., (909) 625-8767, www.rsabg.org.
Folk Music Center
The soul of Claremont Village may be the Folk Music Center, founded by the grandparents of musician Ben Harper and still family-owned. You can try your hand at playing any of the myriad instruments from cultures around the world, whether you fancy the banjo, sitar, djembe or clave. 220 Yale Ave., (909) 624-2928, www.folkmusiccenter.com.
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