Pasadena, the glamorous city that spreads California sunshine to weather-weary television viewers every January during the Tournament of Roses Parade, enjoys a rich history dating back more than 125 years.
Incorporated in 1886, it is the second-oldest incorporated municipality in Los Angeles County, following only the city of LA itself. It’s history with the Tournament of Roses is almost as old as the city itself–the first parade was held in 1890.
Pasadena quickly gained acclaim as a stop on the famed Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railway, and the city became a popular winter vacation spot for Easterners fleeing the winter weather.
Today, Pasadena is home to several of LA’s leading museums, a major theatre, a thriving restaurant scene, and a cozy, walkable historic center, making it the ideal weekend getaway for the cultural tourist.
Getting started? Here are some of Travel Glitter’s favorite things to do in Pasadena.
See & Do
The Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Museum lovers will need a full day–and then some–to take in all that the Huntington Library Art Collection & Botanical Garden has to offer. Located on the 207-acre estate of the late Henry Huntington, the facility, which recently underwent a $20 million renovation, is one of the pre-eminent cultural facilities in the world.
It is home to some 1,200 objects of European art from the 15th to the early 20th century, including the famed “Pinkie” and “Blue Boy” paintings. American artworks can be found in its Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, which features art from the colonial period through the mid- 20th century. The facility’s library features celebrated works from American and British literature, including an original Gutenberg Bible and Ellesmere’s manuscript of Canterbury Tales.
The facility sits on a massive 150-acre botanical garden, featuring 12 distinctly zoned gardens and nearly 14,000 varieties of plants. Our favorite is the Garden of Flowing Fragrance (Chinese Garden), which has a serene 1 1/2-acre lake, a stream, a waterfall, giant rock formations and several beautifully hand-carved stone bridges that virtually transport visitors across the Pacific Ocean.
Norton Simon Museum
For more than 30 years industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art, ranging from the Renaissance period to the 20th century, as well as a collection of Indian and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Today his collection, housed at the eponymous Norton Simon Museum, is considered one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Home to more than 12,000 objects of art, the Museum can only display about 1,000 at a time in its galleries and gardens. The facility also includes two rotating exhibition spaces, which have featured such major installations as Hiroshige: Visions of Japan, Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” and Unflinching Vision: Goya’s Rare Prints.
Pacific Asia Museum
Since 1971, Pacific Asia Museum has celebrated the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The landmark building and garden reflect a northern Chinese, palace-style architecture, and the permanent collection features more than 15,000 works of art. The museum has a regular schedule of special exhibitions and public programs.
Built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble (of Procter and Gamble soap and toothpaste fame), and designed by Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene, the Gamble House is a noted example of architecture from the early 20th century Arts & Crafts Movement.
The house, a National Historic Landmark, celebrated its centennial in 2008 and recently completed a $3.5 million exterior restoration. Owned by the City of Pasadena and operated by the University of Southern California (USC), The Gamble House periodically offers guided walking tours of the historic Arroyo Terrace neighborhood, a National Register historic district that’s home to nine Greene & Greene houses as well as the works of other noted architects such as Myron Hunt, Edwin Bergstrom, Elmer Grey, and D. M. Renton.
When acting troupe Gilmor Brown generic valtrex online Players settled in Pasadena in 1917, the sleepy town was mostly home farmers and wealthy vacationers. Locals fell in love with the troupe and raised enough money to build them a permanent theatre and in 1924, the Pasadena Playhouse–then known as the Pasadena Community Playhouse–was born.
Designated the official State Theatre in 1937, the Pasadena Playhouse has seen world premiere productions by playwrights such as Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Noel Coward.
The Playhouse has played a significant role on the advancement of LA’s entertainment industry. It constructed and operated the first television station in Southern California – KTTV — whose call letters are still used by the local Fox affiliate today. The theatre also trained the Air Force in the use television and radio equipment, and it supplied many of Southern California’s earliest TV stations with the first trained technicians in the business.
The theatre’s vast collection of memorabilia such as programs, photographs and written material from 1916 to the present, can be viewed by booking a complimentary tour. (Tours must be arranged in advance, and a donation is suggested.)
Eat & Drink
The birthplace of Julia Child, Pasadena offers more than 500 restaurants to delight the food-loving traveler.
The Old Pasadena Historic Area, a National Historical Landmark dating back to the 1870s, spans 22 blocks and is home to 200 outdoor cafes, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and specialty shops.
Melting Pot Food Tours
Not sure where to eat first? Melting Pot Food Tours offers a culinary walking tour of Old Pasadena, where guides introduce participants to popular one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops., while exploring the history of the charming neighborhood. Stops along Old Pasadena’s colorful alleys might include a Mexican tortas cafe, a Nepalese-Tibetan restaurant, and a local chocolate shop.
Pie N Burger
To enjoy old-school Pasadena eats, check out Pie ‘n Burger, which has been open on California Blvd. since 1963. The current owner began eating at the restaurant on a summer vacation when he was 9 years old. He started working there as a student, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although he’s freshened the menu a bit over the years–a vegetarian burger appeared under his ownership–he mostly serves the same food he ate as a kid. A stop here, where some of the staff are still working after four decades, will provide a great way to delve into the history of Pasadena.
The Bissell House
Originally built in 1887, the Bissell House anchors “Pasadena’s Millionaire’s Row,” also known as the Orange Grove Mansion District. It was the home of Anna Bissell McCay, daughter of vacuum magnate Melville Bissell, from 1902 until the mid 1950’s.
The charming three-story building is located in a neighborhood that harkens back to a bygone era. calling to mind small town America, and is located a short half mile walk to Mission Street, with it’s eclectic collection of eateries, bookstores, antique shops, art galleries and historic library.
Be sure to ask the owners about the wild parrots, numbering well into the hundreds, that make their home in the neighborhood.
Arroyo Vista Inn
Secreted away in the hills above the Arroyo Seco Canyon, the Arroyo Vista Inn dates back to 1910.
With its Lester Moore-designed Arts and Crafts architecture, and its picturesque views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the inn provides a perfect hideaway from the L.A. sprawl, while still being located within five miles of most major Pasadena attractions.
Langham Huntington, Pasadena
Located at the base of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains, the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa has been a Pasadena landmark since 1907. The luxurious AAA Five Diamond hotel features 380 guest rooms, eight cottages, elegant dining, and an award-winning spa.
Want more Pasadena? Check out the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau website.