When you hear Pasadena you probably instantly think ‘Rose Parade’ but The City of Roses has plenty more to offer than just that. With a unique history and culture all its own, there are plenty of attractions in Pasadena that make it one of the most intriguing parts of L.A. county to explore.
From Old Town to South Lake, shopping to museums to botanical gardens, there’s probably more things to do in Pasadena that you realized at first blush (and yeah, we snuck in a few ideas from nearby cities like Arcadia and Altadena too).
So whether you’re new in town, or just passing through, here’s a fun list to get you started (in no particular order).
The Gamble House
A California and National Historic Landmark can be found mixed in with other well to do suburban homes on Westmoreland Place in Pasadena. Build in 1908, the Gamble House belonged to the on screen Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy. Off screen this three-story architect’s dream was included in the top 10 houses list of all time by the Los Angeles Times in 2008 and has a yearly rotating occupancy of architecture students from USC. Drop in on a Tuesday when the rear lawn and terrace are open for Brown Bag lunch carriers or for daily architect based tours.
Jet Propulsion Lab
The city of Pasadena can proudly boast that they host the leading robotic exploration of the solar system in the country. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab offers numerous public educational events throughout the year including a March event that will share stories of field campaigns and research efforts and an April event that will showcase two new sibling robots. General purpose tours are offered year-round for visitors who would like to learn about the laboratory as a whole. Visit the website for more information about the tours.
The 686-seat historic performing arts venue is an influential medium for the American Theatre. The Pasadena Playhouse was the first American theatre to produce all of Shakespeareis plays and they showcase at least 300 performances annually. Their College of Theatre Arts cranked out legendary actors including Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and box office heartthrob William Holden. Today, The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez is onstage until March 1st and Pygmalion and Waterfall debut later this spring and summer.
The city’s only dedicated public garden features plants that fair extremely well in the Southern California climate. The Garden facilitates inspiration and guidance for anyone looking to start or improve an existing garden with drought tolerant plants. Even if you’re not visiting for personal gardening purposes, the three acre lot offers tranquility for any and all visitors. Admission is free and the Garden is open year-round, rain or shine.
The Huntington Library serves as a dual purpose establishment by showcasing educational and research based collections and 120 acres of landscaped gardens. There is an admission fee to visit, but they do offer “Free Days” for non-member visitors the first Thursday of each month. You’ll have to request your ticket in advance online or by phone to avoid a sellout. There are four dining options here for when your feet need a rest including the Rose Garden Tea Room where you’ll delicately eat finger sandwiches and chilled salads of The Cafe for a family friendly option with simple, yet satisfying options such as sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, and a kid approved children’s menu.
This theater creates such a fun, unique movie viewing experience with their recliner sofas, provided blankets & pillows and free popcorn. That’s not all though, guests can order a full meal up to 30 minutes prior to the movie showing and have it delivered to their reserved seat. With you meal you’ll have the option to accompany it with a glass of wine or cocktail from Salt Lounge. This sounds like a movie night at home, but even better because other people are doing the work for you.
Ice House Comedy Club
Open since 1960, this vintage-esque comedy club has been Pasadena’s go to for music and comedy. Renowned comedians have graced this club including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and the late Robin Williams. Today, there are two showrooms, a courtyard and approximately 7,000 guests each month. Upcoming performers include Harry Basil and Kevin Smith with Jason Mewes. I would try looking at Groupon for the latest and greatest deals for entry into this comedy club.
There’s many things to do at Eaton Canyon that at least one aspect is bound to appeal to whomever you might be traveling with. Whether you like to hike, go horseback riding or like watching running water, you can find it here. The trail to Eaton Canyon Falls is a popular and often crowded hike that starts off as a fairly easy walking experience, but progresses in difficulty as you approach the falls. If you’re not as into physical activity there’s still much opportunity to view wildflowers in the spring and an abundance of birds during the crowning of migration (April-May.)
Le Petit Vendome Wine Tasting
This wine and spirits shop recently moved to a new location between Smitty’s Restaurant and Wells Fargo Mortgage. Always go online to confirm the wine tasting schedule, but wine tasting at the Pasadena location usually occurs every Friday and Saturday between 6:30 and 8p.m. Each weekly wine tasting will focus on either a particular region or category of wine. What’s really neat are all sampled wines are offered to samplers at or below retail prices.
Old Town Pasadena
The real downtown of Pasadena hosts many activities and establishments for those looking for fun in the City of Roses. Take a walk along Colorado Blvd. in old town to enjoy a myriad of shopping and dining options, plus there’s the Farmer’s Market every Sunday with free kids’ activities. And, of course, every year folks camp out along Colorado the day before the turn of the new year so they can stake out their real estate to watch the annual Rose Parade.
Speaking of roses… The Rose Bowl might be most famously known for the annual college football game of the same name, but regular flea markets, concerts and special events draw in the crowds year-round. Also of note, stadium tours are made available for those who are really just interested where visitors can see the original 1922 locker room, the Loge Lounge and all the famous history that has occurred here.
Kidspace Children’s Museum
This is the place to visit if your family has little ones in it because really, sometimes kids need an outing that is all about them. There are a ton of hands-on exhibits for our little ones who are used to hearing, “don’t touch!” and plenty of outdoor activities and programs. The outdoor Robert & Mary Galvin Physics Forest looks like a fantastic place to let kids use their wholes bodies and mind to see just how things work. Check out their website for current programs geared for all age ranges.
626 Night Market
Ok, so Arcadia isn’t technically in Pasadena but since it’s literally just a stone’s throw away we have to mention the 626 Night Market, the original, and largest, Asian themed night market in the United States. With food options ranging from ramen burgers to lobster rolls, Sriracha inspired creations to more traditional fare such as stinky tofu or dragon candy, it’s no wonder that 626 is one of the signature food events of the San Gabriel Valley (and all of Los Angeles, really).
Santa Anita Park
I remember a time when all I used to hear about on the radio and television was the Santa Anita Park. The park which is best known for its thoroughbred racing is in season right now until June. You can catch a race and a free tour of the stables weekends during the season at 8:45 and 9:45 a.m. They’ve got more than just horses though, if you like beer they’ve got a beer festival coming up early March and the Winner’s Circle BBQ Championship at the end of March. You’re bound to have a busy spring and summer if you stay current with the events this venue hosts.
Free Concerts at Levitt Pavilion
The Levitt Pavillion Pasadena is a non-profit arts organization which hosts a Music Festival of some 50 free concerts over the course of each and every summer. Performances include past grammy winners, and a variety of genres, from Latin to Jazz to contemporary alternative and indie acts. There are even food vendors and children’s activities set up to entertain the little ones. Just be sure to get there early to stake out a good spot to enjoy the show.
San Gabriel Mission District
If you went to elementary school in California there’s a good chance you toured one of the 21 missions that line the state. Although not directly inside Pasadena city limits, this mission is too close not to visit if you’ll be in the area. Take a walk through the “city with a mission” and explore what was first rooted over 200 years ago. You’ll get a small taste of early California life, eat some good food and most importantly, learn about the Franciscan’s fourth established mission.
Norton Simon Museum
One of the most impressive private collections in the world resides at the Norton Simon Museum, just a few blocks west of the heart of Old Town Pasadena, with works ranging from a 2,000 year period that include paintings from the European Renaissance, 20th century European masters, and incredible sculptures from South and Southeast Asia made more than a millennia ago. Standard admission is $12 but the Museum is free for all visitors the first Friday of every month from 5pm to 8pm.
Pasadena City College Flea Market
If the Rose Bowl Flea Market seems too pricy or too overwhelming, consider this a great alternative. The PCC Flea Market takes place the first Sunday of every month from 8am to 3pm, features tons of great vendors and is FREE to enter. Just as important, parking is just $2.
South Lake Ave
If you’ve exhausted your capacity for shopping on Colorado Blvd, then take a stroll down Lake Ave. A few miles east of Old Town proper, this 12 block strip along South Lake Ave features shops, markets, restaurants, and retailers. Recommended: Abricott for breakfast, Mediterranean Cafe for lunch, and Euro Pane Bakery (just a block east) for macarons.
Pasadena’s oldest bookstore, and also one of L.A.’s finest. This is the perfect spot to spend a rainy afternoon perusing, reading, or just hanging out, and they also have plenty of signings, readings, and other community oriented events on their calendar to keep you coming back week in and week out. Two locations for your convenience, one on Colorado Blvd and the other on Foothill.
We know there’s plenty of things to do in Pasadena, more than just this above list, so let us know your favorites in the comments below!