Mention Pasadena and two things come to mind—the legendary pageantry of the Tournament of Roses Parade and the historic Rose Bowl Stadium nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All” by college football sports writers and enthusiasts.
Pasadena was also “home” to the cast of the immensely popular, long-running television series The Big Bang Theory. It should come as no surprise there’s actually a street in town named Big Bang Theory Way. Though the characters portrayed scientists at Cal Tech, this world-renowned science and engineering university, with its numerous scientific discoveries, is very much a proud and integral part of this Southern California city.
Pasadena is much more than parades, football and science. Nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the city is filled with a myriad of surprises. We thought spending three days in this magnificent town would be enough, only to discover how much Pasadena truly has to offer.
Getting to Pasadena
Pasadena is located only 11 miles from Los Angeles and taking Amtrak’s Surfliner into Union Station was a breeze. Business-class passengers have comfortable seating with free snacks and beverages included. The trip from San Diego took approximately three hours, providing spectacular Pacific Ocean views along the way. A mere 20-minute car ride later, we arrived in Pasadena—a suburban oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
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Equal parts classic and contemporary, Pasadena sports multi-cultural neighborhood charm that blends beautifully with metropolitan sophistication. It’s four pedestrian-friendly districts feature a unique mix of history, architecture, art, science, entertainment, botanical gardens, eclectic galleries and culinary delights.
Where to Stay in Pasadena
Pasadena’s accommodation venues range from glamourous hideaways to modern boutique hotels. Hyatt Place Pasadena is a brand-new, six-story hotel located in The Paseo’s retail and dining complex. It provided the perfect location for exploring the city, as many places here are easily accessed by foot.
Playing in Pasadena
Faced with many fascinating sights, it can be challenging to choose what to see and do in Pasadena. But with good planning, visitors can hit the top not-to-be-missed venues on a three-day visit.
The two-hour City of Roses Walking Tour was our introduction to the fascinating history of Pasadena. The tour covered visits to the iconic and magnificent 1917 Spanish Colonial City Hall, along with stops at the historic Civic Center and Library.
Just across the street, the Robinson Memorial’s two large bronze statues pay tribute to Pasadena’s native-son brothers—Jackie and Mack Robinson. Jackie broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mack was the silver medalist for the 200-meter dash in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, second only to the legendary Jesse Owens.
Old Pasadena, covering 22 city blocks, has been designated a National Register Historic District. The area abounds with tree-lined streets with impeccably restored late 19th- and early 20th-century Victorian, Mission Revival and Art-Deco era architecture. The main drag, Colorado Boulevard and its surrounding streets are filled with quaint hidden alleyways, open-air shopping areas, eclectic boutiques and restaurants. The Moorish Victorian-era Castle Green, built in 1898, is a former grand hotel that’s now home to private condominiums. Just walking around its historic grounds is a treat.
Though the century-old Rose Bowl is most known for hosting the prestigious college-football Rose Bowl game, the stadium is also the home field for the UCLA Bruins. Throughout the year, the stadium hosts a wide array of other activities-holiday celebrations, immersive 360-degree adventures, outdoor concerts and more. The Rose Bowl Flea Market, a mecca for vintage lovers and interior decorators, is held on the second Sunday of every month. During our visit, we were delighted to see the Rolling Stones 2019 NO FILTER Tour, reportedly their last as a performing group.
Built in 1908 during America’s Arts and Crafts Movement, Gamble House is an internationally recognized masterpiece of preserved history. This Craftsman-style home was built for David and Mary Gamble of Proctor & Gamble and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Private docent-led tours of the stunning home and gardens are available by appointment.
Pasadena is best known for its roses, and one of the best places to see these magnificent flowers in all their glory is at the Huntingdon Library and Botanical Gardens. The picturesque property covering 207 acres includes a historic library with exhibits and impressive art collections, along with its famous botanical gardens. Highlights include the Desert, Chinese, Japanese, Flowing Fragrance and Rose Gardens. Guests should set aside at least a half-day to explore one of the most awe-inspiring gardens in the country.
Dining in Pasadena
Pasadena’s dynamic and international dining scene continues to evolve in amazing fashion. Surprisingly, there are more restaurants per capita here than in New York City. To remain competitive, these eateries have to be stand-outs. And after all, Pasadena sets a high standard as home to renowned chef Julia Child.
Coffee lovers flock to Amara Chocolate and Coffee, a warm and cozy spot for authentic Venezuelan fares like arepas and home-made churros. But it’s the coffee that’s making this venue such a stand-out. Patrons will gladly stand in line for Café favorites like Amara Dulce de Leche, a smooth, rich, chocolatey coffee. A pinch of South American spice makes this delightful beverage one you’ll long remember.
Delicatessen by Osawa is an ideal lunch spot. The eatery features locally-sourced organic traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine. The Sukiyaki Don bowl with prime beef simmered in sweet soy with spinach, tofu, shitake mushrooms, soft-poached egg, chili pepper and green onions was divine.
Vegan and non-vegan diners alike can’t help but be impressed with Sage Vegan Bistro, an organic plant-based eatery in Old Town that serves up some amazing healthy cuisine like Squash Blossom and Dill Cheese Quesadillas, along with tasty bowls, salads and wraps. Pizzas are created from organic local Sonora wheat flower and soy-free mozzarella cheese.
If we had to name one not-to-be-missed Pasadena restaurant, it would be, hands-down, The Arbour. The California centric farm-to-table fine dining restaurant is truly focused on sustainable local ingredients. Food and service here are exceptional. The golden beet salad is a must-try and Sea Bass over crispy polenta, cauliflower, pickled raisins, piquillo peppers and watercress was simply exquisite.
Pinkies up and here we go as the tradition of afternoon tea is a signature event of Langham Hotels worldwide, first beginning with The Langham, London. An iconic Pasadena landmark for over 100 years, The Langham Huntington, Pasadena carries on this fine tradition with its Afternoon Tea with Wedgewood. Specialty teas served in Langham Rose Wedgewood teaware are accompanied by a selection of savory tea sandwiches, flavorful scones with Devonshire cream and jam and luscious fruit tarts, mini-cakes, French macaroons and more. Champagne can be added for an additional charge.
One of the joys of travel is finding those places that turn out to be an unexpected surprise for the traveler. Pasadena, California is such a place. Getting immersed in its fascinating history, culture, natural beauty and award-winning cuisine was an absolute treat. It’s no wonder famous people like scientist Albert Einstein, astronomer Edwin Hubble and actors Dustin Hoffman and Sally Field have called Pasadena their home.