Let me clarify the title. You’re visiting Pasadena for the FIRST, and perhaps, only time. And you’re visiting at this time of the year because of the Tournament of Roses Parade and/or Rose Bowl game. “What else can we do while you’re here??” Then this list is specifically tailored to you! Thus, I’m leaving off obvious Rose Parade/Bowl related “to-do’s” which I assume you mostly know, and other less obvious things which have simply slipped out of my brain memory.
Alright now. Here’s are my somewhat subjective certain “things to do” in Pasadena. These are the places I would wanna check out if I’m a first, and maybe only, timer with only 2-3 days available. And if you’re a first time visitor to this page – lucky you – go buy a lotto ticket while you’re hot!
Pasadena City Hall: opened on December 27, 1927. So it just had a birthday! A National Historic Register building. One of the most beautiful City Halls in the nation.
Norton Simon Museum: if you’ve watched the parade on television you’ve seen that distinctive purplish brown and white building or “thing” along Colorado Blvd. A big red rose is stuck on it. This is the location of the Norton Simon Museum, a well regarded museum.
The Gamble House: early Pasadena was in the center of the Arts & Crafts style of architecture. Famed craftsman architects the Greene brothers designed this house in 1908 for David & Mary Gamble of Proctor & Gamble fame. Now owned by the city and operated by USC. Another of Pasadena’s National Historic Register landmarks.
Pasadena Playhouse: The California State Theatre and another landmark building from the 1920s. Notable actors have studied and/or performed here: Dustin Hoffman, Earl Holliman, Raymond Burr, George Reeves, etc! Either take in a play or try to get a sneak peak into the theatre!
The Huntington: one of the world’s great cultural, research, educational, institutions. World class library, art, & gardens. Just over the south border of Pasadena in the city of San Marino. The one exception I’ve allowed to my rule of being in Pasadena.
California Institute of Technology: a small university with academic excellence at the highest level. A major source of scientific & hi-tech support for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA. Einstein was here in the early 1930s. Annually one of the top universities in the world. This year named as the #1 university on planet earth!
PS: If you want some information on a famous building at Cal Tech – The Athenaeum – go here.
The Ice House: one of the nations top comedy clubs. Recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Well known comedians have told their jokes here.
Vroman’s Bookshop: since 1894. Pasadena’s premier bookstore. Many well known visitors have held their book events at Vroman’s: Presidents, such as Bill Clinton; Barbara Walters, Joan Didion, Amy Chua, Anne Rice, Jonathan Keats, James Ellroy, Raquel Welch, Hilary Clinton, Molly Ringwald, Shaquille O’Neal, etc etc, and this is just a recent sample!
It’s no surprise when in 2008 Publishers Weekly named Vroman’s as the nations Bookseller of the Year!
Pasadena Museum of History: we have our share of museums and culture. However, if you want to know more about Pasadena beyond the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, this is the place to go.
Colorado Street Bridge: this is the elegant concrete bridge you see with its wonderful Beaux Arches as you approach Pasadena from the west on the 134 freeway. Part of the original Route 66. Another part of Pasadena which has been seen on TV and the Big Screen. Built in 1913 and yet another National Historical landmark. It spans over the Arroyo Seco in what had been until that point an adventurous crossing of the Arroyo Seco. The bridge connects Pasadena with westernmost Pasadena and Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles.
How do you get on it? Well, here are two ways: From the west, get off at the San Rafael exit from the 134 FW-east. Make a right from the off ramp, then a quick left onto Colorado. You’ll soon seen the bridge “below” you. Continue driving until you see a fork in the road. Take the left fork and in seconds you’ll find yourself driving over a piece of history!
From the east: I’ll assume even first time visitors to Pasadena know where Colorado Blvd is. Get on Colorado Blvd, going west. You probably even know where Orange Grove Ave is as well. Continue on Colorado until you reach Orange Grove. At Colorado & Orange Grove you’re gonna see signs directing you either onto the freeway, or left onto the bridge. Go left onto the bridge!
I hope these directions to the bridge were simple, clear, and understandable! I haven’t really gotten into the fascinating history of this bridge, and I don’t wanna bore you with it now. From the bridge you can see the Rose Bowl to its north. The bridge isn’t too long – about 1500 ft. You can drive over it in 15 seconds and do a round trip walk over it in a few minutes. Or, you can take advantage of several indents built along the bridge where you can just sit with mans best friend and let the world & its cars pass you by.
Ok, you’ve checked out a couple of the above, and now you’re starving. Here are some unique, only in Pasadena, places to chow down.
Euro Pane Bakery & Cafe: a local hometown Pasadena favorite. The only Pasadena eatery to make LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants of Los Angeles area year after year, prepared by Pulitzer Prize restaurant critic Jonathan Gold. Also featured on The Food Network, and mentioned by the New York Times as one of a handful of places you must visit while in Pasadena. The decor is unassuming, the customer service could always be better, but it’s the delicious sandwiches & soups, great artisan breads, wonderful coffee, and of course, the mix of French & American bakery items such as the Macarons you’re really here for anyhows!. Come before noon for the freshest & best selection. Breakfast limited to the weekend. I’ve known people to come from long distances, even other countries to come here! A couple of years ago I met an Iraq war soldier who was back home on temporary leave. He told me how much he missed Euro Pane. Two locations: the original at 950 E. Colorado Blvd, and the new between Pasadena City Hall and Paseo Colorado at 310 E. Colorado Blvd.
Slaw Dogs: when they talk about the top dog in the L.A. area this is part of the conversation and chowdown! Gourmet hot dogs and you can customize with the most amazing combination of toppings. Not your mom & dads hot dogs!
The Dog Haus: another hot dog joint, and what I said for Slaw Dogs can be said for the Dog Haus. Nice to have both places here for friendly competition and taste comparisons!
In-N-Out Burger: Last, but certainly not least! You won’t find them only in Pasadena but you might not have them where you’re coming from. Best tasting burger, dollar for dollar, around! This may be your only chance to eat at In-N-Out (INO) so don’t leave Pasadena without eating it! One special point about Pasadena’s INO is it’s the oldest operating INO, dating back to the 1950s! (Don’t be discouraged by the usual long drive-up lines) 2114 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena 91106
That’s my list. If you’re part of a tour group, chauffeured around in a stretch tour bus then I hope some of these places are on the tour agenda. The rest of the places you’ll have to sneak out of your hotel when no one is looking to discover for yourself!
Of course a few people will find themselves in Pasadena around this time for other reasons. Maybe even unplanned. Like the 40ish couple from a midwestern state I met last night at a restaurant. The serious illness of one a son living here brought them out here temporarily. The wife/mother spoke to me about this particular illness and how, “we don’t talk about these kind of things back home.” I was surprised. She was relieved she could find people here in southern California open to discuss this problem. Like me. Welcome to Pasadena!
As I departed, I asked this concerned mother & father if they had ever been to the Rose Parade? “No.” Are you going to it? “Is it something worth going?” (I wasn’t gonna say that I rarely ever go to the parade, LoL!) I said, YES, people having been coming from from out of state and out of the country to view the Rose Parade since the 19th century. Whatever you’re reason for being in Pasadena, for fun, or to deal with a problem, while you’re out here for the first time it’s one big thing you should do while in Pasadena. Greetings from Pasadena!
Gotta Catch a Few Winks. Stay Thirsty My Friends