Pasadena, California: Where Everything’s Coming Up Roses

The Rose Parade draws travelers every year.
Roses line a vehicle in the Rose Parade. Photo by FLICKR/ Randal Droher

American winters have never been particularly gentle to residents of the Midwest and the Northeast. In the early 1870s, a group of settlers in Indiana decided they’d had quite enough of shoveling snow and headed westward. When they reached the breathtaking arroyo of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California and discovered a bounty of orange and olive groves along with a perpetually sunny climate, the winter-weary adventurers declared they had found a new place to call “home.” In 1875 a town was officially founded and what may have started as a well-kept secret spread quickly enough that vacationers, health-seekers and sun-lovers soon put Pasadena at the top of their winter retreats list.

While Pasadena is perhaps best known for its annual Tournament of Roses Parade ( which draws 1 million sidewalk spectators, it is also home to the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Rose Bowl, a multiplicity of museums and historic architecture, and a light rail system that makes downtown Los Angeles easily accessible. It is not unusual to encounter film and television celebrities that prefer Pasadena’s quiet residential neighborhoods as a place to raise their families out of the bright lights of Hollywood.

The Rose Parade has a wide variety of floats.
The Rose Parade is a great place for flowers, music and more. Photo by Christina Hamlett

How to Get to Pasadena

If you’re flying, you have a choice of three airports – Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (the closest), LAX and Long Beach. By train, Los Angeles Union Station is the largest railway terminal in the Western U.S.; upon arrival, take the Gold Line Metro to Pasadena. By car, the major freeways are the 110, the 134 and the 210.

Accommodations in Pasadena

At over a century old, The Langham Huntington is the most elegant place to lay your head. Indulge in a sumptuous spa treatment, enjoy high tea and stroll the historic picture bridge. It’s also dog-friendly so your canine companion can be spoiled too.

The city’s newest hotel, dusitD2 Constance, is located within the Playhouse District and easy walking distance to a variety of restaurants and cafes.

The family-friendly Courtyard by Marriott with its in-room kitchen facilities is right in the heart of Pasadena’s Old Town shops and restaurants. Another good choice just down the street is The Westin with its high-tech fitness studio and rooftop pool ( Its proximity to the Pasadena Conference Center and City Hall makes it a popular destination for corporate travelers.

Museums in Pasadena

Pasadena loves to shows off its art, culture, and rich history as evidenced by a bounty of museums, several of which are within easy walking distance from one another.

Norton Simon Museum of Art
411 W. Colorado Blvd.

Pacific Asia Museum
46 N. Los Robles Ave.

Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 E. Union St.

Armory Center for The Arts
145 N Raymond Ave.

Kidspace Children’s Museum
480 Arroyo Ter

Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Rd. (San Marino)

Pasadena Museum of History
474 W. Walnut St.

As a special incentive for families to enjoy these museums together, the city hosts a twice-yearly ArtNight Pasadena ( in which admission is free the whole evening. The museum experience doesn’t stop there, however. Pasadena actively supports Museums of the Arroyo Day ( which offers free admission to venues such as The Gamble House, The Autry, The Southwest Museum and, Heritage Square.

Where to Dine in Pasadena

If by now you’re working up an appetite, you’ll find no shortage of eateries from one end of the city to the other. Here are a few favorites to get you started:

Cuisine: Argentinean

El Portal
Cuisine; Mayan, Yucatan, Mexican

Japon Bistro
Cuisine: Japanese

Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
Cuisine: Soul food

Pasadena is also home to the enterprising Smith brothers, a pair of siblings whose local restaurants include Parkway Grill (, Arroyo Chop House (, Smitty’s (, and SECO New American (

Special Events in Pasadena

Depending on what time of year you visit, Pasadena’s community calendar is filled with unique events for visitors of all ages. Every spring, for instance, the Pasadena Showcase House of Design ( shows what several dozen interior designers and landscape artists can do to transform a selected estate into a dazzling show place. Proceeds from the tours benefit local arts organizations.

Are their car buffs in your group? For one weekend in June, the 30 acres of Lacy Park are turned into a car lovers’ heaven with the annual San Marino Motor Classic. ( the charities that benefit is the Pasadena Humane Society (, a model no-kill shelter which also happens to be where my husband and I adopted Lucy, quite possibly the world’s cutest dog.

The classic is a great stop for car lovers.
Jay Leno’s Duesenberg stands out at the San Marino Motor Classic. Photo by Christina Hamlett

What’s the opposite of the Rose Parade? It’s the wacky, irreverent and totally free-for-all Doo Dah Parade (, a grassroots event that began in 1978 and is held in November. Food trucks, lawn chairs, and spontaneous performance art embrace a carnival-like atmosphere that nonconformists galore will love.

Take a look at “life in the past lane” twice yearly when the iconic Castle Green opens its doors to guest tours. ( Now privately-owned condominiums, this expansive Victorian-era building reflects Mediterranean and Moorish influences and was once the go-to resort for the late 19th century vacationing wealthy.

If You Go

Pasadena’s climate is moderate year-round, although winter mornings and evenings can be cool. Interestingly, the only time our city is likely to see fog and rain is early summer – a period we locals call “June Gloom.”

Our meter maids are aggressive about ticketing so make sure you observe all streets signs about parking hours. There are, however, numerous public garages where the first 90 minutes are free.

Love architecture? Pasadena is an eclectic mix of Victorian, Craftsman, Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival. Grab your camera and take a stroll down Los Robles and El Molino Avenues to see some breathtaking homes.

If you’re into photography, get your bliss on with a picture-perfect stroll through the Huntington Gardens.

The Huntington Gardens offer picturesque views.
The Huntington Gardens are a great place to photograph or relax. Photo by Christina Hamlett

Not only is Jay Leno a regular guest at the San Marino Motor Classic but he also brings along cars from his private collection.

Castle Green harkens back to an earlier era of elegance. Several movies have also been filmed here.

It’s hard to fathom the enormity of those Tournament of Roses floats. Following the four-hour parade, visitors can view the entries up close and personal (

And speaking of the parade, tradition has it that if Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, the parade is held on the next day instead.


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