In the 19th century, Pasadena’s growth threatened to rival the city of Los Angeles, the only other city in Los Angeles County. Thanks to the placement of converging railroad stops, the small town grew exponentially as the railroad system increased in popularity. Soon, it was a popular vacation spot for wealthy easterners during winter, and as a result, became a cultural center. During World War II, it became a magnet for technological research and advancement, drawing in the branches of many universities. Today, Pasadena is no longer experiencing the booming economic rise it once was, but still remains a integral counterpart to Los Angeles’ grandiosity and sprawl. Here, in no particular order, are ten places to visit in Pasadena that are worth your while.
10. Norton Simon Museum
Southwestern California is known for many things, and art collections are certainly among them. By the mid-twentieth century, few individuals had amassed a private art collection quite like Norton Simon, a curator, philanthropist, and businessman. The Norton Simon museum is an impressive assemblage of his collected European & Asian art spanning from the last few centuries, including El Greco, Picasso, Van Gogh and more. 1,000 pieces – only a twelfth of Mr. Simon’s private collection – are on display at any given time at the museum, but Mr. Simon’s passion for the arts is evident in the sheer mass of his collection. A courtyard with a pond-echoing Monet’s famous Water-Lily painting surrounds the building itself. $12 adults, kids are free.
9. The Gamble House
Tucked away off the main street lays one of America’s finest examples of residential architecture. Built by the architectural firm Greene and Greene, the home was inspired by the architects’ exposure to Japanese architecture during the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Breathtaking in its design, the house and its surrounding grounds were completed in 1908 for David Gamble of Proctor and Gamble. Currently, it houses two hand-selected USC architecture students, but is also open for guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reservations are highly recommended.
8. Old Pasadena
The city’s center tells the tale of its long and at times economically tumultuous history. Once a booming industrial magnet town, Pasadena went through an unfortunate period of disuse in the 1960’s, housing seedy bars and squatters. Through concentrated renewal plans, the center of the town is as vibrant as it ever was, while not entirely shedding some of its scruffy charm. Today, it serves as the business district, as well as the best area for shopping and entertainment. It is entirely worth spending an afternoon or longer simply exploring the stores and cafes along Colorado Ave and the many side streets.
7. Kidspace Children’s Museum
If you are looking to entertain the kids for an afternoon, you couldn’t do better than Kidspace Children’s Museum. Having been in business since the 1980’s, Kidspace consists of numerous exhibits that allow children up to the age of 10 to explore scientific concepts such as physics, biology, engineering, geology, and plenty more through interactions with hands-on activities. Water also plays heavily into many of the activities, so Kidspace is also a great choice if you and the family just want to cool off. As far as museums go, this one is fairly physical, and you can probably expect your little tyke to be worn out after a few hours. Admission for adults and children is $11.
6. Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Surprisingly, Pasadena is the home to the first-ever rocket experiment in the United States, dating back to 1936 as a part of a graduate thesis. The center was subsequently established, and developed mostly defense weapons until entering studies for outer space satellites in the 1950s, whereupon NASA took over the center. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues to perform important research and assists with many of NASA’s current missions. Since they are an operating institute, they only hold Open Houses once a year, typically in October. If you are lucky enough that you around, be sure to arrive as early as possible, as lines and wait times can be challenging.
5. Arlington Garden
Once a lot that was razed for the construction of freeway 710, Arlington Garden now boasts three acres of green urban space. The gardens aim to be drought-resistant and strive to exist as a welcome respite for their urban surroundings. The garden consists of local Mediterranean plants arranged in labyrinthine manners throughout the three acres, interspersed with fountains, and romantic nooks and crannies to sit and relax. It is not so much of a destination as a fun place to sit and relax and enjoy nature in the middle of the city, but nevertheless worth a stop.
4. Day Trip to Los Angeles
Only 10 miles away form Pasadena, Los Angeles came to prominence under similar factors, but with a huge influence from the entertainment industry. Even fighting against infamous traffic, entering Los Angeles shouldn’t take more than an hour, and you will be inundated with additional activities and destinations. Griffith Park offers hiking near the iconic Hollywood sign, the twisting roads in the hills afford wonderful views of ocean and real estate alike, and Venice Beach has its own colorful and whacky flavor. Though it will take serious discerning planning with friends to decide upon a destination or restaurant, Los Angeles has more than enough to offer for a lifetime’s worth of exploring.
3. Eaton Canyon
Wilderness begins on the immediate outskirts of the city, with the San Gabriel Mountains rising almost instantaneously into the Angeles National Forest. The flatness of the valley is contrasted sharply here with steep slopes and rocky cliffs. There are several miles of gorgeous arid climate hiking here, some of which lead into canyons, while others follow the elevated ridge, affording great views of the valley. Wildlife is abundant here; you might expect to see mule deer, ground squirrels and more. There are guided tours available with reservations.
2. Pasadena Museum of California Art
The mission of the Museum of California Art is to showcase the art, architecture and design of California’s residents from 1850 to the contemporary. Only open since 2002, the museum has quickly established itself as an important curator of local art that helped to promote the liberal image of California. While the majority of the exhibits focus on recent and pop art – including, at times, even graffiti – the displays rotate frequently, refreshing this museum continually. The museum is open Wednesday through the weekend and admission for adults will run $7.
1. Rose Bowl
A list of tourist attractions in Pasadena would be incomplete without a mention of the Rose Bowl. Typically hosting home games for UCLA football, the Rose Bowl Stadium is also home to the infamous Rose Bowl Game, held on New Years Day of each year. The Tournament of Roses, a large fantastical parade that marches through the city leading up to the big game, also accompanies each Rose Bowl Game. If you can catch either the parade or the game, it is a spectacle to behold, but if you don’t happen to be present for New Years, the stadium will offer tours on the last Friday of each month for $17.50 per person.
Although it may seem to some that Pasadena lives in the shadow of Los Angeles, it does not take long to realize that this city exists separately, with its own individual culture. The vibrant streets of Colorado Blvd are unparalleled, the history available is vast, and you will never run out of things to do in Pasadena. Add to this the excellent (although at times a bit sweltering) weather of Southern California, and you have an excellent vacation destination.