To all of the tourists from distance parts who have traveled to Pasadena for the sole purpose of camping in the streets and watching the Rose Parade: Seriously? It's a parade. You can watch it on t.v. It's broadcast on multiple channels! Outside, it's cold, crowded and the bathroom set-up is questionable. Inside, it's warm, comfortable and if the bathroom is questionable, that's your own damn fault. But you're here, so I guess you must really like parades. In which case, you have come to the right town! Welcome (and please do not park your car on my front lawn).
For all of the tourists who are descending upon the city, I thought I'd compile a list of Pasadena's Greatest Hits. Enjoy!
Things to Do:
- If you liked the movie Sea Biscuit, go to Santa Anita Park, a historic and beautiful race track. You can bet on the horses or just admire the grounds. I promise, you will feel like you time traveled to the 1930s. If you've never bet on a horse race before, here's my super secret tip: just pick the horse with the best name. (And yes, I started my list with a place in Arcadia, but Arcadia is Pasadena-adjacent).
- Go shopping in Old Town Pasadena. It has all of the stores you expect to find at a good mall, like Banana Republic and Pottery Barn, but it has the charm of an old Main Street. There are tons of restaurants, and many of the restaurants have outdoor seating. If you want a cup of coffee while you are shopping, go to the Starbucks at the Barnes & Noble and ask for a cup from the Clover Brewer. Trust me.
- If you are traveling with small children, I understand you should take them to Kidspace Children's Museum. I have never been, but my friends with little ones claim it is the place to visit. So there's that.
Museums and Gardens:
- The Huntington is a beautiful old mansion turned into an art museum with spectacular gardens. (Warning: the gardens were damaged during Pasadena's recent wind storms).
- The Norton Simon is a small but excellent art museum with a sculpture garden and lots of paintings from the Impressionists (think Degas and Van Gogh).
- Descanso Gardens are just a 10-15 minute drive from Old Town Pasadena, but it feels like another world. In thirty minutes, you can wander through a formal rose garden, a Japanese garden (with bridges over a koi pond) and an oak forest. There's a small train for the kiddies.
- Green Street Restaurant: The zucchini bread is a must. They make my favorite egg dishes.
- Russell's: A good restaurant with good breakfast in Old Town.
- The Terrace at the Langham: If you are interested in an upscale ($$$) breakfast in a beautiful setting, this is the place. The Langham is the best hotel in Pasadena, and the grounds are lovely. If you watch Mad Men, Don Draper had cocktails at the Langham's bar during the California episodes. (When the UCLA Bruins are playing at home at the Rose Bowl, the football players stay at the Langham. If you are a Ducks or Badgers fan, maybe your players are staying here as well).
- In-N-Out: This is California's hamburger chain restaurant, and the burgers are delicious. Warning: the location on Foothill just has a few outdoor tables. I recommend the drive-thru.
- The Counter: A nice restaurant with gourmet burgers. Warning: the website plays loud music!
- Super Burger: This is a hamburger stand with al fresco dining. (By "al fresco," I mean you will be sitting next to a busy street, across from an old gas station, and surrounded by fearless pigeons). The ambiance is best described as "rough." But the cheeseburgers and fries are excellent. If you are the sort of person who is always searching for the best burger, go here.
- El Cholo is a Los Angeles institution. This is the place for margaritas, guacamole and fajitas. (Note: there are multiple El Cholo's in Los Angeles County, but there is some family drama, so the Pasadena location has its own website. You have to google Pasadena El Cholo or just click the link I provided).
- Chiquita Bonita has no ambiance. But the food is amazing. If you are looking for cheap but delicious and filling Mexican food that will leave you in a coma for the next week, this is your place.
- Pie N Burger: This is the best pie in the universe. During your visit, you should probably just skip regular meals and eat pie all day. Especially the boysenberry.