Each year on January 1, Americans watch the lively and colorful Rose Parade and a few hours later cheer for their favorite collegiate team at the Rose Bowl. Most people know that these two famous events take place in Pasadena, but many don’t know much else about the city.
This 134-year-old city is home to top-notch educational institutions, world-class museums, and one of the loveliest gardens in California. Several of its famous residents have included baseball legend Jackie Robinson, astronomer Edwin Hubble, and chef Julia Child. And even if you’ve never visited before, there’s an excellent chance you’ve seen the Pasadena City Hall and some of the nearby neighborhoods in a movie or television show.
Pasadena is definitely a city that will both entertain you and keep you well fed over the course of a weekend. While its attractions aren’t as well known as those in neighboring Los Angeles, they are indeed worth visiting.
Things To Do In Pasadena
With everything there is to do in Pasadena, your weekend will fly by. So definitely do some research and focus on your areas of interest. Even LA locals visit this town regularly to enjoy all it has to offer.
Stroll The Gardens
If you do just one thing on your weekend in Pasadena, it should be visiting The Huntington and strolling its 16 themed gardens. Some of the most popular gardens include the Rose Garden, Chinese Garden, and Japanese Garden. But there’s even more to explore, including art galleries and an extensive library. The Huntington houses an impressive collection of American and European paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The library features one of the Gutenberg Bibles and handwritten manuscripts by Thoreau.
To learn more about the art and gardens, download The Huntington’s app for a free self-guided tour. There are five restaurants and cafes on-site, so you could easily spend an entire day here.
Catch A Game
The Rose Bowl is best known for the first game of each year, but that’s hardly the only event that takes place here. The University of California, Los Angeles football team plays all of their home games at this historic stadium. If you enjoy college football and you’re in town during the season, be sure to reserve tickets for a game.
Even if you can’t watch a game, you can still take a tour of the Rose Bowl Stadium. Your guide will share the history of this stadium, which was built in 1922 and today seats more than 90,000 people. Visit the original locker room, the Press Box, and the Terry Donahue Pavilion.
If you’re eager to get outside for a hike, follow the locals and head to the Eaton Canyon Natural Area. Its 3.5-mile out-and-back trail is rated easy to moderate and has an elevation gain of about 500 feet. What draws people here is the 40-foot waterfall at the top of the canyon. And if you’re here in the spring, you’ll also be rewarded with plenty of wildflowers.
Due to the popularity of this trail, reservations are required.
Appreciate The Old Masters
The collection at the Norton Simon Museum is highly regarded around the world. So if you enjoy art museums, this should certainly be one of your weekend stops. The holdings include an esteemed South Asian and Southeast Asian collection, many paintings by the Old Masters, and a large number of 20th-century sculptures. When you visit, don't miss the lovely sculpture garden, which is reminiscent of Monet’s famous Giverny gardens in France.
Admire The Architecture
Architecture aficionados will love Pasadena, well known for its large number of Craftsman homes.
Your first stop should be the Gamble House, designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908. Visitors are always impressed with the intricate woodwork inside the house as well as the lovely gardens surrounding it. An hour-long docent-led tour is offered Thursday through Sunday. To learn even more, sign up for the weekly Arroyo Terrace neighborhood tour. Arroyo Terrace is on the National Register of Historic Places and features nine homes designed by Greene & Greene.
The Pasadena City Hall is also a great stop for architecture fans. Completed in 1927, it's an excellent example of the City Beautiful movement of the 1920s. Its design features Mediterranean revival and Spanish colonial revival elements. And if you think you’ve seen this structure before, that’s probably because it has appeared in many movies and television shows, including Parks and Recreation.
Best Restaurants In Pasadena
You won’t have enough time in just one weekend to enjoy all the great food in Pasadena, but you can get started. And if you’re a coffee lover, you’ll be especially happy.
Located in Pasadena’s historic 1934 Del Mar Station, La Grande Orange Cafe has long been a favorite spot for local business lunches and post-work happy hours. The menu offers a nice selection of tacos, pizzas, and sandwiches that will appeal to any appetite. Be sure to start with the deviled eggs, an item ordered by all their regulars.
For excellent Italian food, head to Mi Piace in Old Pasadena. Their trendy decor reminds many people of Manhattan, but what’s really important here is the housemade pasta. Be sure to order a classic cocktail like the Aperol Spritz to accompany your meal.
Opened in 1979, Green Street Restaurant is where locals go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This family-owned restaurant serves California cuisine. Lunch and dinner offerings include flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, and pasta. And if you’re able to order a cocktail, consider building your own gin and tonic or ordering a flight of bourbons.
Rosebud Coffee crafts excellent beverages, but they are also dedicated to mentoring local youth -- so your money goes a long way. Even their vendors support community organizations.
For delicious coffee combined with tasty sandwiches, salads, and toast, head to Lavender & Honey -- they even offer a children’s menu.
Where To Shop In Pasadena
Pasadena is a great place to shop when you’re looking for that special gift or unique souvenir. This is a town that takes pride in its locally owned boutiques.
Make the most of your time in Pasadena by combining a great meal with great shopping in Old Pasadena. When the city was incorporated in 1886, this was its commercial heart. In 1983, Old Pasadena was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, you’ll see shops, restaurants, and theaters, many housed in the area’s original red brick buildings. If you enjoy cigars, then don’t miss Cigars by Chivas, which stocks more than 100 varieties. If you really love your dog, stop by The Dog Bakery, which sells personalized cakes for Fido. Vintage luxury clothing can be found at Clothes Heaven, the ideal place to shop for high-end items at lower prices.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market has long been a popular destination for folks all over Southern California. In fact, it claims to be the largest flea market on the West Coast. This is where people go to find that perfect antique or vintage item. Whether you’re looking for clothes, jewelry, fabric, ceramics, or almost anything else, you’ll find it here. The market only takes place on the second Sunday of each month, and regulars recommend arriving early. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
You aren’t done shopping in Pasadena until you’ve visited Vroman’s Bookstore. Opened in 1894, this is the place for bibliophiles. It’s the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. Each year, they host over 400 free community events, including trivia nights, craft classes, and book signings.
Best Hotels In Pasadena
When you’re ready to settle in for the night, there are plenty of great hotels to choose from in Pasadena.
If you’re looking for a combination of history and luxury, The Langham Huntington is perfect. Originally opened in the early 1900s, The Langham was rated the number-one hotel in the Los Angeles area by U.S. News & World Report. The beautifully appointed rooms are a lovely way to end a day in Pasadena.
For both comfort and convenience, you can’t go wrong with The Westin Pasadena. Located downtown, the Westin is within easy walking distance of Old Pasadena, City Hall, and many top-rated restaurants.
What To Know Before You Go
The Rose Bowl and Parade bring over 700,000 people to the city each year. So unless you are planning to attend these two events, visiting the city in late December or early January isn’t recommended. If you are coming to these events, make your reservations far in advance!
While Pasadena borders Los Angeles, it is a smaller and less congested city. So after exploring Pasadena, consider staying in the city while venturing out and exploring LA as well.
Parking can be pricey in Pasadena and is sometimes hard to find, so plan your days carefully. Try grouping activities that are close by so that you only have to pay for parking once.