I have been in Los Angeles for four years but I never had the chance to explore Pasadena. We had a few hours of a summer Saturday last month and we needed to find a way to check out a city with mostly driving and a lot of social distancing. So, Pasadena, it was.
First, lets start here. Pasadena is part of the San Gabriel Valley. Although it is a bit suburban, the downtown is pretty big and lively. Pasadena is an old city and parts of it definitely smell like old money. Historically, it was a place for the wealthy, so let that not surprise you.
The one thing we do when we want to explore an area is drive through town. Our first stop was the Huntington Gardens and Library. Given COVID, we needed reservation to get in but we knew that we needed a whole day to enjoy the property, so that was not on the agenda anyway. But, it is totally worth a visit and we will need to check it off our list some day. Here is a snapshot of what their website looks like:
The area around Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is pretty posh. We saw the fancy Langham Huntington Hotel on the way as well as the Huntington hospital. There are roads named after the Huntington family everywhere in Pasadena - This family is known for its wealth, art and library collection and philanthropy for several hundred years.
The city has some interesting employers like Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena City College, Parsons, Avon, AT&T etc. We even saw the campus of the prestigious private school, Polytechnic.
Then there is a row of what is called the Millionaire Mile (Orange Grove Blvd) which has a row of mansions (Georgian / French / Swiss architecture). Some of those mansions are now converted into condos or museums. If this interests you, look up and visit the Gamble House, the Denham House, the Fenyes mansion and the estate of Hulett C Merritt. Find the American Red Cross building which was owned by John Cravens of Light and Myers Tobacco.
One of the buildings we decided to visit was the Wrigley's Mansion which is now the official HQ of the Tournament of Roses. There were roses at the back, and beautiful lawn in the front with palm trees. Quite pretty, actually.
And here come the roses! These are mostly hybrid varieties so it is unlikely that you have seen them in a store!
Here's me at the mansion, which is currently closed, but the grounds are open.
And Anya had fun collecting mushrooms when we were there. What fun!
The one thing you would notice on a fun drive like ours are the mid-century houses in Pasadena. Some look super modern with Japanese influences - many were built around the 1960s, some earlier.
Kids would find the fork in the road interesting, but be careful because it is so small that you might miss it!
Another thing you may see on your drive is a bridge called the Colorado Street Bridge. The story goes that the bridge was a popular suicide spot so now they have a high metal net that would make it nearly impossible to jump off it. In any case, look at the sides of this bridge when you are there, it's a huge structure.
Before you make your way down to Old Pasadena, definitely drive by the City Hall and the Jackie and Mack Robinson Memorial. The City Hall is a nice piece of architecture, probably influenced by 1920s architecture. The memorial is basically a huge outdoor sculpture of Jackie who was a baseball player and his brother Mack, an Olympic track athlete.
Old Pasadena is beautiful. It reminds me of downtown NYC, near Wall Street.
The Pasadena Old Town is full of restaurants, bars, cafes. There are parking lots that make exploration easier. You will find shops such as Anthropologie, Apple, Athleta, Banana Republic, Blick Art Materials, Crate & Barrel, etc. A place called Blind Donkey seemed interesting - We were so tempted to go there, but with a kid, a bar didn't seem like the most exciting place to visit. A few places like the Gold Bug were closed.
We saw a loud political car rally when we were there - but people didn't seem bothered by all the honking. Next to this restaurant was a cobblestone street called Kendall Alley which has been around since 1930s. It has been featured in films such as Pulp Fiction, The Sting and Live Free or Die Hard.
Eventually, we decided to eat at this spot called Luggage Room. We choose this place because the restaurant actually used to be a luggage room (it is next to the train station!) and they have kept that decor, which is really cool. Food was okay, it would have been nice to sit inside but right now, one has to be super careful.
I thought it was a good three hours of exploration, and time well spent. I know we will be back for the Huntington Gardens and also to check out a family owned Cactus store which unfortunately closes early in the afternoon.