10 Best Things to Do in Pasadena, California

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J. Fergus

There’s an old joke that often rings true: no one’s really from LA and if they are, they’re from Pasadena. In a county that’s always getting a facelift, Pasadena manages to feel historically preserved yet flush with modern amenities. Beyond its trademark opulent real estate are opportunities for tea parties, quirky gifts and even ice skating.

Pasadena City Hall

Step back in time at Pasadena City Hall to bask in its design. Even Old Town Pasadena, a quaint section of the downtown area, can’t match the charm of walking down Holly Street at night. The domed building is lit like a piece of art, casting dramatic shadows past its stony arches. During the day, you can further appreciate this rare, West Coast example of the City-Beautiful movement that marries Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival styles.

Pasadena Ice Skating Center, Pasadena

The coolest attraction in the city, the Pasadena Ice Skating Center makes it possible to go from shorts to skates in no time. The facility hosts public skate sessions for $15 (including skate rental) that usually take place throughout the afternoon and sometimes in the morning or evening. The Lunch Bunch session allows adults (18 and older) to skate around the rink for $3 less without crashing into little ones. More advanced skaters can participate in freestyle skate sessions and hockey fans can enjoy a pick-up game Monday through Thursday.

The Pasadena Playhouse

The Pasadena Playhouse played a major part in the budding careers of many actors and entertainers, from Dustin Hoffman to Ariana Grande. Starting in 1917, the playhouse hosted classes and performances for several decades, growing an illustrious alumni list in the process. Though it brought the esteem of the stage to LA, away from the still revered West End in London or New York’s Broadway, the theater closed from 1969-85. Since its revival, the playhouse hasn’t skipped a beat, putting on ambitious productions and recently hosting a raucous 100th anniversary block party. Even if you don’t have time for a show, you can easily schedule a specialized tour of California’s official state theater.

Tea Rose Garden

Never leave the house without your fascinator? Grab a cuppa and some finger sandwiches at Tea Rose Garden. This shop in Old Town creates a garden atmosphere indoors and encourages patrons to dress up. With more than 50 tea varieties and a lengthy menu full of savory and sweet treats, their tea room is difficult to leave. Luckily, you can take some of the magic home by purchasing one of their signature teas on the way out.

The Huntington Library, San Marino

Technically on the border in San Marino, the sprawling grounds of The Huntington Library are the best place to lose yourself. Meandering paths lined with lush flora connect the international gardens, research library and art exhibits. If you like a little more structure, the organization regularly hosts painting classes, art lectures, events and occasional special tours. They offer free admission on the first Thursday of each month so you can roam the 120 acres without ever reaching for your wallet.

Gold Bug

Pasadena’s Gold Bug stocks their shelves with decor inspired by natural history and science. Oddities include spiny ceramics, taxidermy, eerie postcards, witchy jewelry, and art that looks like it belongs in a haunted mansion.

Rose Bowl, Pasadena

The Rose Bowl appeals to many different kinds of people because it hosts a wide variety of events. Football fans can catch local and national college football games, most notably the post-season Rose Bowl. You can also find major names in music like Beyoncé and The Rolling Stones headlining massive concerts. Not enough? The venue also transforms into a soccer field that occasionally hosts the popular LA Galaxy club. That’s not all. The stadium hosts the unrefuted largest flea market on the West Coast every second Sunday of the month.

Vroman’s

The Last Bookstore gets most of the indie bookstore glory in Los Angeles, but Vroman’s is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. A prominent stop on Route 66, the bookstore continues to thrive even with the threat of Amazon and e-books. They support writers, especially local scribes, and regularly offer workshops for emerging talents. Stop by for a Barnes & Noble size with a hole-in-the wall vibe. Oh, and books. Buy some books.

Fork in the Road

There’s a literal fork in the road where South Pasadena Avenue splits off into S St John Avenue. The guerrilla art piece was installed in 2008 by locals Bob Stane and Ken Marshall. The city temporarily removed the gigantic fork after only six months, but it was re-installed in 2011 after getting proper approvals and insurance. The 18-foot wooden fork really sticks out on its triangular island (which has plenty of room for photo ops).

Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena

You can’t miss the Colorado Street Bridge driving into Pasadena from LA. More than 100 years old, it’s the first conceived curvilinear bridge. Drive between its old-fashioned lamp posts or simply enjoy the view from the freeway. If you’re walking in the area, stroll down the bridge’s sidewalks and reenact some La La Land romance.

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