Most people only know one thing about Pasadena: that it hosts the Rose Bowl every year at its impressive historic stadium. But this sunny, bustling city located just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles actually does have more to offer than football on New Year's Day.
As the birthplace of Julia Child and home to Pulitzer-Prize winning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, Pasadena has a popping food scene (surprise!) with more restaurants per capita than New York City. In addition to the must-try eateries, coffee shops, and bars, you'll find scenic hikes, stunning architecture, excellent boutique shopping, and world-class museums. This gem has everything you need for an idyllic weekend in SoCal. Here's how to make the most of it.
Friday: Head South
The historic Langham Huntington is a luxe landmark with a stylish spa and views to the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains. (Courtesy of Langham Huntington)
It's easiest to fly into Burbank, which is about a 20 minute drive away, but even if you land at LAX, your drive to Pasadena should still come in under an hour (even with some traffic). Driving from the Bay Area will take about five-and-half hours. If you do opt to fly, skip the rental car and take Uber or Lyft instead—one of the perks of Pasadena over L.A. is that it's walkable.
If you're up for a splurge, we highly recommend checking into the beautiful Langham Huntington, an iconic landmark hotel that dates back to the Gilded Age. Today the charm remains, but it's been thoroughly updated to five-star quality with 389 elegantly furnished rooms and views of the surrounding San Gabriel mountains. While you're there, enjoy an afternoon tea experience, indulge in a spa treatment, or just soak in the classic Southern California luxury.
If you're not about throwing down that much money on a hotel, Pasadena has several more budget-friendly options, like the Westin Pasadena, centrally located and featuring a pool with a bar. Another good choice is the recently renovated and thoroughly trendy boutique DusitD2 Hotel, which offers an iPad in every room, a refreshment upon arrival, and small yet modern rooms.
Dinner and Pie: A Winning Combo
After getting settled, it's time for your first meal in Pasadena: dinner at the city's newest restaurant, The Arbour, a true farm-to-table fine dining eatery owned by chef Ian Gresik and his wife, Nancy. The restaurant aims to provide a California-inspired menu (think fresh and seasonal) and ambience (candle-lit wood tables among green foliage). The menu has both crowd-pleasers like sea bass with asparagus and garlic-crusted chicken breast, as well as more innovative items—trust us and try the spicy beef chili, in which you watch a beef fat candle burn down into the dish to provide a rich, creamy concoction served on toasted ciabatta.
Post-dinner, pop across the street to Pie n' Burger, an old-fashioned joint known for its milkshakes and fruit pies—favorites include the boysenberry and banana cream.
Saturday: Enjoy Nature and Old Pasadena
After a day of hiking, biking and shopping, you will have earned your meal at Union.(Courtesy of Union)
Wait for Breakfast
Start your day with breakfast at Lincoln, a bright and airy cafe just a short ride from downtown. The lines at this beloved local eatery can get long on the weekends, but trust us when we say it's worth the wait—you can kill plenty of time browsing the selection of curated snacks, juices, cookbooks, and small decorative items. When it's finally time to order, load up on pastries, pancakes, egg dishes, grain bowls, and more.
Burn it Off
Post all the carbs, it's time to burn off some calories by tackling a short but satisfying hike along Eaton Canyon Trail. This 3.5 mile roundtrip hike is easy-to-moderate and well trafficked, filled with families and on-leash dogs, but that doesn't mean it's boring. You'll meander through the Angeles National Forest, take in views of the San Gabriel Mountains, boulder-hop, cross mild streams, and end at the foot of a 40-foot waterfall. You can easily do the hike by yourself, but if you'd rather enlist a guide to show you the way and give you information about the surrounding nature, enlist the help of Bikes & Hikes tour company.
Lunch + Shopping in Old Pasadena
Head back into town to explore Old Pasadena. Start with lunch at Prawn (16 Miller Alley), an affordable, quality "coastal casual" seafood restaurant in the heart of downtown. Try the lobster roll, paella, or clam chowder while sitting on the patio and people watching. If after lunch you need an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a latte at Copa Vida (70 S. Raymond Ave), a light-filled and bustling coffee shop nearby.
Now that you're caffeinated again, It's time to shop. And Pasadena is full of eclectic boutique stores. Don't miss Distant Lands (20 S. Raymond Ave.), a store for all things travel related; Gold Bug (34 Union St.), an eclectic shop offering a selection of crystals, compasses, candles, jewelry, and works by more than 100 nature-focused artists; Vroman's Bookstore (695 E Colorado Blvd), the oldest and largest independent bookshop in southern California; and Mohawk General Store (26 Smith Alley), filled with chic men's and women's clothing, handbags, and housewares.
While walking around, don't forget to check out Pasadena City Hall (100 N. Garfield Ave.), which was used in the Amy Poehler hit Parks & Recreation to depict fictional Pawnee's own City Hall—don't forget to march up the stairs with your best Leslie Knope impression.
After all that shopping, it's time to wind down with a final stop at Everson Royce Wine & Spirits (155 N. Raymond Ave), which offers wine tastings on Saturdays.
Cocktails and Italian Cooking
Freshen up at the hotel and head out for dinner at the cozy, dimly lit 50-seater Union (37 E. Union St.), the product of chef Bruce Kalman (Top Chef Season 15) and Marie Petulla. The menu is rich and seasonal, taking a California spin on Northern Italian cuisine. There's not a bad seat in the house, but if you're looking for something more intimate, opt for the chef's table near the kitchen. You can't go wrong with any of the pastas; don't skip dessert.
If you're up for a drink, head to Bar 1886 at The Raymond (1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave), a staple of the larger L.A. bar scene. This secluded establishment, located in what used to be the caretaker's cottage of a grand hotel built in the 1880s, oozes charm. Sit outside on the lush, heated patio or inside near the fireplace. Cocktails are taken seriously here, where seasoned bartenders collectively know more than 600 off-menu drinks and offer both classic and modern takes. Libations use seasonal fruit, fresh juice, craft spirits, and hand-cut chunks of ice. If you're feeling indecisive, order the "dealer's choice" and the bar will make you something special.
Sunday: Get Cultured
The Desert Garden at the Huntington. (Courtesy of The Huntington)
Museums + Gardens
Today, you're going to get a taste of Pasadena's impressive array of cultural attractions and world-class art museums. But first, brunch. Start the day on a healthy note at Sage Vegan Bistro (41 Hugus Alley), an organic plant-based eatery offering everything from granola and acai to doughnuts, mac and cheese, and pancakes (get the cornbread jalapeno!).
Next, you'll head to the sprawling, beautiful Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Rd). This 207-acre estate originally belonged to railroad magnate Henry Huntington, and it's so vast that you would have to visit many times to take its 1,200-plus objects of European art; library full of important American and British literary works (including Ellesmere's manuscript of Canterbury Tales); and 150 acres of botanical gardens that explode with 14,000 varieties of plants and many manicured gardens. Since you won't be able to see everything, we'd recommend spending most of your time outside, strolling through the Zen, Japanese, Chinese, and Desert gardens (hello, succulent heaven).
Next up is the Norton Simon Museum (411 W Colorado Blvd), one of the most impressive private art collections in the world. Spend an hour or so viewing seven centuries of European works, Asian art that spans 2,000 years, and masterpieces by Degas, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Picasso, and more.
Aside from the Huntington and the Norton Simon, other attractions to consider: the Gamble House (4 Westmoreland Place), a National Historic Landmark and incredible example of American Arts and Crafts architecture, designed in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble Company; The Pasadena Museum of History (470 W. Walnut St.), inside the 1906 Beaux Arts–style Fenyes Mansion; and the Pasadena Museum of California Art (490 E. Union St.), which features contemporary and historical art along with rotating exhibits.
One Last Meal Before You Go
If you have time before heading out of town, grab lunch at La Grande Orange Café (260 S. Raymond Ave.), located inside the old 1934 Del Mar train station. Dine on regionally inspired classics (prime rib, ahi tuna taco, black bean burgers) either on the string-lit patio or at a booth inside. If you're more in the mood for pizza, opt for its adjoining Luggage Room Pizzeria and Otis Bar, where you can grab a slice and cheers goodbye.