Though miles from the beach, Pasadena sometimes has the feeling of a resort town—perhaps a product of its status as exactly that around the turn of the 20th century. The city is stocked with historical charm, from the shops in Old Town to the graceful Gamble House, while located only a short drive from hilly hikes and mountainous wilderness. There’s still plenty of excitement behind that relaxed disposition; after all, this is the home of the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade.
Pasadena’s prominence isn’t exactly exactly a secret—after all, it’s one of the oldest and wealthiest cities in Los Angeles County. But after enough celebrity home purchases, exciting restaurant additions and, uh, the opening of an Erewhon, the area has attracted a bit more attention from outsiders, garnering a guide in Vogue and even a place in The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2024” list.
Where exactly is Pasadena?
Pasadena, Los Angeles’ northeast neighbor, sits at the foot of the scenic San Gabriel Mountains. If you’re visiting by car, you can reach the city at the end of the winding 110 freeway, as well via the 134 and 210 (most of the city’s culinary and cultural destinations are south of the 210 in Old Pasadena, the Playhouse District and South Lake).
Pasadena is among SoCal’s most transit-friendly cities with six Metro light rail stops along the A Line, as well as Metro, Pasadena Transit and Foothill Transit buses. The sizable city shares borders with Sierra Madre, Arcadia, San Marino, South Pasadena, Altadena, La Cañada Flintridge and Glendale, as well as Los Angeles neighborhoods Eagle Rock and Highland Park.
What will you find in Pasadena?
There are arguably more great things to do in Pasadena than almost any other area of L.A., whether you’re looking to visit a museum (including the Norton Simon Museum, Gamble House and USC Pacific Asia Museum) or stroll through the manicured gardens and gateways to rugged wildnerness that border the city.
The walkable Old Pasadena is most people’s main destination thanks to its highly walkable cluster of upscale stores in architecturally handsome old buildings, and noteworthy restaurants like Italian go-to Union and cheesery Agnes. The increasingly exciting Pasadena Playhouse anchors the Playhouse District, an extension of the downtown area that boasts the standout Bar Chelou among its tenants. In recent years, there’s been more activity north of the freeway, as well, with casual hangouts on Washington Boulevard near Lavender & Honey Espresso Bar, and on Lincoln Avenue by Tex-Mex taco spot HomeState.
If you only do one thing
Though technically just outside city limits in San Marino, the Huntington Library is a must visit. Its distinctly themed gardens are easily the most stunning manicured outdoor spaces in SoCal, especially its recently expanded Chinese garden, and the library and museum are equally impressive.