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Aerial view of the Old Pasadena Historic District in California
Jamie Pham
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  • States:
    California

Find inspiration in this small Southern California town with deep cultural roots.

Known for its historic architecture and esteemed cultural institutions, Pasadena, California – an enclave surrounded by the San Gabriel mountains – manages to feel both vibrant and laid-back. Slow your pace and take advantage of some of the world’s most esteemed art collections, architectural sites and botanical gardens right in Pasadena. Don’t let this city’s size fool you; there’s a level of sophistication and culture that sets it apart.

Historic Architectural Jewels

There’s plenty to be impressed with at the Gamble House, the former residence of David and Mary Gamble of Procter & Gamble. This Arts & Crafts-style masterpiece was designed by Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene, known for elevating the California bungalow into an art form. For those wanting a more intimate look, there’s a Behind the Velvet Ropes tour; consider it your invitation into the house’s nooks and crannies.

At the Wrigley Mansion & Gardens, you’ll explore the home of chewing gum tycoon, William Wrigley, Jr., spanning 21 rooms and three stories. It’s also the official headquarters for the famous Tournament of Roses, producers of the iconic Rose Bowl football game and Rose Parade. Tours of both the home and the rose garden are open from February to August.

In the Old Pasadena Historic District, drop by Pasadena City Hall, known for its impressive domed red-tile roof. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby, enjoy some shopping in the Old Pasadena Historic District, where you can pop into Gold Bug for a collective of fine artisanal jewelry or browse Old Focals for the world’s largest collection of vintage frames.

The manicured grounds of Pasadena City Hall

The manicured grounds of Pasadena City Hall
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Libraries, Museums & Lush Botanical Gardens

To dig into Pasadena’s museum scene, start at The Huntington, a trifecta of art, literature and botany. Spend hours immersed in the Huntington Library brimming with rare books and manuscripts, see an extensive art collection at The Huntington Art Gallery, and tour the Botanical Gardens complete with 12 diverse gardens.

Art lovers will want to visit the Norton Simon Museum to see Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in the ethereal sculpture garden. Inside, visitors will discover art from greats such as Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Picasso and Vuillard. There’s even a theater showing classics, documentaries and independent movies.

Finally, take in a show at the Pasadena Playhouse, a historic Spanish Colonial Revival theater that hosts plays and musical performances. Schedule a tour to go behind the scenes and learn about the building’s architectural merits.

Serene vistas at The Huntington’s Botanical Gardens

Serene vistas at The Huntington’s Botanical Gardens
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A Bite of Pasadena Food Culture

Pasadena is an eclectic and creative dining spot. (Fun fact: The city is the birthplace of celebrated cook book author and TV personality, Julia Child.) Make your first stop La Grande Orange Café, located inside the 1934 Del Mar train station. Taste enticing American classics with a regional influence inspired by local farmers and ranchers.

For an Italian meal made with local California ingredients, check out Union. It’s a warm and friendly establishment feeding folks outstanding handmade pasta dishes in a setting akin to a small-town neighborhood eatery.

If you like a little bit of nostalgia with your meal, head to Pie n’ Burger. Established in 1963, this burger joint continues to win over patrons with its iconic cheeseburger, made even better thanks to house-made sauce and crispy French fries. Expect to see an eclectic mix of clientele from locals and college students to visitors from Los Angeles and beyond.

Patio dining in downtown Pasadena

Patio dining in downtown Pasadena
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Getting There

Fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and rent a car. It’s only a 45-minute drive to neighboring Pasadena.

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