Ten miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena has grown out of its sleepy 1960s "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" moniker to become a singularly vibrant city full of fine art, architecture, entertainment, music, dining and shopping. It's also home to some of the country's top scientific institutions, including the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Its annual Rose Bowl football game and Tournament of Roses Parade brings hordes of visitors each January, but travelers to the city can find plenty of activities to do year round.
Must see in Pasadena
No trip to Pasadena is complete without visiting the renowned Huntington Library and Gardens (technically down the road in San Marino), Norton Simon Museum, and Gamble House. The Huntington, founded in 1919 by business tycoon Henry E. Huntington, is known for its extraordinary collection of rare books, manuscripts, and art set within 120-acres of botanical gardens. The Norton Simon Museum showcases European and Asian art from the 14th to 20th Centuries amassed from the private collection of industrialist Norton Simon. For architecture buffs, a visit to the 1908 Gamble House is a must for lovers of the American Arts and Crafts movement.
Where to stay in Pasadena
Visitors to Pasadena would do well to stay at one of the many hotels within "Old Town" or the original business district of Pasadena that was revitalized in the 1990s. Pedestrian friendly Old Town is central to restaurants, pubs, shopping, theaters, the Norton Simon Museum, and the architecturally splendid City Hall and Castle Green. For visitors seeking a luxurious stay, The Langham Huntington Hotel is Pasadena's finest. Sitting at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, this famous resort offers lavish guest rooms, fine dining, spa service, and other resort amenities.
Best and worst time to go to Pasadena
If not specifically attending the Tournament of Roses Parade or the Rose Bowl Football Game, visitors would do well not to book their trips during the very crowded first week of January. Also, July through September can be hot. For great weather and to catch Pasadena's many gardens in bloom, March through May are best bets.
Where to get lost in Pasadena
Pasadena's acclaimed flea markets can offer hours and hours of wandering. The famed Rose Bowl Flea Market occurs the second Sunday of every month with approximately 2,500 vendors selling their wares. (Admission price ranges from under $10 to $20 for VIP access.) Lesser known, but equally impressive is the Pasadena City College Flea Market held on the first Sunday of the month, which showcases the wares of 500 vendors, with free admission.
The best deal in Pasadena
Admission is free to the Norton Simon Museum on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Likewise, the Huntington Library and Garden offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets. During the summer months from June through September, the Memorial Park in Pasadena offers free music concerts from artists around the globe (Thursdays through Sundays, evenings).
Transportation in Pasadena
Pasadena is very walkable, especially in the shopping, dining and entertainment areas of Old Town Pasadena. The city also has an extensive public transportation system. The Metro Gold Line has six stops throughout the city, while bus service via the Pasadena Area Rapid Transit (ARTS) offers a wide array of service for visitors' needs. Taxi service is available at many hotels or can be called directly.
Getting in from Burbank Airport (Bob Hope Airport)
Burbank's Bob Hope Airport is the closest and most convenient airport to Pasadena, with only a 20-minute drive via the Golden State 5 and 134 Freeways. (Los Angeles International, LAX, is more than twice the distance away.) Transit shuttles, taxis, and rental cars are also available at Burbank Bob Hope Airport. For public transportation, the Burbank Airport offers free shuttle service between the airport and the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station. Here, travelers need to take the train to Los Angeles' Union Station where they could catch the Metro Gold Line into Pasadena.
Author's bio: Lori Huck works in television development as well as writes on entertainment, the arts and travel. She's a fan of the vibrant arts scene in Los Angeles and is a member of various film, TV and arts organizations.