The rich history and culture of Pasadena is a just a short drive away.
Less than 10 miles away from Downtown Los Angeles, but a world away from the big city vibe, Pasadena beckons with an exceptional blend of architecture, gardens, history, entertainment and dining options that will please even the pickiest of travelers.
Sip & Savor
We started our recent visit with a delicious meal at The Arbour (527 S. Lake Ave., Ste. 120, 626/396-4925, thearbourpasadena.com), where Chef Ian Gresik and his team bring the freshest ingredients from local farms, ranches and fisheries to the table. Sip a specialty cocktail like an Arugula Gimlet (get your veggies and gin in one shot) and nibble on delicious edibles like crab pappardelle pasta or bison steak tartare as you watch the magic happen in a bright, open kitchen.
Step back into time for late night cocktails at Bar 1886 at The Raymond (1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave. 626/441-3136, theraymond.com), a speakeasy style bar with more than 600 off-menu house cocktails, Manhattans, old-fashions, sidecars and sours prepared to perfection. If you don’t see exactly what you’re thirsty for, request a “dealer’s choice” and let the bartender create the perfect drink for you.
A great choice for breakfast is Central Grille ( 219 S. Fair Oaks Ave., 626/449-4499, centralparkrestaurant.net), housed in a 100-year-old flower warehouse, and serving up specialties like salmon skillet hash, braised short rib benedicts, as well as an array of eggs, waffles, pancakes and other breakfast fare.
For a casual lunch, check out Prawn (16 Miller Alley, 626/219-6615, prawncoastal.com/pasadena-ca), Chef Mark Peel’s (Ma Maison, Spago, La Brea Bakery, Campanile) new venture designed to deliver super accessible high-quality seafood. Try the Seattle fish stew, the lobster mac & cheese and the chocolate chip cookies, if they have them!
Tour the Gamble House—a 1908 National Historic Monument from—for a docent-led education in the craftsman tradition. Architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene not only designed the residence, but nearly every detail inside and out—furniture, rugs, lamps and leaded art glass—for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company (reservations required, 626/793-3334, gamblehouse.org).
Architecture buffs should also check out the Bungalow Heaven Home Tour on Apr. 28 (bungalowheaven.org), where you’ll visit select homes built from 1900 to the 1930s in Bungalow Heaven, Pasadena’s first Landmark District. Designated as one of the “10 Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association, Bungalow Heaven has more than 1,000 historic homes in the neighborhood.
Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s Book Store (695 E. Colorado Blvd., 626/449-5320, vromansbookstore.com) is a literary landmark well worth exploring.
The historic Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. El Molino Ave., pasadenaplayhouse.org) offers building tours, as well as a wide variety of productions. Slated to open this spring is Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the New York Times bestseller by Cheryl Strayed, and adapted by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Rd., 626/405-2100, huntington.org) is a magical place. I could have easily spent several days exploring the 207-acre estate of the late Henry Huntington. The botanical gardens alone have 14,000 varieties of plants on more than 150 acres. Don’t miss the Chinese Garden, where you can stroll around a beautiful lake bordered by Tai Hu rocks and enjoy a landscape that includes five hand-carved stone bridges, a stream, and a canyon waterfall. The Huntington Library includes works from American and British literature, including an original Gutenberg Bible. There’s also the Huntington Art Gallery, showcasing 18th and 19th British and French masterpieces, including “Pinkie” (Thomas Lawrence, 1794) and “The Blue Boy” (Thomas Gainsborough, 1770), which currently offers visitors a glimpse into the technical processes of a senior conservator working on the famous painting as well as background on its history, mysteries and artistic virtues (through Sept. 30).
The Norton Simon Museum (411 W. Colorado Blvd., nortonsimon.org) is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. The current exhibition, Matisse/Odalisque, on view through Jun. 17, features work by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others.
We stayed at the centrally-located Hilton Pasadena (168 N. Los Robles Ave. 626/577-1000, hilton.com), in a spacious, contemporary room. Also well-regarded are the Langham Huntington (recently named a reader’s choice award winner by Condé Nast Traveler) and the historic Bissell House Bed and Breakfast.
For more information, go to visitpasadena.com.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 14, 2019.