Pasadena has been an important Southern Californian city since the 1890s, when the railroad came to town, the first freeway in America was built here, the Rose Parade began and Cal Tech University was founded. Today this vibrant city has plenty to offer visitors, from beautiful gardens and wild hiking trails to famed museums and historic homes. There is plenty to do on a visit to this usually warm and sunny place that comes alive every New Year’s Day with both the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl collegiate football championship, which are not included in our list as they only happen one day a year. But if you love a great parade (and a very big crowd of people), add a visit on January 1 to your Pasadena bucket list. During the rest of the year, you can tour the Rose Bowl Stadium and visit the Tournament of Roses Home to be immersed in the spirit and history of the city’s iconic celebration. Be sure to see the Gamble House for its strikingly beautiful architecture and do not miss the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens, for they are truly a world-class attraction that does Pasadena proud.
Photo courtesy of Pasadena Tournament of Roses
The Wrigley Mansion â” Also known as The Tournament House â” has been the home of the Tournament of Roses since 1958, when the Ada Wrigley (of the chewing gum family fortune) donated the massive home to the city of Pasadena for just that purpose. It’s the place where the annual New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Game and Rose Parade are planned, and where the queen and princesses are named and prepared for all their duties leading up to the big day. Those two big events take a lot of planning, which means that taking a guided tour of this over-the-top mansion only happens from February to September, for while this is Tournament House is a throwback to 1906 when it was built, the Italian Renaissance-style home is still used constantly and is an integral part of pulling off the massive parade and football game every year.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: Football fans will love the large room devoted to every Rose Bowl Game ever played, while architecture aficionados will swoon at the expensive details here.
Jenny’s expert tip: Do a free one-hour tour of the house on Thursdays at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. from February to September and/or stroll in the rose garden at any time during the year.
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Photo courtesy of Melting Pot Food Tours
Combining lots of Pasadena history with a walk through Old Town and stops for bites along the way, Melting Pot Food Tours gets you up close to places that locals love to go. The company is the oldest food tour operator in L.A., offering five different walking tours in various parts of the city; this Pasadena version hits an assortment of eateries that showcase the ethnic diversity of offerings here. Stops include eating empanadas at Tortas Mexico, falafel at Father Nature and curry at All India Cafe. And there’s dessert, too, of course, densely delightful cupcakes from Dot’s Cupcakes and incredible chocolate bites from Mignon Chocolate Boutique. Wear comfortable walking shoes, as you’ll cover 1.25 miles during the tour (with moments to sit and rest and nibble along the way), and bring a water bottle, too, as most days in Pasadena get pretty warm, even in the winter.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: This walking tour is a terrific way to see the laneways and architecture of Old Pasadena while tasting tidbits from some of Pasadena’s yummiest eateries.
Jenny’s expert tip: Park in the structure right next to the Everson Royce shop where the tour begins for only $6 for the full day.
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Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena
Kidspace Children’s Museum has been delighting kids 10 and under for more than 40 years with its fun mix of outdoor and indoor play. There’s lots to see and do, as Kidspace allows children to get soaking wet (bring towels and extra clothes) in the Water Play area, to climb rocks and a big rope bridge in the Outdoor Climbing section and to learn about gardening and pollinators in the Harvest Corner. There’s plenty of fun inside the Roberts Pavilion, where there’s everything to discover, from all about fossils and rocks to building robotics and other inventions. There’s even a giant Ant Hole adventure that lets kids feel just like an ant does, climbing through a tunnel colony and down a giant leaf! Don’t miss the Physics Forest, where 12 interactive outdoor exhibits let children understand how the world actually works, all the while having a blast in the process.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: Encouraging learning and fun while getting kids outside to play makes the Kidspace Children’s Museum a perfect place to spend a day.
Jenny’s expert tip: The museum is free on Free Family Nights, the first Tuesday of every month from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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This museum’s two-acre site showcases several historic buildings, including the Fenyes Mansion, a 1905 Beaux-Arts masterpiece that still boasts its original furnishings. Part of “Millionaire’s Row” that sprang up along Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena in the early 1900s, when rich Midwesterners took up winter residence in this perennially warm place, the mansion is filled with artworks, furniture and more from that time period. It has a beautiful garden as well and is a popular spot for local weddings (but only for the ceremony itself, not the reception). The history of Pasadena and of its original residents are explored in depth in the museum exhibits, located in a more modern building nearby. In addition, special exhibits focus on particular aspects of Pasadena’s history, including railways and transportation, fine and folk arts, and historic photographs.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: One of Pasadena’s classic mansions, the Fenyes house is a throwback to when the city was an enclave of Midwest millionaires escaping the winter.
Jenny’s expert tip: Parking is free at the Pasadena Museum of History; look for a shaded space or you’ll come back to a car that is like a furnace (most times of the year).
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Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena
At the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists are taking Americans and the world into outer space. The JPL is part of California Institute of Technology (also known as Cal Tech), which was founded here in Pasadena in 1891. The JPL began studying rockets and the idea of space exploration in the 1930s and began collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shortly after that federal government division was founded in 1958. Today, NASA and the JPL have taken America to Mars and beyond; and with a program designed to encourage young people to understand and embrace scientific advancements, they offer free tours of their museum as well as of the von Karman Visitor Center, the Space Flight Operations Facility and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Larger groups can book tours, or you can visit on Monday or Wednesday as part of the public tour offerings.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: The best and the brightest of America’s space program are working at JPL, a place where adults and kids alike can be inspired and enlightened.
Jenny’s expert tip: Check the JPL website for the exact day and time of available tours, as they vary week to week. Book the Visitor Day Tour at least three weeks ahead of time.
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Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena
Eaton Canyon Natural Area is a protected wilderness preserve located on the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains on the north end of Pasadena. With numerous hiking trails and a fascinating nature center that enlightens visitors on those trails and all the flora and fauna found there, as well as information on the geology and ecology of the area, the canyon has been protected since the 1930s. That means that there’s plenty of natural beauty to see on the easier nature trails located near the Nature Center (look for a trail guide to help you identify the trees, plants and animals you can see along the way) as well as on the more challenging hikes. You can climb to the top of Mount Wilson, going nine miles one way to the summit and nine more back; be sure to carry water and know that it’s a very strenuous trip.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: This protected natural area is one of the wild and beautiful places of Pasadena, where a leisurely stroll or a tough hike are options.
Jenny’s expert tip: It can get very warm in the San Gabriel Mountains, so make sure to bring plenty of water along on any hike you take at Eaton Canyon.
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Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena
The Rose Bowl Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in Southern California, with a storied history that spans more than 100 years. It’s still a vibrant place, where UCLA football games happen in the fall, the annual Rose Bowl collegiate playoff game takes place on New Year’s Day and the monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market goes off once a month. There are concerts and food festivals held throughout the year, too, and tours of the stadium happen the last Friday of every month. The Flea Market fills the field with vendors selling all sorts of fascinating goods, ranging from clothes to food to home furnishings ï¿½” and more! The market happens on the second Sunday of every month at the Rose Bowl.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: There’s nothing more iconic than the Rose Bowl and the tour is a fun, fascinating trip into the history of this famed stadium.
Jenny’s expert tip: When going to events at the Rose Bowl, be sure to carry a clear 12″ x 6″ x 12″ plastic purse/bag, as any others are not allowed.
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With its curved exterior and dramatic, Frank Gehry-designed interior, the building that houses the Norton Simon Museum is a work of art in itself. The museum, home to businessman Norton Simon’s incredible private collection, features top-notch European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, as well as an incredible trove of works from Asia that spans more than 2000 years. Be sure to search out the three stunning Rembrandt paintings housed here, as well as the Goya paintings and the over 100 Degas works on display. And don’t miss the sculpture garden, where the natural beauty is just as impressive as the man-made works throughout.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: One of the world’s most impressive private art collections was amassed by businessman Norton Simon; this museum is his legacy to the world.
Jenny’s expert tip: Admission to this Pasadena landmark is free on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.; otherwise, adults pay $12 and children under 18 are free.
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This stunning Arts and Crafts-style home designed by the famed brothers Greene and Greene (Charles and Henry) was completed in 1908. Built for David and Mary Gamble, wealthy members of The Procter & Gamble family from Cincinnati, who wanted a warm place to spend their winters. Fully outfitted with original furnishings that were also designed by the Greene brothers, the house is a must-see for architecture buffs and especially for fans of the Arts and Crafts style, for this is a classic example of that school of thought. Operated by USC, tours of the home require tickets, which can be purchased ahead of time online or at the gift shop next door to the home, located in what was the property’s original garage. Check out the Behind-the-Velvet-Ropes special tour to get to see parts of the house that are normally off-limits.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: One of the best examples of the Arts and Crafts architecture style in America, this house is truly a national treasure.
Jenny’s expert tip: Book your tour online to ensure getting access to the house, especially one of the specialty tours and note that low, flat shoes are required for all visitors.
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Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Stroll the 120 acres of the Huntington’s astonishing and varied gardens (Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Desert, Rose, Jungle, Subtropical and more), then explore the library’s extraordinary collection of rare books. Finally, spend quality time enjoying the art gallery’s impressive collection of artistic masterpieces including Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy.” Be sure to check out the Greene and Greene collection that commemorates the work of Pasadena’s famed architects, too. The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens go into high gear in September 2019 as it begins a yearlong celebration of its centennial with a series of exhibitions and public programs. Not surprisingly given Pasadena’s year-round warm weather, one of the best (and least-crowded) times to visit is in the winter. Don’t miss having high tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room, where freshly baked scones and cakes await.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Attractions because: Railroad magnate Henry Huntington put his millions to good use here, creating a breathtaking botanical garden and art museum that features “The Blue Boy.”
Jenny’s expert tip: “Free Day” is the first Thursday of every month, but you must have a ticket and tickets sell out well before the free day. You must order them via phone or online, starting the first day of the preceding month.
Read more about The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens →