Just minutes from downtown via the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway or the Metro Gold Line train, Pasadena is no ordinary bedroom community. The Craftsman-style bungalows in its leafy neighborhoods hint of a world-renowned architectural heritage, and institutions such as the Tournament of Roses, Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, nearby, give the community a gravitas far beyond its size. In neighboring San Gabriel Valley communities, additional treasures await.
A tribute to foresighted urban planning is the 22-square block shopping district known as Old Pasadena, roughly bounded by Walnut Street and Del Mar Boulevard, Arroyo Parkway and Pasadena Avenue. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the once-neglected district contains restored buildings and the city’s trendiest boutiques, nightclubs and restaurants such as Cheval Blanc Bistro and Haven Gastropub + Brewery.
Pedestrian-only alleys meander through One Colorado, where an eclectic collection of restaurants have alfresco dining overlooking a sculpture-strewn square.
A few steps east of Old Pasadena lies Paseo Colorado, an inviting shopping center with ArcLight Cinemas and upscale shops such as Coach and BCBG Max Azria lining garden promenades. A variety of dining options is offered at this mixed-use development, whose open-air design frames views of such historic structures as Pasadena City Hall (100 N. Garfield Ave.).
Anchored by the Mission-style Pasadena Playhouse, this district is filled with upscale antique shops, boutiques and dining rooms with ornate façades. Also present is the Le Cordon Bleu-affiliated College of Culinary Arts, with a restaurant open to the public, and the famed Ice House comedy club. The neighboring Boston Court Performing Arts Center presents dramas and musicals. The pagoda-crowned Pacific Asia Museum features exotic decorative arts from every corner of Asia, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art celebrates Golden State painters and sculptors from 1850 to the present. Dining choices include Pie ’n Burger, a favorite Caltech dive.
Just east of the Playhouse District, South Lake Avenue provides a vibrant shopping environment. At the Commons and Burlington Arcade, charming boutiques are set around European-style courtyards. A drive farther south on Lake Avenue reveals the opulent, historic Langham Huntington Hotel.
Orange Grove Boulevard
This wide boulevard, once called Millionaire’s Row, is still lined with splendid estates, including the former Wrigley Mansion, which now houses the Tournament of Roses Association and is open for tours. The immediate neighborhood features the legacy of architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Wallace Neff and Paul Williams. The genius of Greene & Greene, pioneers of the Arts & Crafts movement, is evident at the Gamble House, also open to the public.
Just around the corner on Colorado Boulevard is the Norton Simon Museum, home to one of the finest art collections in America. The galleries at this small museum are filled with masterpieces from the Renaissance to the 20th century, and its repertoire of Impressionist masters (Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh) is impressive. It also features extensive art from India and a tribute to Degas in a lovely sculpture garden.
San Marino + South Pasadena
In the exclusive residential community of San Marino is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, one of the most remarkable pieces of real estate in Southern California. Here the beautifully restored Italianate mansion of railroad magnate Henry Huntington is packed with 18th- and 19th-century art including Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie. A library with 600,000 rare books and manuscripts occupies another structure. Throughout the 200-acre property are more than one dozen distinct botanical environments, re-creating native habitats from England, China and elsewhere. Tea service is offered in a cottage amid a formal rose garden.
Directly south of Old Pasadena is the independent municipality of South Pasadena, a shady, tranquil community. The Mission West historic district, particularly Mission Street, is packed with antique shops, galleries and cafes. The town is particularly kid-friendly, thanks to adorable shops such as the Dinosaur Farm and Fair Oaks Pharmacy, a 1915 restored drugstore with a soda fountain.
Eagle Rock + Glendale
Just west of Pasadena is Eagle Rock, a quiet college town that is reinventing itself as a hip neighborhood with an understated boho-chic vibe. Students from Occidental College, where a young Barack Obama studied, mingle with young couples who have snapped up the hillside real estate. Its main drag of Colorado Boulevard is suddenly lined with one trendy cafe after another, from Vietnamese to French to vegetarian—plus Casa Bianca, a venerable old-school pizza joint.
On the other side of Eagle Rock is Glendale. Office workers pour out of high-rises for happy hour at The Americana at Brand, an open-air shopping, residential and entertainment development. Here, find value at H&M or splurge at boutiques such as Kate Spade. It’s a great place for a movie followed by a snack from Crumbs Bake Shop or sushi and cocktails at Katsuya. The trilevel indoor shopping center Glendale Galleria is adjacent. Its department stores include Nordstrom, Macy’s and Target, and specialty boutiques include Banana Republic, Coach and Tilly’s.
Glendale’s diverse population—it’s home to one of the largest Armenian communities in America—provides plenty of flavor, including elaborate restaurants. Marked by a towering neon obelisk is the Alex Theatre (216 N. Brand Blvd.), an art deco masterpiece that hosts concerts and musicals.
Just north of downtown Glendale is the delightful community of Montrose, with its homespun shops and all-American diners. Nearby is sprawling Descanso Gardens, home to North America’s largest camellia collection—an awesome sight when fully in bloom during January and February.
San Gabriel Valley
Kissing Pasadena’s eastern border is Sierra Madre, a quaint community that refuses to be paved over. Arcadia is home to Santa Anita Park, one of the most storied thoroughbred horse racing venues in the world. Adjacent to the racetrack is Westfield Santa Anita, an ever-expanding shopping center. Arcadia is also home to the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden, whose natural Southern California habitat is famous for its wild peafowl; you might see a flock crossing nearby streets.
The 1771 San Gabriel Mission is a notable landmark in the neighboring city of San Gabriel. The San Gabriel Valley cities of
San Gabriel, Temple City, Alhambra and Monterey Park have drawn large numbers of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants in recent decades, and some of the best Chinese restaurants in America are found here, including Hong Kong-style seafood houses that are great fun for dim sum brunches
Click HERE for a detailed map of these neighborhoods.