L.A. Day Trip: Pasadena

Nationally known for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game, Pasadena is more locally known for another Rose, the monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market. A short drive or Gold Line train ride from LA, Pasadena is a town worth exploring. Start the day in nature with either a hike or a visit to the Botanical Gardens. Then, wander the quaint Old Town Historic District spotted with coffee shops, specialty stores, art museums, comfort food cafes, and fine dining restaurants.

1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108, USA
The Huntington is a beautiful, cultural destination. The library exhibits are wonderful, and include famous titles like Audubon’s Birds of America. The art collection features well-known paintings, architectural pieces, and a sculpture garden. The Botanical Gardens boast extensive aloe and cacti collections, an assortment of fruit trees, a lovely rose garden, a bonsai collection, and cultural beauties such as the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden. The Huntington also has a conservatory and a sweet children’s garden with ivy-covered pathways, miniature furniture, and fountains galore for playful kids. If you’re hungry, the High Tea by the rose garden is everything high tea should be; there is also a cafe, coffee shop, and a food pavilion on the property, as well as a gift shop. Don’t miss out on beautiful, historical, and cultural experiences at The Huntington!
1001 Rose Bowl Drive
On the second Sunday of every month, bargain hunters, collectors, designers, tourists, and other curious shoppers head to the historic Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, where 2,500 vendors of furniture, accessories, clothes, crafts, vinyl, and more line the perimeter of this 92,000+ seat venue. The sheer size may be overwhelming, the sun may be beating, and it may be early in the morning—but if you come prepared in sneakers, a hat, and with coffee in hand, you’ll be ready to hunt for treasure.
1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108, USA
Upon arrival try to snag the free daily garden tour! The gardens are divided into different ecosystems/themes such as the Australian Garden, Camellia Garden, Children’s Garden, Chinese Garden, Desert Garden, Herb Garden, Japanese Garden, Jungle Garden, Lily Ponds, Palm Garden, Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden and the Subtropical Garden. Once you’ve finished the Garden tours, you can go to the Huntington Library, which is one of the largest research libraries in the United States. This is a nice escape from the big city if you have a day to spare while in Southern California. There is also a slew of different local restaurants to choose from including some found in Old Town Pasadena which is worth its own visit!
1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107, USA
Eaton Canyon has a great nature center if you want to learn about the local plants, animals, geology, and ecology. The exhibits and nature walks are kid-friendly. Hiking trails are also easily accessible from the nature center. The Eaton Canyon Falls trail is a fun and easy hike; it’s cooler and more shaded than many of the local trails, and it follows a creek to a wading pool and waterfall—a great place to relax and cool down on a hot day.
100 Garfield Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101, USA
You may recognize the façade of Pasadena’s City Hall from a number of TV shows and movies. It’s a beautiful building with an open courtyard; find a bench and relax by the fountain, and take time to smell the roses as you pass through. The view from upstairs is nice, also, and check out the Jackie & Mack Robinson Memorial across the street when you leave.
55 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105, USA
Amara’s is a cozy cafe, perfect for a chocolate-lover’s outing, or a romantic date night. Amara offers a bakery-style breakfast, fondue, a lovely assortment of chocolate truffles, and, my personal favorite, churros with dark dipping chocolate. The Venezuelan sipping chocolates are exquisite, and Amara uses Pasadena’s best coffee, Jones Coffee, to prepare unique espresso drinks, such as their Cacao Latte (you pick the type of chocolate for your latte) and the Aztec Xoco-Latte.
46 N Los Robles Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101, USA
The Pacific Asia Museum’s collection includes art and artifacts from the Pacific Islands and Asia, and the museum offers free cell phone audio tours in multiple languages. The audio tour includes a curatorial tour, a family-friendly tour focusing on animals and legends that appeal to kids, and a poetry series featuring original music and poetry relevant to the collections. Even if you’re not a shopper, don’t miss the gift shop as you leave. One of the highlights of my visit was discovering the gift shop’s collection of old photographs (certified, authentic, and matted for sale)—most are originals taken in Asia during the 1800s and early 1900s.
70 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105, USA
Copa Vida is the newest of Pasadena’s gourmet coffee shops, and the unique tastes and aromas of their coffees are surprising (and impressive). They have three primary menus: “steep” is a menu of specialty teas; “pressure” includes coffee-house favorites including espresso, macchiatto, and cortado; “brew” has an “on tap” selection and a rotating selection of their special hand-poured brews. If you’re struggling to narrow down which brew to choose, stop by on a Friday or Saturday evening for a coffee tasting and cupping class; you can buy a flight, sample the specialties, and learn how different processing methods affect the flavor of coffee.
10 S De Lacey Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105, USA
Bird Pick is my favorite place for tea. They have a lovely tea bar with specialty teas and creative drink options, and they have beautiful hardwood tables in their cafe. The shelves are lined with loose-leaf teas, and the windows display colorful tea pots and drink ware. Bird Pick is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing beverage or pick up a last minute gift for a friend!
151 E Walnut St, Pasadena, CA 91103, USA
This cozy little restaurant is the perfect place to start your day. Enjoy your morning coffee on the front porch, and try the French toast—heavenly. Marston’s has all sorts of options for breakfast and lunch, and—if you call them in advance—they’ll even make you a picnic basket to go.
4 Westmoreland Pl, Pasadena, CA 91103, USA
Gamble House is an architectural gem. The glass-work of the front door, chandeliers, and dining room windows is mesmerizing, and the carved frieze in the Burmese teak living room is a decorative treasure. Each room showcases a different kind of wood, and the beautiful furniture unifies the various elements of the architecture, design, and decor. I was also delighted by the concept of “sleeping porches.” If you have the chance, don’t miss this house tour.
Echo Mountain, California 91001, USA
Echo Mountain has a great deal to offer, from the switchback trail, which will give you a great workout on your way up the mountain (start early to avoid the blistering afternoon sun), to the views—on a clear day you can look out over Pasadena, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and all the way to the Pacific. Next, there’s the history. Take time to explore the ruins of the old resort and railway—small plaques post intriguing details and old photographs of what life was like for visitors on Echo Mountain (before it was destroyed by fires and mudslides). Trail access begins at the north end of Lake Avenue at the Cobb Estate Gate. Take lots of water, a picnic, and do be sure to give a good holler through the “Echo Phone” while you’re there.
36 W Colorado Blvd Ste 7
Smoothies go great with warm weather. This cozy little place is tucked in the back of the building—look for the cow by the front door on the little lane called Mills Place just before McCormick Alley. Juice Farm’s organic, cold-pressed beverages use the freshest and best raw ingredients, from fruits and veggies to cacao and bee pollen. They have a creative selection of smoothies, cold-pressed juices, wellness shots, and juice cleanses.
20 S Raymond Ave
This sweet little shop is every travel-lover’s dream. They have everything travel-related: city maps, hiking guides, travel narratives, language helps, luggage, easy-pack clothing and accessories, and more. The decor is fun, with vintage hotel signs on the wall and model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. They also have events, such a classes about travel writing, inspirational travel talks, and slide shows by local ambassadors. The staff is also available to help with travel planning, information, and reservations. It’s never too early to start planning your next adventure, so pop into Distant Lands to find tips for local excursions or inspiration for your next vacation.
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