Summer Camps

May 15, 2011

We do summer camp right in these parts. While Pasadena can certainly boast the Holy Trinity of summer camps—Sawyer, Shi’ini and Summerkids, each privately owned and run by longtime local families—it also boasts quite a number of specialty camps. Following are some of our favorites saints of summer fun. Note that many of them sell out in advance each year, so if you’re keen on one, get your spot reserved soon.


Tom Sawyer Camp, La Cañada/Pasadena. Tom Sawyer Camp promotes good old-fashioned fun in the outdoors, offering horseback riding, swimming instruction, sports, group games, and a rugged outdoor program. Since 1944 TSC has been located in the Upper Arroyo Seco (Devil’s Gate Dam and Hahamongna Watershed Park) and also serves the eastern San Gabriel Valley with a camp at Arcadia County Park. TSC vans pick up and deliver campers back to their homes. School age camper groups are single sex, while preschool and junior-high groups are mixed. The distinguishing feature of TSC are these camper groups, complete with secret oaths, handshakes, forts and treasures. In the Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn tradition, secrecy and mystery are very important with age-old legends of the One-Eyed Monster, Echo Princess, Ivan, Garbog, and the Trids.

Camp Shi’ini, Lower Arroyo, Pasadena. Shi’ini, (pronounced “Shee-nee”) is a Navajo word meaning “Summer People.” Established in 1947, Camp Shi’ini moves throughout the lower arroyo and features activities including horseback riding, canoeing, archery, bear hunting (!), athletics, hiking, American Indian crafts and swimming, with vans that pick up and deliver kids to their doorsteps, and camper groups are co-ed. The distinguishing feature of Camp Shi’ini is its treasure hunt – an ongoing, five-week interactive adventure that features heroes, villains, confrontations, mysteries and astonishing feats on a daily basis. Each year, the campers find themselves in search of a legendary treasure and must team together to vanquish evil and solve the mystery.

Summerkids, Altadena. Summerkids boasts of being the only summer camp in the greater Pasadena area to be run at an actual campground. Its campsite, the Angeles Mountain Center, is located on 57 secure acres in Altadena that include meadows, a stream, a lodge, cabins, a pool, a garden and sports fields. Campers are dropped off daily by parents at the campsite at the top of Fair Oaks, and choose from activities like arts and crafts, group sports and games, swimming, nature activities, hikes, archery, cooking, dance, survival and gardening. Campers make their own activity choices daily, rather than through a group, allowing them to meet friends of all ages and interests.


If you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, or with a particular focus, here are some worthwhile day-camp programs in our own backyard.

A young painter at the Armory

Armory Summer Studio Art Classes, Old Pasadena. Although not technically a day camp, this wonderful art program serves as such. Simply link together two or three (or more) classes a day, and pack a lunch for the break. Classes run a week at a time for nine weeks, and there are offerings for as young as 3 (Dance & Art) and as old as 11 (Stop Motion Animation). The offerings are so wonderful that it’s hard to know what to choose. Monster Destruction? Gardens and Fairies? Minute Movies? Calder’s Circus? We wish we could attend! (Actually, you can attend their adult art classes.) Even more popular are the longer-running summer classes for teens in Art High, including photography, animation and painting. Younger kids’ classes are $90 each, less for members.

A junior scientist at Kidspace

Kidspace Summer Camp, Pasadena. From late July through mid-August, Kidspace offers one-week themed programs, both half- and full-day, with the focus each week covering topics like bugs, water, cooking and robotics, which includes teaming up with Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to create a simulated mission to the planet Mars. Ages range from 6 – 10 years old; $250 for half-day, $400 for full-day; extended care available.

Descanso Discoveries Day Camps, La Cañada. If your kid loves to be outside, dig in the dirt, explore and cook, check out this program, which will run the weeks of June 20, July 18 and July 25. The emphasis is on exploring, experimenting and doing: gardening, orienteering, cooking and science. For kids entering grades 1-6, $400 per session.

Butterfly art at the Huntington

Explorers Summer Day Camp, the Huntington, San Marino. These half- or full-day camps are centered, of course, on the bounty of the Huntington, from its gardens to its galleries, with crafts and activities related to what’s on site. This summer brings three one-week sessions from July 18 to August 5; you can do one, two or all three. $170 per week for half-day, $320 for full-day; discounts for members. Ages 5-12.

Mind, Body, Spirit Therapy Adventures and Steppin’ Up Therapy Group, Institute for Girls Development, Pasadena. These programs (one for girls in grades 3 – 8, one for grades 9-12) help girls build their self confidence and strength while  arming them against mean girls and the media. The therapeutic curriculum includes creative activities, games, yoga, skits, music, journaling and conversation. Participants enjoy indoor and outdoor activities and have the chance to interact with talented expert guests who present information in interactive, engaging and creative ways. Parents are also invited to participate in three workshops with Dr. Melissa Johnson, founder of the Institute, who is a popular speaker on girls’ and parents’ issues. Groups meet for 1.5 hours, twice a week for 6 weeks, starting June 27.  $120 per week; sliding scale and insurance reimbursement are options.

Theatre 360 Summer Camp, Old Pasadena. Theatre is the passion at this thriving program inside a church on the eastern edge of Old Pasadena. Standards are high and performances are impressive; musical theatre is a particular specialty, but students will get experience in everything from dance to serious drama. Choose from five two-week all-day sessions ($450), five three-day-a-week, half-day sessions ($200) and two intensive two-week sessions for teenagers ($500). Ages 3-19.

3 Responses for “Summer Camps”

  1. summer camps says:

    the science camp sounds really interesting.

  2. Diane says:

    I ran across the Vacation Bible School at FUMC Pasadena, its short, but sounds like a fun program.

  3. Summer Camps says:

    I realize this original post is a bit dated, but I also came across a music summer camp that is located in Pasadena as well and this looks great for anyone interested in music or learning from talented musicians,



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