If you’re from Pasadena, you understand what Pasadena is. Those from out of town do not have this luxury, and often have interesting misconceptions. Some people think it’s part of Los Angeles proper, others think it’s just another suburb. Some think it’s posh, others think it’s made out of roses. What people don’t know is that it’s a big, important place in its own right.
Recently my boyfriend came to visit and I had to give him the whirlwind tour. His vision of Pasadena was one shaped by the band Ozma and images of the Colorado Street Bridge. It was not an incorrect view of the city, it just needed to be fleshed out. Here are the highlights of our tour:
The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens
A must see if you’re in the area. I love this place. One of my goals in life is to find a way to get into the private section of the library that only researchers are allowed to enter, the vaults filled with first folios of Shakespeare and all Jack London’s papers, not to mention a Gutenberg Bible. And that’s just the library. The art collection is equally as extensive, as are the gardens. The Desert Garden is one of the largest and oldest in the world. You have to check it out. You have never seen so many cacti. Unfortunately, for those particularly fond of desert plants, the 25th Succulent Plant Symposium just passed. Sorry. Still, you will not regret your time here, and make sure to give yourself a full day.
The price is not cheap, but they do have free days once a month (the first Thursday, but tickets must be reserved in advance). Weekdays are cheaper than weekends. Closed on Tuesdays. huntington.org
The Rose Bowl Flea Market
The second Sunday of every month the quiet Rose Bowl parking lot, where every Pasadena teenager learned to drive, is descended upon by the masses. More than 2,500 vendors and thousands of customers enter the Arroyo Seco with dreams of that perfect find. Besides the miles of antiques that can take hours upon hours to scour, the most entertaining thing to do is people-watch. Is that woman carrying a lamp in one hand and a mounted elk head in the other? The answer is always yes.
Although you have to pay a fee to get in, which seems counter-intuitive, it’s worth it, especially if you’re trying to find the perfect thing to go in your indie apartment in Eagle Rock. If you are incredibly ambitious, you can pay an early-bird fee and get in at 5 a.m. People really do this, and I have heard that it works. If you have a friend with an Ozma fix, be sure to drive over the bridge on your way out. It really is a beautiful piece of work. rgcshows.com/RoseBowlFleaMarket
Another Pasadena cultural tour is the celebrated ArtNight. It only happens a couple of times a year, but it is something to watch out for. Dozens of Pasadena museums open their doors for a night of free everything: free admissions, free shuttles between events, even coupons for dinners in Old Town (so I’ve heard). This is the way to see the Norton Simon, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pacific Asia Museum and all the cool Art Center stuff without having to pay a cent. The general sense of comraderie is also completely endearing. The spaces may be crowded, but it’s a great night out on the town. The next one is in March. artnightpasadena.org
South Pasadena Farmers’ Market
Living down in the South part of Pasadena, I am partial to this small but delicious farmers’ market. On Thursdays from four to eight, Mission and Meridian are closed off to allow vegetables and fruits to take their rightful place in our hearts. The tamales are particularly good. It is small, which just makes it all the more of a perfect introduction to the small town that is South Pas. We stopped by right after my boyfriend got off the plane and everything began to fall into place when he experienced our lemonade and tamales. It’s also a great excuse to hang out on Mission and check Videotheque for new titles. southpasadenafarmersmarket.com/index.html
This business is more than one hundred years old and is still looking great. Founded back in the 1890s, it continues to be one of the best independent bookstores in the country—in fact, last year Publisher’s Weekly named it Best Bookstore in the country. And they’re right—this place is the best. I bought books in the excellent second-floor children and teen sections for years before eventually graduating to the massive fiction section downstairs. Their social studies aisle is fantastic, as are all the nonfiction varieties you could imagine. My boyfriend easily spent an hour wandering around. It’s the perfect outing for the intellectual couple, buying books and grabbing a movie at the Laemmle. Make sure to grab a frozen hot chocolate from Zeli’s on your way out. vromans.com
My boyfriend said I had to throw this one in, and he’s right. This is definitely on my list of top things to do in Pasadena. More than 60 beers on tap, including Pasadena’s own Craftsman brew. Although it can be impossibly loud on weekends (and Thursday, since anyone who’s anyone knows it’s the new Friday), it is the nicest place to have a beer and chat. An English style pub, it lacks the pretentiousness of many Los Angeles places. To me, it always feels sincere. There’s always some drunk group watching a soccer game, which makes everything feel more genuine. And if for any reason you are missing Nutella or Ribena, they have these and more in their small English grocery in the front room. luckybaldwins.com
— Skylar Sutton