Pasadena is a cultural gem of a city northeast of Downtown LA. It is best known as the home of the Tournament of Roses, which includes the Rose Bowl Game, the Rose Parade on New Year's Day and other related events. However, there's plenty to see and do in Pasadena all year long. Here are the top things to do in Pasadena that make it worth a visit if you're in the LA area or find a hotel in Pasadena.
Visit The Norton Simon Museum
The Norton Simon Museum is one of the top art museums in LA and offers the best art value per step of any Southern California art museum due to its density of major artists and manageable size. They are best known for their quality collection of Impressionists from Van Gogh and Renoir to Picasso and their impressive outdoor Rodin and indoor Degas sculpture exhibits. The downstairs collection of South and Southeast Asian art is also worth a peek.
Explore Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is technically in San Marino, but it borders on Pasadena. The vast estate of railroad and utilities magnate Henry E. Huntington has 120 acres of lush gardens on the outside. Inside, you'll find one of the most extensive research libraries on American and English literature as well as an impressive collection of American and English art.
Bring the Family to the Kidspace Museum
Kidspace Children's Museum is a great museum that focuses on age-appropriate science, arts, and crafts associated with its location in the Arroyo Seco. There are 25 indoor, hands-on exhibits and lots more to explore outdoors.
Check out the Gamble House
Take a Tour of Pasadena
There are a variety of tours you can take to explore different aspects of Pasadena. The Pasadena Tour Company offers two neighborhood walking tours and a couple driving tours of Pasadena's distinctive neighborhoods. Day Tripper Guided Walking Tours features tours of Old Pasadena and Pasadena Civic Center on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the first Saturday of the month. Cyclists will enjoy the Bikes & Hikes LA excursion, which has two different Bike & Hike tours in Pasadena and several hikes in the surrounding areas. Meanwhile, Melting Pot Food Tours organizes 3.5-hour Old Pasadena Food Tasting Walking Tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and if you're still hungry, try the Foody Field Trips' Historic Pasadena Food Tasting Tour on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9:45 am.
Probably the most popular tour, however, is the Old Pasadena Walking Tour, a monthly historical and architectural tour of Old Pasadena offered by the Pasadena Heritage Society on the first Saturday of each month (except for July and October).
Check Groupon for discounts on Pasadena tours, attractions, and events.
Information was accurate at the time of publication but is subject to change at any time. Please check the individual companies for current tour information.
Peek Inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the branch of NASA responsible for creating and monitoring all the unmanned robots, satellites and other research vessels that get sent into outer space. Public tours are offered Wednesdays by reservation and for groups by special arrangement.
Shop at One Colorado and Old Pasadena
One Colorado is a shopping area in the heart of Old Pasadena with an array of big-name and boutique stores and restaurants housed in 17 historic buildings. Old Pasadena was founded in the late 1800s and is filled with old brick buildings that are now trendy restaurants, bars, and shops.
Learn the History of Pasadena City Hall
Pasadena City Hall, at the center of the Pasadena Civic Center, is an example of the 1920s "City Beautiful" style, which in this case include Italian Renaissance and Spanish Colonial influences. Opened in 1927, the building had a major overhaul for earthquake retrofitting from 2004 to 2007.
City Hall is a popular backdrop for photos, from weddings to quinceañeras. You can explore the courtyard with its baroque fountain, walk the colonnades, and climb the corner stair towers even when City Hall is closed. You can't climb all the way up into the 256-foot dome, but you can get some nice photos of it from the corner towers.
The USC Pacific Asia Museum
The Pacific Asia Museum consists of six galleries around a Chinese courtyard.
Rotating exhibits may be ceramics, textiles, painting, sculptures and any other decorative arts from all Asian countries.
Visit The Pasadena History Museum
The Pasadena History Museum offers tours of the Fenyes Mansion, visits to the Finnish Folk Art Museum on the same property, and exhibits in the History Center Galleries.
See a Performance at the Pasadena Playhouse
Pasadena Playhouse is an award-winning local theater that hosts classic productions and world premieres in a beautiful 1924 theater. Their productions often include well-known screen actors. A Noise Within is another award-winning theater company in Pasadena. You may occasionally find discount tickets to Pasadena Playhouse and A Noise Within performances at Goldstar.com.
Explore The Rose Bowl
The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, built in 1922 is a National Historic Landmark. It has its big day every year on New Year's Day for the Tournament of Roses Football Game, also known as the Rose Bowl, a post-season college football game between the top-ranked team from the northern states and the top-ranked team from the western states. During regular football season, it's the home of the UCLA Bruins football team.
Rose Bowl Tours
You can take a two-hour tour of the Rose Bowl on the last Friday of every month. Depending on the season, there may be one or two tour times scheduled.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market
On the second Sunday of the month, the stadium parking lot is home to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, one of LA's favorite outdoor swap meets with more than 2,500 vendors and 20,000 visitors every month. The flea market is open from 5 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but General Admission tickets are only available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Staggered early admission pricing starts at 5 a.m., but all vendors are not set up until 9 a.m. Vendors start closing down at 3 p.m., but they don't kick you out until 4:30, so you might catch some last minute deals as long as you're in before 3.
The Rose Bowl Stadium is located next to Brookside Park, which is also home to the Brookside Golf Course and Pasadena Golf Course, the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and Kidspace Children's Museum in addition to various baseball, softball and soccer fields, and picnic areas.
Tournament of Roses
Hike Eaton Canyon
Eaton Canyon is a finger of the city of Pasadena that points north through Altadena into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. It's an easy 1.7-mile hike to a small waterfall (when there's enough water). There's some hiking through the creek bed on the last half mile, so be prepared for some rock hopping and getting your feet wet if there's been rain. If it hasn't rained in a while, the falls may be down to a trickle.
There's a parking lot and Nature Center near the trailhead. Eaton Canyon is a really popular hike that can feel like a traffic jam on the weekend, so go early on a weekday if you can.
Listen to Live Music at Levitt Pavilion
Appreciate Art at Pasadena Museum of California Art
Pasadena Museum of California Art is located in a very plain building around the corner from the Pacific Asia Museum. They have rotating exhibits of the work of early through modern-day California artists.
Hit the Ice at Pasadena Skating Center
The Pasadena Skating Center has been operating since 1976 but has only been in its current location behind the Pasadena Convention Center since 2011. In addition to their lessons and team activities, they offer public skate sessions and skate rental every afternoon with some additional evening and lunchtime public sessions.
See the Fountains at Plaza de Las Fuentes
Plaza de Las Fuentes is an outdoor park that is home to a series of different styles of public fountains. It runs from City Hall east along All Saints Church to the Shops at Paseo Colorado.
Hear a Speaker at Pasadena Civic Auditorium
The Pasadena Civic Auditorium opened in 1932 and continues to host concerts and other performances in its 3,000-seat hall, including a Distinguished Speaker Series. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.