Looking for things to do in Pasadena, California? Plan a day trip or spend a weekend in the city of Roses. There is no way you’ll get bored in Pasadena with all the attractions from museums, gardens, restaurants, and family-friendly events and activities.
What to do in Pasadena, California?
In Pasadena -or closely nearby- you’ll find great shopping from brand names, antique stores, Rose Bowl Flea Market, and thrift shops. You can choose between which museums to visit and what gardens to stroll through for the day. Find great eats, bars, pubs, and dine out at some of the most delicious spots. Go hiking. Or admire some of Pasadena’s historic and preserved architecture.
IS THERE A TON TO DO IN PASADENA?
As Pasadena locals, we are here to tell you that there is plenty of things to do in Pasadena. It’s part of the reason we moved here several years ago. Actually, far prior to us residing here, we’d take weekend day trips or weeknight trips from Los Angeles proper to enjoy what Pasadena has to offer.
Then we decided to move here.
We have a friend, whose family is originally from Pasadena, tell us for years that Pasadena would be our home (this was way before we started hanging out here). She said it suited our lifestyle and personality. Boy was she right.
So, it recently came to our attention that we’d mention Pasadena spots here and there. Whether on the blog or social media, but never truly written about the city we truly appreciate and made a home in. It’s about time.
The other day we were sitting at dinner, at one of the many amazing restaurants in Pasadena, and hubby says, “We really don’t need to leave Pasadena if we don’t want to.”
And, it’s true! We were sitting at the back patio of the dining establishment, having a beautiful time with excellent food and we felt like we were on vacation. The only thing we are missing here is a beach. But we do have a waterfall we can hike to at Eaton Canyon.
Hopefully, this post is helpful for anyone that is planning to visit Pasadena.
Where is Pasadena?
Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, in San Gabriel Valley. Just a 20-minute ride from Downtown Los Angeles.
Favorite Time of Year in Pasadena?
The holidays. After living in the South Bay area of Los Angeles for almost ten years, it never felt like Christmas. Not unless we visited the Grove. Once we made the move to Pasadena and experienced our first Christmas here, it was the first time we truly felt the spirit of the holiday since moving from New York.
And then, the Spring when everything is in bloom again. As you drive along Colorado street bridge, the city’s signature pink trumpet trees will sure to win your heart in the Spring.
Please note, I do not claim to be a Pasadena expert. This post is solely written from our perspective and experiences as any other post on this blog.
A few Fun facts about Pasadena:
- Pasadena is home to the Rose Bowl.
- Home to the Rose Parade.
- Many movies and TV Shows filmed or are set in Pasadena (Father of the Bride, Big Bang Theory, and more).
- Julia Child was born and raised here.
- Trader Joe’s founded and opened its first store here.
Things to do in Pasadena, CA
1. Explore old town Pasadena
If you’re in Pasadena for a quick visit, you will probably end up at Old Town Pasadena. You will find many great pubs, restaurants, and shops. There are many charming alleys and corners ready to be explored. And murals to be discovered.
Make sure to look upwards -and in some cases down- and don’t miss the wonderful architectural details and historical buildings around town.
For any Big Bang Theory fans out there, this is also where Big Bang Theory Way, an alley dedicated to the famous hit TV Show.
Top Foodie Pick: Check out Russell’s, a local favorite in Pasadena. They have the best breakfast and brunch.
Old Pasadena | 1 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105 (Google Map It)
2. Pasadena City Hall
If you’re Downtown, Pasadena, you don’t want to miss seeing Pasadena City Hall. This architectural beauty was completed in 1927 and is an important landmark in Pasadena.
We recommend visiting during a weekend when it’s not crowded with city officials and weddings. Definitely wander inside and check out the beautiful courtyard. And at night, is just as beautiful to see.
Our favorite time is Christmas when they have the tree lit up inside. Christmas in Pasadena is pretty special.
3. Pasadena Farmer’s Market
There are two official Pasadena Farmer’s markets. There used to be one in Old Town on Saturday mornings but that has closed. If you’re in the neighborhood on one of these days this is a great place to stop up on local veggies and treats.
- Every Saturday
- 8 am to 12 pm
Villa Park Center
- Every Tuesday
- 8:30am to 12:30pm
4. Start planning to attend The Rose Parade
One of the top things to do in Pasadena is attending the Rose Parade. This New Year’s Day celebration is a local pride and joy for over a century. Sadly, it was canceled for 2021, but the city is already preparing for the 2022 celebration.
This is a great family-friendly event. For locals and visitors that come from afar to celebrate, the celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve. Drive down Colorado Blvd and you’ll see people camping out to hold their spots overnight. Many traditions take place during these hours.
Confession: We do live right off the route. We can hear the festivities that start on New Year’s Eve and well into the night. And, we even wake up New Year’s morning to the sounds of the Parade… However, we have yet to attend the parade.
What kind of local does that make me? I’m an introvert that prefers to watch it peacefully from the living room couch. What can we say? Crowds aren’t for everyone.
This leads me to… even if you can’t make it to the parade, you can enjoy the fun by seeing the parade floats after the parade. The floats are showcased for 2 days. If you can’t make it on Jan 1st, then make plans for Jan 2nd. It is fun and it is a great family activity that could end up being a yearly tradition.
5. The Rose BOWL
This National Historic Landmark is known across the country. While many events take place here, for us, we like to use the exterior of the Stadium to get our steps in. The Rose Bowl loop is a great way to get the family out for the afternoon.
During the pandemic, it’s been used as the local drive-in movie theater.
One of our favorite things to do at the Rose Bowl is hit up the flea market.
rose Bowl Flea Market
This iconic flea market is worth the visit. You’ll find crafts, handmade items, vintage items, clothing, furniture, and all sorts of eclectic finds. It’s a great morning or afternoon of shopping at one of LA’s best flea markets.
When is the Rose Bowl Flea Market open? Every second Sunday of every month. So, mark your calendars.
And, plan accordingly. Start your day here early. Especially if it’s going to be a hot day. When that sun comes out, it’s blazing hot. Also, wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking, a lot.
Once you’re done at the flea market, you can head to Old Town for some lunch or early dinner.
Concerts and events
Many concerts, sports games, drive-in movie dates, and other events take place at the Rose Bowl, including our huge July 4th celebration: Americafest.
Don’t miss experiencing an event at the Rose Bowl. Stay up to date with events at the Rose Bowl here.
6. Support Vroman’s BOOKstore
This Pasadena favorite on Colorado Blvd is a beloved spot.
Many events and author signings take place at Vroman’s. Check here to see if one of your favorite authors will be making an appearance soon.
Unfortunately, this bookshop was closed in-person shopping throughout the pandemic and we were afraid it would close down. If you’re in the area and in the market for some books, please stop by and support our local bookstore.
7. See a Play or Show at Pasadena Playhouse
This performing art center has produced many plays, shows, and events. Just a few years ago, Al Pacino starred and played Tennessee Williams in “God Looked Away”.
If you’re into theatre and cultural productions, you may want to keep your eye out on future events here. Now that we are at the tail-end of the pandemic, we hope to see the theatre open with new shows.
Make a night of it in Pasadena with dinner and show.
8. The Huntington Library
The Huntington Library is another great reason to visit Pasadena. This extraordinary institution is a research library, an art museum and it has its own botanical gardens. Fourteen gardens to be exact.
You can spend the day here absorbing everything in their galleries and then wandering into their 14 gardens to be transported into another world.
The Huntington Library is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year. However, if you are wondering when it would be the best time to visit, I recommend going in the Spring and Summer when everything is in bloom.
- Open from 10 am to 5 pm.
- Closed only on Tuesdays.
- Advance reservations are required for weekends only and Monday holidays.
- You can make weekday reservations in advance for faster check-in.
- Free tickets are available the last Thursday of every month. Check their website for info.
Top Foodie Pick: I suggest making a reservation at the Langham Hotel nearby and eating at the Terrace.
Top Parks and Gardens in Pasadena
Did you know there are several parks and gardens in Pasadena? Here is a list of the top ones to discover.
9. Go Shopping at The Shops on Lake Avenue
Looking to do some more shopping? Visit the shops on South Lake Avenue. You’ll not only find all the retail vendors and small shops you’re looking for but there are a ton of great little eateries here, too.
The Shops on Lake | 345 S Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101 (Google Map It)
– Don’t Miss: Where to Find Delicious Burgers in Pasadena –
10. Discover the boutique shops at The Burlington Arcade
We’d call this a hidden gem in Pasadena. You really don’t know it’s there until you’re strolling down Lake Avenue and come across what we called “secret world”. This is exactly how we discovered it a couple of years after living here.
There isn’t much to do here besides visiting the little boutique shops and walking through to feel like you’re transported to London for a few minutes. However, I thought I’d include this for anyone that appreciates beautiful architecture and a London red telephone booth.
Top Foodie Pick: Don’t miss this charming and delicious coffee shop, Float.
The Burlington Arcade | 380 S Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101 (Google Map It)
11. Go Hiking at Eaton Canyon Trail
This popular local trail is easy and leads to a pretty waterfall. The trail is 3.5 miles and depending on which day you go, expect it to be heavy traffic.
This is the one trail I thoroughly enjoy because I can get through it and not feel at any point that I’m not going to make it. The scenery is great and the best part is you’ll get to a waterfall. It’s small but nice.
It is dog-friendly. But be advised that you may see wildlife in the area while hiking. Eaton Canyon is a natural and wildlife-preserved area.
12. Stroll Descanso Gardens
Located not far in the neighboring town of La Canada Flintridge, the Descanso Gardens is a botanical garden that is open all year round. With 150 acres to explore, it is a great family-friendly activity that everyone will enjoy.
Recently open again, they announced Summer in the Garden.
- For the Fall and Halloween, Carved will return to the gardens from Oct 11 -31.
- And, my favorite holiday event Enchanted Forest of Lights from Nov 21, 2021, to Jan 10, 2022.
- Advanced tickets are required for non-members.
- Open Monday – Friday from 9 am to 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 5 pm.
- On the first day of each month, FREE tickets are available for advanced reservations for one Tuesday of each month. See more info here.
Delicious Places to Eat in Pasadena, CA
One of the best parts of Pasadena is all the delicious spots to eat. From restaurants to take-out, check out some of our favorite places to eat.
13. Enjoy the Norton Simon Museum
Love a good art museum?
The Norton Simon Museum was previously known as the Pasadena Art Museum. It holds a vast collection of European, Asian, modern, and contemporary art.
Take a break from the art inside and explore the sculpture garden. There is a beautiful pond surrounded by lush greenery, flowers, and pathways. Walk around and see all the beautiful sculptures throughout. Follow the map they provide and don’t miss any of the sculptures.
Stay up to date with the current and upcoming exhibitions. An unseen Picasso will be displayed from Sept 3 to Jan 10th.
- The museum is currently closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
- Open 12 pm to 5 pm
Top Foodie Pick: Check out our favorite Greek spot in Pasadena, Cafe Santorini
14. Take the Kiddos to the Kidspace Children’s Museum
The Kidspace Children Museum is one of my niece’s favorites. Not only because it’s a wonderful interactive museum for children, but it also has two great parks right across from it: Brookside Park and Rose Bowl Children’s Playground. You can imagine my in-laws would start at the park and end at the museum or vice versa.
This museum usually has many hands-on and active activities for children. Your child will have fun, make new discoveries and experience a few adventures like riding a tricycle through Tike Tracks, walking a rope bridge, and more. Everyone will leave happy and I’m sure the children will fall asleep on the car ride home.
Tip: Bring a change of clothes and a towel for the kiddos.
- Advanced reservations required.
Top Foodie Pick: Hit up the Luggage Room Pizzeria.
15. Visit The Gamble House
The Gamble House is a historic house museum, preserved to showcase the architectural design of the American Craftsman. It is one of many craftsman homes that was designed by brothers Charles and Henry Greene in Pasadena.
If you’re an architectural lover, this one-hour tour of this historic home may interest you.
- One hour tours are now available. Book your tour in advance here.
Top Foodie Pick: Eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner at local fave La Grande Orange Cafe.
16. Check out The Colorado Street Bridge
The Colorado Street Bridge is one of my favorite architectural landmarks in Pasadena. Every time I drive back into Pasadena, I can’t help admire it from the 210 freeway.
Sadly, it doesn’t have the greatest history, which I will not get into here. However, it is definitely worth a look or a drive over this beautiful bridge.
Tip: Visit Desiderio Neighborhood Park for a safe view of this beautiful bridge. You can also Lower Arroyo Seco Park where there are easy trails that gives you views of the bridge.
Day Trip to Ojai, California
Looking for another Southern California day trip? Take a city break to visit wineries and an olive farm in Ojai, California.
17. Go Ice skating at the Pasadena Ice Skating Center
After being closed for some time due to the pandemic, the Pasadena Ice Skating Center is now open.
While this ice skating rink is used for lessons, ice hockey, and other events you can find on their schedule, they are open for public skating. You can also rent the rink for groups and parties.
- You must register online in order to purchase admission and skate rentals.
18. Find nostalgia at Fair Oaks Pharmacy Soda Fountain
This old-school soda shop is located in South Pasadena and it is one of my favorite spots to take first-time visitors to. The moment you enter and see their old fashion soda fountain counter, you’ll be hit with nostalgia.
Bring the kiddos for ice cream. Walk around and check out all the classic toys, candies, and gifts.
This is a great place to visit during the holidays. The spirit of Christmas is alive. Many Christmas trees and decorations adorn the shop with nostalgic and unique ornaments.
And yes, this is still a working pharmacy.
- Currently closed on the weekends.
- Open weekday afternoons only.
19. PLay GAMES at the NEON RETRO ARCADE
Located in Old Town Pasadena, the Neon Retro Arcade is a vintage arcade with more than 40 arcades and pinball machines. For anyone closer to my age, this fun Pasadena spot will take you back to your childhood. Play Tetris, Donkey Kong, PacMan, and many more.
This is a great spot to bring your family for some innocent fun. Plan a family day or night. Enjoy an hour or two at Neon Retro Arcade and then go for some ice cream.
- Cost is $15 for one hour or $25 for all day
- Reservations are available.
20. ENJOY a BALLET PERFORMANCE by the Pasadena Civic Ballet
Not until recently did I know that Pasadena has its own ballet company. I came across their Instagram feed and absolutely adored their Wizard of Oz promotional spots around Old Town. Since then, I’ve been a fan.
If you’re a fan of ballet performances, check to see what upcoming events they have. It can be a great date or family night out. This talented group shouldn’t be missed.
Pasadena Civic Ballet | Website
Where to STay in Pasadena
Planning a little local getaway to Pasadena? Landing in LAX, but planning to stay outside the city of Los Angeles? What’s wonderful about Pasadena is that it’s its own city in the center of everything.`
The Langham is a luxury resort hotel located right by the San Gabriel Mountains. If you’re looking for a relaxing couple of days away, this is the hotel for you. This iconic hotel has gorgeous rooms, its own spa, pool, and 23 acres of lush grounds that will definitely make you feel like you’re on vacation.
Personally, I have not stayed here yet. It is my goal to do a staycation here this year. But when our cousin was making a stopover here on his way to his honeymoon in Hawaii, we recommended The Langham. He and his wife absolutely raved about their short stay.
It’s probably one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve been in. I love the fact that it’s little ways away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Pasadena.
Marriott Courtyard Pasadena/Old Town
Prefer to be in the heart of it all?
The Marriott Courtyard is in the heart of downtown Pasadena. It’s a great hotel if you prefer to keep restaurants and shops within walking distance.
If you’re not planning on renting a car, you can easily take an Uber here to some of the attractions above.
Other hotel options in Pasadena:
Hope you found something that piqued your interest in this list of what to do in Pasadena.
What plans will you be making? What are you looking forward to the most?
I plan to continue updating this list. This is just a small part of what this great city has to offer. Make sure to bookmark it for future reference.
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