Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this graceful valley swath beside the San Gabriel Mountains was first developed in the 1880s by railroad barons and hoteliers to lure winter-weary Easterners out west. Today Old Pasadena—sometimes known as Old Town Pasadena—is best known for its museums and the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl college football game.
Old Pasadena today includes a popular commercial district known for a mostly upscale mix of restaurants and chain stores. Small-group walking tours of the area, with a focus on the city’s diverse restaurants, are available. Along the main shopping streets, Orange Grove and Fair Oaks boulevards, you’ll find examples of art deco architecture from the 1920s, carefully restored during the district's urban revival in the 1980s.
Old Pasadena is home to two excellent museums: the Norton Simon Museum, which houses the eclectic art collection of industrialist Norton Simon, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, where each exhibition focuses on a single facet of the state. The Spanish Colonial Revival–style Pasadena Playhouse has a mosaic-inlaid dome, perfect acoustics, and a rotating stage. The co-founder of Procter & Gamble built the Gamble House, a 1908 arts and crafts mansion that’s completely joinery-built, without a single nail. An Old Pasadena treasure, Vroman's is the largest and oldest independently run bookstore in Southern California.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Old Pasadena offers a relaxing day trip option for those visiting LA.
- Remember to wear good walking shoes if you plan to explore the city by foot.
- On the second Sunday of each month, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium hosts a popular flea market where vendors sell vintage clothing, antique furniture, and an assortment of goods.
How to Get There
From downtown Los Angeles, Old Pasadena is about a 20-minute drive (depending on traffic) north on Interstate 110. You can also take the Metro light rail via the gold line from Union Station in downtown LA to Pasadena.
When to Get There
The city of Pasadena is probably best known for the Tournament of Roses Parade, which takes place every New Year’s Day along Colorado Boulevard, and college football’s famed Rose Bowl game. Ticket packages are available if you want to visit during that popular time. Otherwise, expect the largest crowds on the weekends, when both tourists and locals are out and about. It can also be hard to find parking then.
Even if you’re not in town during Tournament of Roses time, you can still explore its history at the Tournament House. Guided tours of this Southern California landmark, which is the former home of chewing-gum mogul William Wrigley Jr., are free and take place every Thursday from February through August. Inside, learn about past Rose Bowl games, and on the outside, visit the surrounding Wrigley Gardens, which feature a floral display of roses, camellias, and annuals.