This is part two of a three part series entitled, Experience Pasadena Like a Local. In part one, after a year of noticing that a good majority of visitors are seeking more authentic experiences, we met with three local insiders and asked them about their favorite restaurants and bars. We follow up here with their favorite activities, coffee shops and bars.
Arts and Culture
There is no shortage of cultural institutions in this town, any given day of the week find us at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena Museum of California Art or the USC Pacific Asian Museum (pictured above). A few others though are little known by visitors yet popular with locals.
Pasadena Museum of History
Travel back to Pasadena’s early days by visiting the Pasadena Museum of History, housed inside a former Beaux Arts mansion on Pasadena’s “Millionaire’s Row.” In addition to exhibits that explore everything from textiles to carousels and Arroyo Culture, visitors can also tour the historic Fenyes Mansion from Friday through Sunday. The mansion features original furnishings and family heirlooms from the early 1900’s. More→
Curatorial Assistance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing interesting and innovative art exhibitions to museums around the world and they are based in Old Pasadena. There’s no other way to say it, their stuff is really cool. While most of their work is traveling to world renowned cultural institutions like MOMA and the Smithsonian, they have a little, one-room gallery inside their headquarters and the public is encouraged to drop in.
With more than 300 days of sunshine throughout the year, being outdoors is inherent for locals. Here are a few of our favorite ways to spend our days.
San Gabriel Peak
The Angeles National Forest offers a lot of great trails, a favorite among locals is the San Gabriel Peak Trail (pictured). This trail is far less congested than Eaton Canyon or Switzer Falls and really easy to get to, driving there takes 30 minutes. It is the highest peak in the front range of the San Gabriels and the views on this hike are incredibly beautiful, there are remnants of an old Nike missile site. During cooler months hikers might see a snow-capped Mount Baldy. Details→
Arroyo Seco — Tad Williams Trail
Explore Pasadena’s secret outdoor escape, the lower Arroyo Seco, there lies the Tad Williams Trail. Named after local equestrian and developer Tad Williams who funded the upkeep of the trail, the path is an unpaved stretch located just south of the architecturally stunning Colorado Street Bridge. Walk, jog or ride a horse underneath the famous bridge and discover a variety of flora and fauna intermingling with throwbacks from Pasadena’s yesteryear. There are several abandoned stone steps along the trail that are remnants from old buildings, maybe even vestiges from the first Busch Gardens, a lush amusement park that made its home here in the early 1900s.
Tucked inside a residential neighborhood is a peaceful oasis called Arlington Garden. Download the Arlington Garden Guide app and learn about the drought-tolerant plants and wildlife that call this 3-acre sanctuary home. Pasadena’s only public garden comes complete with a wishing tree from Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree exhibit, a living art installation filled with dozens of wishes from visitors to the gardens tied to crape myrtle trees.
Sure locals know and appreciate the Gamble House for not only its pop-culture roots, as Dr. Emmett Brown’s house in the Back to the Future trilogy, but also as a classic example of American Arts and Crafts architecture. Designed in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble Company, the property becomes a community gathering place on Tuesdays during Brown Bag Tuesdays. For $8, The Gamble House is open for lunch-time tours. Enjoy a 20-minute docent-led tour of the house and if you bring your own brown bag lunch, enjoy it on the sprawling lawn or terrace. More→
Huntington Gardens is one of those places where purchasing a membership pays off in spades. With over 120 acres, 12 gardens, 15,000 plants and 650 paintings from Europe and early America, The Huntington calls for more than one day to discover it all. Endless offerings include summer concerts, tai chi classes, special lectures with botanists and scholars, and a tea room. More→
Coffee and Tea
Like the rest of L.A., Pasadena takes coffee seriously. Ask a local and they all have their favorite. Here are a few.
Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters
Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters is the antitheses to the chain experience. With a focus on premium craft coffee and warm service, Jameson Brown Coffee Roaster is perfect for those looking for a down-to-earth coffee house.
Cafe de Leche
Located in the sleepy community of Altadena, in the foothills just north of Pasadena, is the newest coffee shop, Cafe de Leche. Cafe de Leche is best known for its vibrant blue Spanish tiles and Horchata con Espresso, a caffeinated take on the popular Latin American treat.
Lavender & Honey
Folks from all over San Gabriel Valley and beyond flock here to snap photos of the bright decor and to take close ups of its picture-perfect toast. With brews like the Honeybee Latte and the French Lavender Breve; specialty toasts, sandwiches and salads, a stop here is ideal any time of the day. More→
Jones Coffee Roasters
Jones Coffee Roasters is not just a coffee shop, it’s more like the community’s living room. Here baristas know you by name and the eclectic decor invites long conversations. More→
Bars and Lounges
Nightlife here is relaxed, welcoming and down-to-Earth. Venture out after dinner to one of Pasadena’s lovely bars and lounges.
Standouts at this upscale German beer hall are traditional German beers, brats and tater tots. Open until 2:00 AM, an energetic crowd gathers at communal tables to enjoy steins of one of 20 beers on tap, including Köstritzer Schwarzbier and Grevensteiner Landbeir, and Bavarian pretzels, schnitzel, and bar games. More→
In the LGBT community we have a term, “small town gay bar,” which describes a safe space that is down-to-Earth and where the patrons don’t have very many hang-ups. The Boulevard, located in east Pasadena is that place. Gay and straight are welcome here, drinks are well-priced, plus you can catch weekly drag shows and karaoke every night. During RuPaul’s Drag Race season, The Boulevard hosts Monday night viewing parties of Untucked. Sunday evenings, Tia Wanna hosts “It’s Five o’Clock Somewhere.”
For many people, Monopole is like having a private, off-site wine cellar. The knowledgeable owners stock the shop with some of the best wine in the world. A wine bar in the back of the store hosts weekly wine tastings. On Fridays, indulge in a blind flight — guess your pours and your flight is free.
The Blind Donkey
Part whiskey bar, part local pub, The Blind Donkey is a great place to hang with friends. It is located in Old Pasadena, a block away from bustling Colorado Blvd., try themed flights of whiskey (corn-based, wheat-based, or rye-based). Whiskey drinkers or those interested in learning about it come here to cut their teeth. Other libations are served here too. Every table is outfitted with cornhole and checkers for extra merriment. More→
Check in next week for the final installment.
Have our blog posts delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our email newsletter→
May 26, 2015
2015 Travel Awards Pasadena has been declared the Best Arts Town of the West by Sunset magazine, the premier guide to living in the West, in its inaugural Sunset Travel…
July 8, 2015
Recharging with old friends on a cultural sojourn to Pasadena, CA By Courtney Beaugh “Do you think we could make this our vacation home?” Melissa, my close friend and a…
May 19, 2016
Between chatting with guests in our Visitors Center and responding to messages on our social networks, we encounter a lot of travelers throughout the year. We’ve found that most travelers…