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To Pasadena and Beyond

April 4, 2016

| Posted in Trip Ideas

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Photo courtesy of Metro

Metro Gold Line Extends Beyond Pasadena

Los Angeles Metro recently added six new stations to the Gold Line, annexing the San Gabriel Valley to the popular light rail train route. The addition spans from Pasadena to Azusa, adding 11 new miles to the line, and is great for venturing into (or from) the San Gabriel Valley. Before, you had no choice but to sit behind the wheel in traffic; now whiz past cars on the 210 freeway while being treated to breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Heart of Gold Line

East L.A anchors the Gold Line on the southern end; the opposite end of the line is bookended by Azusa Pacific University. Downtown L.A. and Pasadena are at the heart of the line, which makes it really easy to spend a weekend exploring this region of Greater Los Angeles without a car.

Tips: If you’re visiting from out of town, stay in Pasadena (click here for a list of hotels) and work your way southward on your first day; on your second day, travel northeast. If you are an Angeleno, easy breezy: just make your way to the Gold Line (view full system map / Metro Rail).

Why Should I Visit Pasadena?

Pasadena is known for its prolific arts & culture scene, eye-catching architecture, and eclectic dining options. Most of the attractions are located within walking distance of the seven Gold Line stations in the city — you’ll want a few days to do it all.

DTLA to Pasadena by Train

It takes between 16 minutes to travel from Downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. In this article we will list the stations in order from south to northeast.

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Fillmore Station

First stop, Fillmore Station

As soon as you exit the train you’ll come upon Geologica 42, a 40-foot public art sculpture made of steel and bronze (pictured above).

Walk one block west towards Raymond Avenue, once you get to Raymond, walk north (towards the right) to Jones Coffee Roasters. Jones is a local favorite that uses beans sustainably sourced from the owner’s Guatemalan coffee farm, the coffee shop often features live music and open mic nights.

Pie Life Pizza is next door to Jones Coffee Roasters. It’s a nondescript, take-away window serving some of the best pizza in town. Daily pizza-by-the-slice selections like pesto and heirloom tomatoes change based on what’s in season.

Walk south on Raymond Avenue to ArtCenter College of Design’s South Campus. ArtCenter is a prestigious art school that is open to the public. Housed in repurposed, modern buildings, the school serves as a cultural resource for the community and supports progressive art. Once here set your gaze towards the metallic architectural skyline and spot a hidden Green Roof covered by native plants. Make your way up the stairs and keep your eyes open for outdoor installations by Kenny Scharf. There is a massive exterior wall covered in graffiti art; and a student art gallery (Wind Tunnel Gallery) that was formerly a supersonic jet-testing facility — they also present lectures there.

Walk back towards Fillmore Station, heading north on Raymond Avenue, make a right at Fillmore Street, then left at Arroyo parkway. Arrive at Lucky Boy, located at 640 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, CA 91105. They make an amazing breakfast burrito stuffed with cheese, potatoes, and a generous portion of bacon.

Alternatives include Pitfire Pizza; or if you’re feeling fancy there are two Pasadena institutions nearby, Parkway Grill featuring classic French dishes, and Arroyo Chop House which is a modern steakhouse.

Get back on the train and continue traveling north to the next stop, Del Mar Station.

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Del Mar Station

Del Mar Station

Del Mar Station is a Spanish Revival style train depot built circa 1911; it served as a Santa Fe train depot that welcomed the arrival of celebrity legends like Will Rogers and Clark Gable as they made their way into Hollywood by way of Pasadena to avoid the hustle and bustle of Union Station. Today, the station has been repurposed to house restaurants and bars including The Luggage Room Pizzeria (which occupies the station’s original luggage room), La Grande Orange Café, Sushi Kimagure, Otis Bar and Stone Company Store.

From Del Mar Station walk west to Raymond Avenue and you will immediately come upon Central Park, where twice a year (spring & fall) The Jackalope Art and Craft Fair sets up shop.

Continue walking north on Raymond Avenue and you’ll find yourself in the southern end of Old Pasadena. Arrive at the intersection of Green Street and Raymond Avenue, and take a coffee break at Copa Vida, it’s one of many great artisan coffee shops in town.

Tip: Copa Vida offers brunch and lunch.

Across the street, cater-corner from Copa Vida, you’ll notice Castle Green, a meticulously restored historical monument. One of the oldest landmarks in L.A. County, Castle Green was an annex to Hotel Green, a lavish resort for Tinsletown’s elite that was demolished in the 1930s. Castle Green and the adjacent Wooster Block Building are the only standing remnants of the hotel and today it is used frequently in films like The Sting. While Castle Green is currently a private residences and a special event venue, the stunning Moorish, Spanish and Victorian architecture can be toured once per year during the holidays.

Continue heading east on Green Street and you will stumble upon the Pasadena Convention Center; it is a campus style center that houses the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena Ice Skating Center, and Pasadena Visitors Center.

Directly across the street from the convention center, at Paseo Colorado, a dinner theater venue called The Rose presents intimate musical performances. Talent here ranges from nostalgic acts like The Motels, Wilson Phillips, and Smokey Robinson; to tribute bands and rock bands. The Rose is one of few dinner theatre venues in Los Angeles; that style of entertainment is uncommon in this area.

For alternatives at Del Mar Station, try Flour + Tea or the Congregation Ale House. Flour + tea was featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and specializes in cakes, boba and poke. Congregation Ale House is directly across from Del Mar station on Raymond Avenue. Go there for craft beer and local brews; they also offer signature cocktails like Grapefruit Gimlet and Planters Punch.

Head back to Del Mar Station and take the train to the next top, Memorial Park Station.

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Memorial Park Station

Memorial Park Station

This is the most popular station; many of the city’s attractions are concentrated here. As you emerge onto street level, look towards your left (east) and you’ll see Pasadena City Hall in the distance. If you’ve seen the TV show, Parks and Recreation, you may recognize the building as “Pawnee City Hall.” The exteriors were filmed for the show. City Hall encompasses Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural styles, the structure features a six-story dome and cupola.

Visiting the legendary Rose Bowl Stadium is most convenient from Memorial Park Station. During most events a shuttle pick-up area is established two blocks away, at Parsons Corporation.

Some of the best shopping in town is just outside of this station. One block west (to the right), several independent boutiques line this stretch of Holly Street. Venture into Lula Mae, Homage, Therapy, Elisa B., and Maude Woods for souvenirs and keepsakes you will only find in Pasadena. One Colorado is another block in the same direction; it is an outdoor shopping district where you’ll find a well-curated collection of retailers, restaurants, a luxury movie theater experience; and a gorgeous courtyard where seasonal concerts and family events take place.

If you’re a fan of the Coastal California style, sophisticated boutiques like Mohawk General Store, Joie and Vince are within walking distance.

Each Sunday, the Old Pasadena Farmers Market pops up on Holly Street. During this event vehicle traffic is rerouted and visitors can walk along the street tasting organic produce grown in California, and can shop for artisanal products.

The station is named after Memorial Park which sits above the station. The park features a band shell in the center of the park, called Levitt Pavilion. Throughout the summer, visitors are treated to a series of 50 free concerts and everyone is encouraged to picnic.

Wine lovers take note. Across the street from Levitt Pavilion you will find Everson Royce, a wine and spirits shop that puts on weekly wine tastings. Everson Royce invites winemakers to personally present their wines at these tastings, and their knowledgeable staff is on hand to help you find great, small batch wines from all over the world.

Architecture enthusiasts can get an insider’s perspective on the history of Old Pasadena by taking the Old Pasadena Walking Tour. These tours are produced by Pasadena Heritage, a non-profit conservancy group dedicated to preserving and protecting Pasadena’s rich and storied past. On the tour, visit reclaimed alleyways, spot ghost signs, and learn about one of the nation’s most successful revitalizations. An expert docent leads the way; reservation and tickets are required. More info…

There are so many restaurants in this neighborhood that it can be overwhelming for some people. There is literally something for every palate in Old Pasadena. If you are in the mood for a memorable dinner and great wine, make a reservation at Union Restaurant, it consistently ranks well on “Best Restaurants in LA” roundups. While the menu changes frequently, based on what’s in season, their culinary approach is consistent — a Californian interpretation on Northern Italian dishes. A couple dishes that are often on the menu are steelhead trout with orzo, sunchokes and maitake mushrooms; and Niman Ranch beef short ribs with salt pork, barley risotto and gremola.

Aficionados of the arts are also well represented here, Armory Center for the Arts, Norton Science Museum, The Gamble House, Pasadena Museum of History, Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Pasadena Central Library, and the USC Pacific Asia Museum are all easily accessible from this stop. Read more about arts & culture…

Head back to Memorial Park Station and get on the train continuing your trip in the northeast direction. There are two platforms at this station, use the platform on the right. Signs mounted on the trains will read Pasadena / Sierra Madre Villa or Asuza / Citrus.

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Lake Station

Lake Station

At this point in the route, the train merges in between the 210 freeway and follows it to the end of the line. Lake Avenue Station is a short, five-block walk to the South Lake Avenue District and the Playhouse District.

South Lake Avenue is a shopper’s paradise, those who enjoy retail therapy and pampering will spend a lot of time here. This charming, European-style boulevard is lined with beautiful trees and features several promenades for visitors to walk and shop. The shopping district is anchored by Macy’s and discount shopping chains Ross and TJ Maxx. Locals favor gems like Olive and June, a lovely neighborhood nail salon; Drybar, a blow-dry-only salon; SoulCycle, a spin studio with a cult following; and Sugarfish, offering high quality sushi.

Burlington Arcade, is modeled after London’s Burlington Arcade. Its whimsical indoor-outdoor setting and the creative retailers will leave you feeling inspired. Wander into Float, a unique sweets shop complete with a craft soda-based make-your-own float menu; Kimono No Kobe, a traditional Japanese Beauty Store; and Contessa Chocolate Collection, a gourmet chocolate and espresso bar.

South Lake Avenue offers dining options on the healthier side, like Real Food Daily, Lemonade, Abricott, Bengees Ice Cream Crafters (dairy-free). Fine dining options abound here too, like Celestino, SECO, Del Frisco’s Grill, and Smitty’s Grill.

Caltech, one of the world’s greatest research universities is located just blocks away, adding a collegiate flair to the neighborhood. Take a look at their public events calendar for performances like the Caltech Players’ Star Trek musical parody.

The Playhouse District is a commercial and residential neighborhood that surrounds its namesake, the Pasadena Playhouse — it is the city’s performing arts hub.

The Pasadena Playhouse is the official state theatre of California, and for good reason, the theatre’s programming is quite incredible, they feature culturally diverse and innovative productions like Casa Valentina, A Night with Janice Joplin, Fly, and Real Women Have Curves. Complimentary behind-the-scene tours of the theatre are available by appointment.

The Playhouse District is also home to Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Ice House Comedy Club, and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.

Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s Bookstore is a 7,000 square-foot treasure trove of handpicked literature and unique gifts. Special programming includes children’s story time, free summer jazz concerts, and public book signings by well-known authors.

The vibrant neighborhood is sprinkled with coffee bars like Urth Caffe, Le Muse Coffee & Wine, Next Chapter, and Zona Rosa; and a jazz bar called Red, White and Bluezz.

Return to Lake Station and travel to Allen Station.

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Allen Station

Allen Station

This portion of the guide is great for the more curious traveler who likes to “do as the Romans do.” While this area is mostly residential, there are some real gems that most visitors will never come across.

Before we get started at Allen Station, if you need another coffee, Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters is popular with the locals, try their Vienna Latte with Hemp Milk.

Let’s make our way to East Washington Village, an eclectic neighborhood in the northeastern end of Pasadena home to a longstanding Armenian community. Board the Pasadena Transit Bus 687/686 (northbound) and travel for seven minutes to Washington Boulevard where you will get off the bus.

Pulitzer Prize winner and L.A. Times food critic, Jonathan Gold is partial to Garni Meat Market, a butcher shop where you can find for spicy chicken wings, pork kabobs and marinated quail — all grilled to order and served with house made dips; Armenian sandwich shop Torino serves crusty French bread stuffed with Lebanese sausage; and Aladdin Nuts is a quaint shop that offers a smorgasbord of flavored pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts.

Continue west on Washington Boulevard to Burrito Express, a Mexican restaurant that has been catering to locals since 1978; Connal’s is a family-owned burger joint; or my personal favorite, a sandwich deli called Lavender & Honey, which also happens to be one of the most Instagramed cafes in town.

When you’re ready for dessert, walk east for about a mile to Carmela. They serve artisan ice cream flavors like salted caramel, brown sugar vanilla bean and brown butter sage.

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Sierra Madre Villa Station

Sierra Madre Villa Station

This is the final stop on this epic, car-free Pasadena tour. Nature lovers will enjoy the urban hiking trails of Eaton Canyon, a 190-acre nature preserve featuring equestrian trails, seasonal streams and a cascading waterfall. To get there take Pasadena Transit Route 32 to north west Pasadena and exit at the Eaton Canyon bus stop.

Tip: stop by the Eaton Canyon Nature Center and grab maps of the hiking trails. On Saturdays at 9 AM, folks meet at the nature center for a guided family hike that’s suitable for all ages and fitness levels.

If hiking is not your thing, around the corner from Sierra Madre Villa Station you will find A Noise Within, a repertory theatre housed in a beautiful mid-century modern venue where a rotating company performs classic theatrical productions like Romeo and Juliet and All My Sons. To get there, walk north on Sierra Madre Boulevard to East Foothill and make a right, you will see A Noise Within a few hundred yards on the right.

Tip: on a cheeky note, across the street from A Noise Within, you will find a chain Mexican restaurant called El Torito which is credited for popularizing the margarita and enchiladas in the United States.

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