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 self-described art geek, asked Sarah and me as we were descending a grand staircase in the Huntington’s main art gallery. The awe-inspiring Beaux-Arts mansion, which was once the lush residence of early 1900s railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington, was the type of place where you could let your mind wander while viewing exquisite works of art and touring seemingly endless gardens.
While Melissa’s vacation home request was not a realistic proposition, it was the kind of lofty, dreamy notion that comes to you only during a truly relaxing and inspiring vacation.
Reconnecting in Pasadena
Melissa, Sarah and I were visiting Pasadena, California for our annual girls weekend getaway. Our friendship began 15 years ago in college, and we recently started the weekend trips as a way to escape our busy work schedules, reconnect with each other and share experiences in-person instead of just via e-mail. With huge upcoming projects at work, I was especially looking forward to this year’s escape as a way to recharge my energy and creativity.
After checking in at the Westin on a balmy Saturday morning, we ditched the car and started our day of adventures on-foot. The hotel was in a prime location for exploring countless art museums, galleries, restaurants and shops.
Our first stop was the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), located a few blocks away in the Playhouse District, where even the streets come alive with art—from painted crosswalks to poster art-inspired painted utility boxes. The modern three-story PMCA features works by California artists, as well as international artists, inspired by the Golden State. We were treated to a mixture of photographs, mixed-media pieces and reflective paintings.
“What do you think of this one?” Sarah asked me, pointing to a temporary exhibit piece by impressionist painter Armin Hansen, which featured fishermen on a tiny wooden boat in the vast, turbulent Pacific Ocean.
“It’s beautiful,” I replied, “but it makes me feel so nervous for the fishermen. Can you imagine venturing off into the ocean in one of those tiny wooden fishing boats? Being surrounded by nothing but those giant waves in the middle of the ocean.”
“That’s the difference between us,” Sarah said with a smile. “You perceive this uncontrollable situation—the vastness of the ocean and the unpredictable waves—as scary, whereas I see it as exciting. The world is yours!”
We left the museum and continued walking a few blocks to the heart of Old Pasadena to check out the many shops, boutiques and galleries in this bustling area. The energy was infectious—throngs of people were walking and sharing conversations with boisterous laughs.
Feeding the Soul
In need of a late afternoon pick-me-up, we stopped by Copa Vida, a community-focused café that strives to be an authentic, welcoming place that embraces the love affair with coffee and tea. Our barista—dressed to the nines with a bowtie and vest—expertly crafted our lattes, adding intricate heart and leaf designs to the foam. We enjoyed the easy-going vibe as we sipped our lattes. Melissa even felt relaxed enough to begin rhapsodizing about the new love in her life, John.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think this one might just be the forever type of guy,” she said. “I can’t wait for you two to meet him. He even shares my love of Law & Order marathons!”
“Sitting around a table, drinking coffee, discussing our dates and laughing—doesn’t this remind you of our old college days?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, except now instead of exams its huge work schedules and projects!” I exclaimed.
“But everything seems to work out somehow. You gals got me through breakups, we carried each other through those college exams, and we’re still finding time to get together when life gets crazy,” Sarah added.
We could have spent the entire evening reminiscing at Copa Vida, but we had a dinner reservation we did not want to miss.
Union was added to Sarah’s “must try” list after she read about the recent dinner their chef, Bruce Kalman, prepared for James Beard Foundation members—if it was good enough for them, it was certainly good enough for us! The minimalist decor of the seasonal Italian-Californian restaurant ensured that all eyes were on the true works of art: the food.
While lingering over shared entrées, including a spring panzanella salad, porchetta and spaghetti alla chitarra, Sarah surprised us with an announcement.
“There’s one other reason why I picked this restaurant for tonight’s dinner,” she declared. “I am taking a two-month leave from work to travel to Italy and write my book. You two know that Italy has been a passion of mine for so many years. Now, it’s time to follow my heart.”
“Now that is some news we can ‘cheers’ to!” Melissa exclaimed while hoisting her wine glass into the air.
We discussed Sarah’s travel plans, the main characters in her book and her attempts to learn Italian. I left Union with that giddy, “all-is-right-in-the-world” feeling you only get after sharing a great meal and conversation with good friends; one of the greatest joys in life.
I’m lucky to surround myself with such inspiring friends—they never settle, they constantly strive to be the best version of themselves both in work and their personal lives. My getaway with Sarah and Melissa inspired me to seize the day. Suddenly, those upcoming projects at work didn’t seem so harrowing anymore.
A New Day, A New Spirit
I awoke the next morning feeling rejuvenated from our day of artistic exploration and conversation. First stop: a leisurely Sunday brunch at Magnolia House.
Set in a craftsman-style home that has served as a private residence and post-Prohibition liquor store during its 100-year history, Magnolia House’s indoor/outdoor space was decorated with upholstered chairs, bookcases and sweet—if not embarrassing—family photos on a fireplace mantle. We laughed as we reminisced about our own less-than-glamorous childhood family portraits. Magnolia House was like visiting your best friend’s home, if your best friend hosted the best brunch parties imaginable.
After brunch, it was time to continue our relaxed Sunday with an afternoon exploring the breathtaking grounds of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. We silently gazed at each piece of artwork we passed. The entire collection seemed elevated by the gorgeous surroundings.
While it is always bittersweet to say goodbye to Sarah and Melissa, I left feeling reenergized by all that we had experienced in Pasadena. The future looked bright for all of us: the new love in Melissa’s life, the grand adventure Sarah was about to embark on, the upcoming hustle I couldn’t wait to get to work on.
I am grateful for my enduring friendships with Sarah and Melissa and the opportunity to explore a new city with them. This was the soul recharge I needed to return to work rejuvenated and ready to tackle projects with a fresh perspective.
And, hey, even if the new projects have some unexpected complications, at least I’m not in the middle of the ocean on a tiny wooden boat!
Discover more of Pasadena’s cultural offerings here.
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