By: Megan Beauchamp
Although Palm Springs often steals the spotlight when travelers plan out an itinerary for a sunny Southern California getaway, we’ve noticed that Los Angeles cool girls have been flocking to the historic city of Pasadena instead. Known for its beautifully fragrant rose-filled gardens, impressive art collections, and eye-catching historic architectural landmarks, Pasadena offers a sun-soaked respite with substance.
Aside from its cultural institutions, the historic city (the second oldest in Los Angeles) also boasts beloved vintage shops frequented by locals (not to mention Beyoncé) and up-and-coming eateries that rival the neighboring downtown L.A. heavyweights. Although you’re probably familiar with some of the destination’s more popular attractions, namely the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the Huntington Library, we’ve discovered a few hidden gems that will convince you to plan a trip to the City of Roses.
Skip Palm Springs—here are 16 local-approved things to do in Pasadena (it won’t disappoint).
Where to Eat
Los Angeles is one of the most exciting cities to eat in right now, and Pasadena is no exception. With restaurants run by innovative chefs like Bruce Kalman in the neighborhood, you’re going to want to start making reservations stat. From an upscale Mexican restaurant specializing in mezcal mixology to an intimate Italian eatery serving up handmade pasta, these are the local haunts frequently by Pasadena locals:
Maestro: Opened in early 2017 by Chef Daniel Gonzalez, this upscale Mexican restaurant serves up delicious dishes like shrimp and octopus ceviche alongside specialty mezcal cocktails.
Lincoln: Located outside of Old Pasadena, this humble café is the ideal spot for enjoying a leisurely brunch or grabbing a quick coffee and a pastry if you’re in a rush.
Union: This intimate, 50-seat Italian restaurant is often hailed as the best restaurant in Pasadena. Order the pillowy gnocchi, the decadent risotto, and sweet olive oil cake.
Bengees Ice Cream Crafters: Head to this small-batch ice cream shop on Del Mar Avenue for a scoop of matcha green tea, churro, or black sesame ice cream.
The Raymond 1886: Boasting a cocktail menu crafted by Aidan Demarest (of the frequented Los Angeles watering holes Seven Grand and The Edison), this casual restaurant is achingly hip.
What to Do
While downtown Los Angeles boasts The Broad, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and The Museum of Ice Cream, Pasadena is arguably the cultural epicenter of L.A. With its world-renowned museums and historic architectural landmarks, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take in some culture while visiting the second oldest city in Los Angeles. Below are the must-see cultural institutions in Pasadena:
The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens: You could spend the entire day wandering through the gorgeous gardens alone, which expand across 120 acres, but don’t miss the opportunity to see Thomas Gainsborough’s famous “The Blue Boy” among the collection’s 420 paintings.
The Norton Simon Museum: Home to one of the largest private art collections in the world, renowned works by the likes of Rembrandt, Degas, and Picasso are on display in this stunning museum.
Gold Bug: Named after Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, this unique contemporary artists’ gallery and retail space is full of finds that are mysterious, edgy, and even a little dark.
The Gamble House: The iconic craftsman-style home is a must-visit historic architectural landmark in Pasadena. Book a docent-led tour of the 1908 home, designed by the Greene brothers, online before your trip.
Tournament House and Wrigley Garden: Head over to Pasadena’s Millionaire’s Row to take a free tour of this Italian mansion built in 1906. The surrounding Wrigley Garden boasts four and a half acres with more than 1500 varieties of roses.
Where to Shop
Known for its antiques, Pasadena is the holy grail of vintage shopping. Ranging from a truly impressive outdoor flea market to a highly curated shop specializing in women’s fashion, Pasadena is the not-so-secret source of all things cool in Los Angeles. If you’re not sure where to start, consider setting up a vintage shopping tour with L.A. native Annette of A Vintage Splendor for insider info on the best places to shop. But here are a few suggestions if you’re going in alone:
Rose Bowl Flea Market: This massive outdoor market is frequented by interior designers, like Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors, looking for unique pieces that exude California-cool vibes.
Pasadena Antique Center and Annex: Filled with over 40,000 square feet of vintage finds, you could spend an entire weekend culling gems here.
High Low: This Beyoncé-approved shop specializes in vintage dresses. Owner Carolyn Gray curates a collection of covetable pieces (and she has an eye for sizes too).
Poobah Records: This insanely cool record shop is well-known by audiophiles familiar with Los Angeles’s underground music scene.
Vroman’s: Book lovers won’t want to miss the opportunity to peruse the oldest and largest bookstore in Los Angeles. Be sure to check out the store’s Pasadena-specific section for local literature.
Where to Stay
Located in the elegant Oak Knoll neighborhood, The Langham Huntington Pasadena is hands down the most beautiful hotel in town. With its baroque-inspired interior, you half expect to run into Marie Antoinette as you walk through the lobby. Aside from eye-catching chandeliers and lavish floral arrangements, the historic hotel offers decadent pastries at its daily afternoon tea service and indulgent treatments at the Chuan Spa. Trust me, after a morning of pampering, you’re not going to want to leave this luxurious hotel (a word of advice: ask for a late checkout).
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