Pasadena is a unique city eleven miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. The region was first inhabited by the Hahanog-na Indian tribe, who lived in villages scattered along the Arroyo Seco and the mountain canyons in what is now South Pasadena. This small mission town is home to world-class educational institutions and museums located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Old Pasadena, a unique shopping and dining district, occupies much of the downtown area, includes Pasadena City Hall, and is known for its historic buildings. There are quite a few stunning examples of Victorian and art deco architecture.
Pasadena weather has highs and lows. During the summer, day temperatures often reach the 90°F or even the 100°F mark, while nights average in the mid 70°F. The coldest temperatures rarely go below 40°F. And it rarely, if ever, snows in Pasadena.
Stunning hills and mountain peaks surround Pasadena. Nature enthusiasts are drawn to the more than 70 trails covering 447 miles. Bike trails like the Fillmore Bike Path or easy daily jog on the Southern Avenue Greenway, there is something for every level of hiking and biking. And the Angeles National Forest is just north of the city.
One of the most famous Pasadena icons is The Rose Bowl; a 90,888-seat sports stadium known for hosting concerts, a flea market, and the college football Tournament of Roses football game each New Year’s Day.
Pasadena is also home to the Rose Parade. A unique gathering, The Rose Parade is also known as the “Tournament of Roses Parade”. It is an annual parade along West Colorado Boulevard and is followed by the Rose Bowl Football Game.
Whether indoors, outdoors, or somewhen in between, there are always things to do in Pasadena, California. Read on to learn more!
Looking for a luxury resort experience that's close to Los Angeles but feels like a world away? Look no further than The Langham Huntington, Pasadena. Surrounded by 23 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, this hotel is a true oasis. Unwind with a massage at the on-site spa, take a dip in the heated outdoor pool, or just relax on the sun deck with a good book. No matter how you choose to spend your time here, you're sure to find it truly rejuvenating.
Looking for a cozy place to stay in Pasadena? The Best Western Pasadena Inn is your perfect home away from home. With comfortable rooms and all the amenities you need, this motel is perfect for business or pleasure. Enjoy a leisurely dip in the outdoor pool or hot tub, or explore all that Downtown Los Angeles has to offer – just 23.2 km away. All rooms come equipped with satellite TV and HBO, as well as a refrigerator, so you can relax and enjoy your stay. And don't forget to start your day with a complimentary continental breakfast!
Looking for a stylish and modern hotel in Pasadena, California? Look no further than the Sheraton Pasadena Hotel! This hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, free WiFi, and a restaurant onsite. Plus, it's just a 5-minute walk from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Guests can enjoy a variety of activities nearby, including golfing (for an additional charge) and exploring the many shops and restaurants in the area. The hotel also offers breakfast in the room and special diet meals (upon request), so you'll never go hungry during your stay!
Table of Contents
- Best & Fun Things to do in Pasadena, California
- 1. The Rose Bowl
- 2. Old Pasadena
- 3. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
- 4. Norman Simon Museum
- 5. Eaton Canyon Nature Center
- 6. The California Institute of Technology
- 7. Jet Propulsion Laboratory -JPL
- 8. Pasadena Ice Skating Center
- 9. Brookside Park
- 10. Mt Wilson Observatory
- 11. Storier Stearns Japanese Gardens
- 12. The Fork in the Road
- 13. USC Pacific Asia Museum
- 14. Pasadena Playhouse District
- 15. Saint Andrew Catholic Church
- 16. Kidspace Children’s Museum
- 17. The Pasadena Museum of History
- 18. Descanso Gardens
- 19. Wrigley Mansion and Gardens
- Getting around Pasadena
- Is Pasadena worth visiting?
- What is the best thing to do with kids in Pasadena?
- What are some things to do in Pasadena when it’s raining?
- Most significant landmark – The Rose Bowl
- Best park – Eaton Canyon Nature Center
- Best free activity – Old Pasadena
- Best activity for kids – Kidspace Children’s Museum
- Best activity for adults – The Huntington
- Best food – Union Restaurant
- Best nightlife – Club 54
- Best all-around accommodation – The Langham Huntington
Best & Fun Things to do in Pasadena, California
1. The Rose Bowl
Address: 1001 Rose Bowl Dr, Pasadena, CA 91103
The Rose Bowl has to be one of the top five things Pasadena, California, is known for. The official home to the UCLA Bruins football team, this 90,888-seat stadium has been used for college football playoffs, the World Cup final, Beyoncé tours, a yearly Fourth of July fireworks show, and of course, the annual rose bowl game.
Opened in October 1922, the stadium is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Civil Engineering landmark.
One of the more unique uses of the iconic Rose Bowl is a stadium-sized flea market with a staggering selection of vintage clothing, antique furniture, and boho wares. This is one of the world’s largest flea markets!
Interested? This guided tour of the Rose Bowl Stadium covers stadium history and a look at the original locker room, the Press Box, and the Terry Donahue Pavilion.
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2. Old Pasadena
Address: 1 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105
Also known as Old Town, this classic downtown district is among Southern California’s most walkable areas. Stroll along Colorado Boulevard, which is a segment of the historic Route 66. Window shop at over 200 unique boutiques and restaurants housed in turn-of-the-century brick buildings.
Historic Old Pasadena hosts community events and festivals. Wine Tastings and arts and crafts complement historical showcases and live musical performances.
It is also the heart of the city’s nightlife. Anywhere you look, a quirky pub, German beer hall, or secret Speakeasy is warm and inviting. If you are looking to dance, Club 54 has multiple dance floors. On your visit book a Pasadena walking tour.
Need a place to stay in Old Pasedena? That’s covered too! The historic Langham Huntington combines old-world charm and elegant luxury in the heart of Pasadena. Initially opened in the early 1900s, U.S. News & World Report rated The Langham the number one hotel in the area. For more hotels, you can book at Hotels.com or find rentals in VRBO.
Old Pasadena’s Union Street is also home to some fantastic restaurants. The Union Restaurant is one of the neighborhood’s most popular farm-to-fork Italian-inspired eateries. Or, if you prefer steak, The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse, a few minutes from The Langham, will not disappoint.
3. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
Address: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens (frequently just known as “The Huntington”) is a museum complex to be savored. Funded by a legacy of Henry E. Huntington’s estate, The Huntington Library, Museum & Botanical Gardens is one of the best Pasadena tourist attractions in Los Angeles county. While the complex actually sits in the small city of San Marino, the cultural importance of many items on display makes this an absolute must for anyone in the Pasadena area.
The iconic work, The Blue Boy, a full-length oil portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, hangs on the walls with countless other masterpieces. Some significant highlights include a Gutenberg Bible and hand-written manuscripts of Thoreau’s early works.
The lush green space contains sixteen themed gardens, including a Rose garden. The Japanese-designed garden and the Chinese garden offer tranquil spaces to enjoy the surroundings.
The complex has a free app for a self-guided tour to help you stay on track. Plus, there are five restaurants on-site for a break and refresh.
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4. Norman Simon Museum
Address: 411 W Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105
The Norton Simon Museum is a unique art space in Southern California with bright lighting and a calm, linear environment. Located a mile from the Colorado Street Bridge and Arroyo Park, its collection is world-renowned as one of the world’s most remarkable private art collections.
The museum’s permanent galleries hold an impressive European art collection, including many of the Old Masters. 17th Century Dutch painters Rembrandt and Brueghel and French impressionists, such as Monet, Manet, and Renoir, adorn the Norton Simon museum walls.
The Norton Simon also holds significant pieces representing South and Southeast Asian styles complementing numerous 20th Century sculptures. The outdoor sculpture space is a dedicated public garden reminiscent of Claude Monet’s famous Giverny gardens in the Normandy region in northern France.
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5. Eaton Canyon Nature Center
Address: 1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107
This scenic 198-acre natural area was initially called “El Precipicio” by Spanish settlers because of its steep gorges. Known as one of the state’s best places to visit for outdoor enthusiasts, the Eaton Canyon Nature Center sits at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The trail is a 4.4-mile out-and-back, moderately easy path to the top of the canyon. The average hiking time is about two hours. In Spring, the route is covered with wildflowers.
If you are hiking with beginners, the Junior Nature Trail is shorter – about a quarter of a mile. It is perfect for younger children with or without a stroller.
Along both routes, you will find educational plaques and indigenous wildlife of lizards and rabbits. Local birds are also plentiful, making this a great spot for twitchers.
Hiking through the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is enjoyable, but the 40-foot waterfall at the top of the canyon is the biggest draw. Don’t forget your camera!
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6. The California Institute of Technology
Address: 1200 E California Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91125
The California Institute of Technology is one of the world’s preeminent science and engineering universities. Caltech; you might have heard of it. The impressive campus sits on a picturesque 124-acre expanse southeast of downtown Pasadena.
Established in 1891, Caltech offers visitors the chance to attend lectures and musical performances. Guided tours of the historic grounds are also available.
One of the most serene spots on the Caltech campus is the Throop Memorial Botanical Garden, dedicated to university founder Amos G. Throop. It’s great for a short stroll or a contemplative walk.
Caltech hosts numerous bronze sculptures, including Bronze Dolphins, in front of the Center for Student Services. There are also five fountains on the campus, including the Polyhedron Fountain at the Beckman Institute. The fountains are filled with water condensation to conserve the vital resource.
As you pass through the Caltech campus on your way to East Pasadena, you will encounter the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. A beautiful and tranquil green space with waterfalls, roaming peacocks, and lush gardens.
The perfect place to refresh before you head back to downtown Pasadena. Or try an hour of Goat Yoga to limber up. Either way, this amazing natural oasis is a perfect stop on your trip to Pasadena.
7. Jet Propulsion Laboratory -JPL
Address: 800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, CA 91109
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has partnered with NASA for this one-of-a-kind research institution. The campus combines the Voyager Space Flight Operations Facility and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility on a serene hilltop five miles northeast of downtown Pasadena.
Beginning in 1936, scientists sought advancements in aviation and rocket science. JPL is the foremost research authority on robotics, astrophysics, and astronomy. JPL’s many contributions include the Curiosity rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, and the NuSTAR X-ray telescope.
Both public and private guided tours are free but require advanced reservations. However, static exhibitions of JPL’s accomplishments are available during JPL’s annual open house.
See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit
8. Pasadena Ice Skating Center
Address: 300 E Green Street, Pasadena, CA 91101
Looking for something a little different? The Pasadena Ice Skating Center is a world-class facility for ice skating, hockey, figure skating, and parties.
The skating center offers daily public skating sessions open to the general public. Ice hockey lessons are available through a Los Angeles Kings clinic – Little Kings Academy. Private lessons are also given during free ice time.
One of the best things to do in Pasadena, California, with kids, the center is home to numerous Learn-To-Skate classes and the Pasadena Maple Leaf’s youth hockey association. An adult in-house league rounds out the offerings.
The Pasadena Ice Skating Center is located just off of Historic Route 66, directly across from Sheraton Pasadena Hotel. It is also within walking distance of The Paseo, a sprawling retail shopping district with theaters and antique shops.
9. Brookside Park
Address: 360 N Arroyo Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91103
Visitors will find a unique community green space just south of the Rose Bowl Stadium. Brookside Park, a 62-acre expanse, provides a scenic place to take a break from the day.
Park of Pasadena’s park system, Brookside park’s north section, contains the Jackie Robinson Baseball Stadium with seating for 4,200 and restrooms.
The stunning San Gabriel Mountains provide a backdrop for a large, lighted multi-purpose field for flag football and soccer.
Visitors have fitness choices between running and biking trails or a proper, station-oriented fitness trail that weaves through the park.
The Rose Bowl tennis courts and aquatic center round out the activities. Also within the park is the Kidspace Children’s Museum and a life-sized pirate ship-themed playground! For a side quest, enjoy a scavenger walking tour.
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10. Mt Wilson Observatory
Address: Mt. Wilson Road, La Canada Flintridge, CA
The Mt. Wilson Observatory is 25 miles east of Pasadena on the San Gabriel Mountains’ Mount Wilson zenith. It is home to a 100-inch reflecting telescope – once the world’s largest for over 50 years.
As you reach the observatory, you may recognize this famous location from Hollywood films. It offers panoramic views of Pasadena and Los Angeles.
The observatory is famous for several discoveries, including the first sight of galaxies outside the Milky Way by Edwin Hubble, which confirmed the expanding universe theory. Then there’s Albert Michelson, a Nobel winner, who used the observatory in 1926 to measure the speed of light changing our understanding of astronomy and physics forever.
Still a working observatory, the Mount Wilson Observatory Museum highlights famous stellar pictures from the 20th Century and the chair and telescope Hubble used.
11. Storier Stearns Japanese Gardens
Address: 270 Arlington Drive, Pasadena, California 91105
There are several Japanese Gardens in Pasadena. But the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is a historical gem of rare beauty.
Designed in 1935 by master craftsman Kinzuchi Fujii as a “Hill and Strolling” garden, it features two 25-foot ponds, four bridges, and a cascading waterfall. All are centered around a tranquil Japanese tea house.
Constructed in Japan, the teahouse was shipped to Los Angeles and named “Niko-an,” meaning “Abode at Two Ponds.” As one enters the teahouse, 12 tatami floor mats, nearly three times the average, cover the floor. Tatami mats often indicate the size and importance of the Chashitsu – making the Storrier Stearns tea house of great importance.
The Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, one of the few remaining private Japanese gardens made before World War II, is the last Fujii-designed “chisen kaiyu shiki” garden worldwide.
The Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden welcomes thousands of visitors and hosts numerous cultural events annually. Don’t miss out on this tranquil slice of lovliness.
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12. The Fork in the Road
Address: S St John Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
Are you looking for one of the best free things to do in Pasadena that doesn’t require a five-mile hike? Then drive by The Fork in the Road!
One of the more unique spots this quirky sculpture sits in the grass knoll at the intersection of St. John Avenue and Pasadena Avenue. The eclectic sculpture, an 18-foot-tall fork, was created by Ken Marshall and Bob Stane, two local business owners.
The artists have yet to explain the inner meaning of their work. But The Fork in the Road has added to the Pasadena community. Numerous charity events, food drives, and other social events are often hosted at this metal behemoth, making it one of the best free things to do in Pasadena, California.
13. USC Pacific Asia Museum
Address: 46 N Los Robles Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
If you are still wondering what to do in Pasadena, California? Try a day at the University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum. It is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Established in 1971, the USC Pacific Asia Museum promotes cultural awareness and understanding through art. Its unique galleries celebrate Asian immigrants that have settled in Pasadena beginning in the gold rush era of the mid-1800s.
Over 15,000 pieces are on display, some dating back thousands of years, including many created by immigrants from Asia and the Pacific islands. A mix of contemporary and classic works, the museum combines art and antiquities with performances, festivals, exhibitions, and lectures.
Classes are also offered. One of the most exciting offerings is a series of courses on haiku writing and Chinese calligraphy. There are also exercise classes for tai chi and yoga. The popular Royal Taste exhibition teaches about the lavish surroundings of the ancient Chinese Royal class.
As one of Pasadena’s historical tourist attractions, the USC Pacific Asia Museum is equal parts educational and fun. Look no further for a drop of knowledge and a dollop of culture.
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14. Pasadena Playhouse District
Address: 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101
One of the best things to do in the City of Roses is to visit the Pasadena Playhouse District. The Pasadena Playhouse District, known to locals as the Playhouse Village, is the city’s cultural center, packed with theatres, art museums, fine dining, and all the fun things to do in Pasadena.
In addition to the Pasadena Playhouse, the USC Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena Museum of California and Art, Furious Theatre, and Boston Court Performing Arts Complex call this district home.
The Pasadena Playhouse first shared space in a turn-of-the-century burlesque house. In 1917, the theater was “formalized” and has been a cultural icon for more than a century. The Pasadena Community Playhouse was the first theater in the country to produce and showcase the plays of Shakespeare. It was referred to as the “Star Factory” for the dozens of Hollywood legends that began their careers in summer workshops at the Playhouse.
As Hollywood developed, the Playhouse partnered with the major studios, developing techniques in radio and broadcasting live, nationwide, from the main stage. The Pasadena Playhouse experimented with early television and established the first West Coast T.V. station.
This 686-seat theater is a working cinematic and artistic icon, presenting over 300 performances annually. If you’re a movie maniac or a patron of the arts, this place is for you!
15. Saint Andrew Catholic Church
Address: 311 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103
A trip to St. Andrew Catholic Church in Pasadena is a way to see and understand more about historic European cathedrals. It is located a block north of Memorial Park, right off Ventura Freeway.
The 125-year-old architectural masterpiece was built in 1927. Its facade is a replica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a Roman church dedicated in 1123, located on the left bank of the Tiber River. It is a beautiful sight to see on a self-guided tour.
As an active Catholic church, it is not always available as a tourist attraction. That said, it is a marvelous photo opportunity that you shouldn’t miss.
The most famous attractions of St. Andrew Catholic Church are its murals. These breathtaking frescos were painted by Italian artist Carlo Wostry and are vibrant, with exquisite detail – some rivaling the frescos in Rome. Of particular note is the mural of the Madonna.
St. Andrew is a hidden gem (like many of Pasadena’s other historical locations), and well worth stopping by for a look. Don’t forget your camera!
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16. Kidspace Children’s Museum
Address: 480 N Arroyo Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91103
The KidspaceChildren’ss Museum is one of Pasadena, California’s best things to do with kids. Initially built at Caltech in 1979 to promote learning through play, this museum is packed with kid-friendly activities and interactive exhibits.
The museum also hosts exciting children’s events and informal classes for children ages one through ten on its 3.5-acre campus. Visited by over 200,000 children annually, KidspaceChildren’ss Museum is located just south of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Brookside Park.
Children can explore the museum’s many galleries and interactive exhibits, such as the Stone Hollow Amphitheater, the Imagination Workshop for learning about mechanics, and the Robert & Mary Galvin Physics Forest.
But that’s not all. The Kidspace Critters space is packed with bugs and reptiles, and the Arroyo Adventure Garden is the perfect place to let a child’s imagination run wild!
17. The Pasadena Museum of History
Address: 470 W. Walnut St. Pasadena, CA 91103
Pasadena’s history museum sits across the Los Angeles crest highway from the Norton Simon Museum.
This unique historical facility is a private, nonprofit museum and research library in Pasadena, California. A listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum is headquartered on the two acres of the Fenyes Estate, a Pasadena Cultural Landmark. It is the only institution dedicated to Pasadena’s cultural history and art, including the west San Gabriel Valley.
The Pasadena Museum of History is open to the public, offering exhibitions, charitable events, lectures, guided tours, and free access to the region’s Research Library & Historical Archives.
Just a few blocks north of the Pasadena Museum of History on Westmoreland Place sits the Gamble House – a historic architectural landmark. The Gamble House was designed in 1908 as a winter residence for David and Mary Gamble of Cincinnati, Ohio. It later became their full-time residence after retiring from The Gamble Company, now known as Procter & Gamble – y’know, the P&G logo guys.
The Gamble House exemplifies the movement of architecture as fine art. It is one of the only surviving works of American Arts and Crafts by architects Charles and Henry Greene.
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18. Descanso Gardens
Address: 1418 Descanso Dr., La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011
While you are visiting Mt Wilson, take some extra time to visit Pasadena’s Descanso Gardens. This lush green space is a 150-acre botanical garden located seven miles north of downtown Pasadena in La Cañada Flintridge.
Descanso Gardens features nine botanical collections. A 5-acre garden space highlights America’s favorite flower – the rose. There are more than 1,600 individual rose bushes here, representing centuries of the area’s horticultural history.
There is also a rideable miniature railroad for both children and adults. The main Descanso house is a museum, modern art gallery, cafe, and gift shop. This unique urban retreat also boasts young-growth Redwoods and the largest Camellia garden in the United States.
Descanso’s newest garden is a collection of more than 180 plants representing 60 varieties, including several endangered species. Virtually unchanged since the dinosaurs, cycads provide a glimpse of the earliest types of flora on Earth. The garden also boasts meandering streams, a large lake, and a bird sanctuary.
Join in each morning for yoga classes or gardening tutorials. Seasonal events and annual festivals are also held throughout the gardens. the garden is one of the best sights to snap travel photos and enjoy a private photo tour.
19. Wrigley Mansion and Gardens
Address: 391 South Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107
Turns out, chewing gum can build quite the house! The Wrigley Mansion is a sprawling white Italian Renaissance-style mansion. The Wrigley family donated it to the City of Pasadena to be used solely as the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses.
Known as Tournament House, Wrigley Gardens surround the grounds. These carefully tended gardens feature four and a half acres planted with more than 1,500 varieties of roses, camellias, and annuals.
The grounds also include several fountains. The arbor, rose garden, and fountains are located on Orange Grove Boulevard. At the same time, the terraces mark the entrance to the front of the Tournament House. Tours are free to the public and are curated by the Tournament of Rose Association
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Getting around Pasadena
Pasadena is an invitingly walkable community with an innovative, streamlined transit system, including shuttles, buses, and a well-planned light rail system.
If you are flying into Pasadena, Hollywood Burbank Airport, formerly Bob Hope Airport, is 15 miles (24 km) from Pasadena and its closest airport. A regional airport in Burbank, California –serving Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles and has direct rail connections to Downtown Los Angeles.
LAX is the closest international airport, 29 miles (47 km) from Pasadena and the world’s fourth busiest airport. Both airports are served by most major car rental companies, including Hertz, Dollar, and Enterprise. Do yourself a favor and get a car sorted ahead of time with someone like Kayak.
United Taxi serves the area, and its hotels offer shuttles to and from their property to the airport.
The Bob Hope Airport Train Station is located directly across the street from the Hollywood Burbank Airport terminal on Empire Avenue. It is serviced by the Metrolink Ventura County Line and the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. For safe and sound travel ensure to have travel insurance with you.
Is Pasadena worth visiting?
Heck yeah, my traveler! Pasadena combines outdoor activities, eclectic shopping, arts, and intellectualism. The city also has hundreds of cafes and restaurants to please any taste or budget. Pasadena is a place that is DEFINITELY worth visiting.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Pasadena?
The KidspaceChildren’s Museum is one of Pasadena’s best things to do with kids ages one to ten. This interactive museum promotes learning through play.
What are some things to do in Pasadena when it’s raining?
The Pasadena Ice Skating Center is a world-class ice skating facility with daily public skates and lessons. It is conveniently located just a block from the Pasadena Convention Center.