But I don't WANT to be a California Girl!
February 8, 2011 1:24 AM   Subscribe

Why SHOULD I be excited about moving to Pasadena? Based on not much more than TV, I think that life in the greater LA area would be pretty much the opposite of my current, wonderful lifestyle. Is there a way to live in So Cal AND have what I love about my current life?

I live in a major European city (guess which one). I don't own a car. I can walk to grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, huge, green parks. There is wonderful public transportation. It's very, very safe. Clean alpine air. Cheap preschool. Biergartens with playgrounds in them. My husband has a very good job offer at CalTech/JPL. Is there anywhere near there that I can come close to replicating my current life? He really wants to take this job and I want to not cry at the thought of this move. Is my vision of LA life - hours spent driving, hot weather, strip malls, dirty air - unnecessarily bleak? I hope so! I have an infant, if that makes a difference. Are there good sites that describe the various neighborhoods?
posted by munichmaiden to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
hours spent driving, Ok, unfortunately, yeah, if you need to go places across town at rush hour.
hot weather, Not really. It's not Phoenix or Vegas. You may get a few yucky days out there in Pasadena but on the other hand winter will be absolutely beautiful.
strip malls, Well yeah, they exist, but they also contain amazingly great and exotic ethnic restaurants, among other things.
dirty air You will get a few smoggy days out there in the San Gabriel, but this is largely an outdated cliche and non-issue. It's not freaking Bejing. Unless you have serious asthma or something, you'll be fine.

You might possibly like South Pasadena- I have some friends that live there. It's known for relative affordability and great Chinese food. L.A. is one of the great cities of the world by almost any reasonable measurement. Yes there are Kardashians and traffic, but there's also opera and a world-class symphony (Dudamel!!), incredible diversity, an amazing music scene, amazing hiking almost literally at your doorstep, etc. etc. etc. etc.

It is definitely true, though, that people find what they expect to find here. I know a lot of people who have come here convinced it's terrible, somehow managed to see only the bad things, and then left. If you keep an open mind you will be fine. Welcome!
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:35 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from the Netherlands and lived in Pasadena for somewhat over a year. Some short impressions: don't get confused with how diverse the areas of LA are. We were lucky enough to live in a nice block halfway Old Town and the Caltech campus. We actually managed to survive without a car (to the amazement of my colleagues, who thought we must be very poor!). We rented a car whenever we wanted to go anywhere, but this mostly meant getting the hell out of LA as soon as possible. I never gave in to the lifestyle of driving for an hour to pick up tamales at a specific outlet. I actually walked to campus and the supermarkets (oh god, now I miss TJ's!). The weather is glorious (especially if you're from Holland or Germany). I did try biking, but that was not a smart decision (hills & traffic). Public transportation is laughable, although the Gold Line is a nice way to get to downtown LA. But getting from Pasadena to e.g. the Getty or Santa Monica by bus/rail is, well, an adventure. South Pasadena, where many of my colleagues lived, it seemed like a nice place to live (with some nice cafes, shops).
posted by swordfishtrombones at 2:00 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I moved to LA this past fall, for grad school. I expected to loathe it - I'm a life-long New Yorker, and there's an almost mandatory snobbery about LA in NYC. Now, I spent a lot of my time cloistered at my wonky, intense, and utterly fantastic art school, but my sojourns down into LA proper have done much to change my impression of the city.

First of all, here are the fruit trees currently growing in my yard: blood orange, grapefruit, lemon, grape, apple, fig, and guava. The first three are in season right now, and I can't tell you how gratifying it is to walk out to my backyard and pull a delicious blood orange right off my tree. This is such an indelible part of the landscape here that one fascinating art collective, Fallen Fruit, has based their entire art practice around. You can see their maps of public fruit trees in various LA neighborhoods (and beyond) here.

Which brings me to my next point: the art scene here is fascinating, if that's your kind of thing. From the experimental new media collective stuff at Machine Project in Echo Park to the completely indescribable Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, I've found the LA art world to be kind of magical. Get to know some of those smaller, weirder places - it's worth the effort.

I'll admit that the city proper can be a little lacking in terms of green space, but you are remarkably close to some absolutely amazing wilderness - Pasadena is nestled up against the Angeles mountains, and Joshua Tree is a pretty easy drive. And, of course, you're not far from some lovely beaches as well.

Lastly, should you feel a little homesick for Germany, you'll find some amazing sausage, beer, and fries at possibly my favorite spot downtown, Wurstküche. Seriously, the food in this city is amazing.
posted by TheRoach at 2:39 AM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

i lived in pasadena for over four years when i went to art school there. there were a number of european students while i was there and i was friends with a lot of them. i think most of them really enjoyed there time in pasadena as well as exploring the greater LA area. personally, i'm not a huge fan of LA, but i actually really liked pasadena. i think it's quite a safe town as it's very student and family-oriented, and historically, there used to be a bit of old money settled there. old town has gotten a bit circus-y since i left but it's still vibrant. there are cute neighborhoods and a good cache of wonderful craftsman houses. i didn't find it smoggy and, tho it's warm and sunny for most of the year, it's only very hot a few times out of the year (but most places have air conditioning). you can do fine staying in pasadena and not heading into LA or to the beach, but if you do, yes, expect traffic—and it's not fun (i'm back in so.cal several times a year and the traffic always makes me want to stab my eyes out with a spork). that said, not exploring LA would be a great disservice to you and your family because as much as i'm glad not to be living there anymore, it does have great cultural resources: museums, music venues, and the food—i miss the wonderful variety of great ethnic food!

i suggest you really go there with an open mind and a sense of exploration rather than with the attitude you're expressing in your post. otherwise, you will find yourself miserable.
posted by violetk at 2:50 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I didn't live in West Hollywood, I would live in Pasadena! I'm originally from lower Manhattan, so I can empathize with your situation a bit. Here is my breakdown...

We go to Pasadena all the time for errands and for fun stuff. And for stuff I can not find easily (or sometimes at all) anywhere else on the West Coast.

First of all, The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens - get a membership. I also belong to The Hammer near UCLA, but The Huntington is worth the travel for us because it offers A LOT. The collections are much better than The Getty (IMHO.) The annual Orchid Show. The Chinese and Japanese Gardens (best jasmine iced green tea in the summer!) The view of the mountains is especially spectacular from the grounds (although the mountains from anywhere in Pasadena rock.) They have tons of great lectures and classes every month. Stuff for kids. Lawns without dog poop. A Gutenberg Bible. One of the best gift shops ever. It's just amazing and will be a welcome refuge to ease your transition into SoCal living, mostly because it is more like what you are used to and expect. When I get to hating LA and everything it stands for, this is where I go.

Roma Market on Lake Ave.There are no good Italian delis in SoCal ( I lived on Mulberry St in NYC for 8 years, so my standards on this are super high.) Then someone brought me olive oil bread from Roma... I cried a little it was so good. REAL Bread! Then I go there and find out they have the best of the best in imported Italian deli meats + cheeses - Just Like Home!

Jones Coffee is the best in LA, by far. I trucked to Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena to get all my Christmas presents this year because it is generally so difficult to find interesting and unique presents for people in LA. I live near the Beverly Center Shopping Mall, but if I must go to a Macy's for some reason... I go to the one in Pasadena because it is bigger, nicer, and well effing less hectic.

In short, my husband and I do much of our essential living activities in Pasadena. The reason we don't live there, I think, is because Pasadena is a little politically conservative compared to super diverse and gay-friendly WeHo. That's it.

The streets are clean and beautiful. Some of the public schools are very good. Restaurants are great. Awesome views.

Enjoy living there! See you at the Huntington this summer!!

(MeMail if you have more questions. There are ways to hack SoCal living. I agree the lack of culture and diversity and (IMO) generic grunginess of most neighborhoods can be a real turn-off. But it is Paradise almost every day, weather-wise. And you can find pockets of lovely. It takes work. But if you live in the right neighborhood, it is well easier - and you have this part covered. No worries!)
posted by jbenben at 3:03 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you live in Pasadena you don't need to visit LA unless you want to. There are plenty of restaurants, nightlife, culture, and activities for kids in Pasadena, South Pasadena, and surrounding areas. The best Chinese food outside China (in Alhambra, San Gabriel, etc-- no more than 10 minutes from Pasadena). The whole area has a very traditional feel, often enforced by strict building codes. Not so much green space (Huntington Gardens, Lacy Park in San Marino) but many nice streets with beautiful mansions to look at. The Pasadena school system is nothing special but San Marino has some of the best schools in the state. It's right next to Pasadena-- maybe 5 minutes from CalTech. However, it's a fairly expensive city.

IMO maybe you're not watching the right TV! Here are some shows set or filmed in the Pasadena area: Mad Men, My So-Called Life, Brothers and Sisters, the Big Bang Theory, Greek (on the Caltech campus). The area is often used as a stand-in for East Coast cities because it has such traditional architecture.

If you are really focused on walking everywhere, you should live around Lake Ave, which is a few blocks west of CalTech, or somewhere in between Old Town and CalTech.
posted by acidic at 6:14 AM on February 8, 2011

Best answer: Pasadena is wonderful. It is the most beautiful, old-feeling part of Los Angeles. When I lived there (within about a mile of CalTech's campus) I could walk to dozens of restaurants, two Trader Joe's, the library, tons of shops, my gym, the dentist, even my podiatrist's office. I walked to the train station every morning and commuted to my job downtown via light rail and subway. On New Years Day I walked the three blocks from my apartment to Colorado Blvd to watch the Rose Bowl Parade. We often drove into the mountains, just north of Pasadena, for hiking and sightseeing. I loved Pasadena and I miss it quite a bit.

That said! You are still in greater Los Angeles, and ultimately, that's why we chose to leave. However, it took five years for us to get sick of the city. There is a lot to do and see in Los Angeles, and (for us, at least) it takes years for the novelty of the fantastic weather to wear off. I would not trade my time living in LA for anything, and if we could have afforded to buy a house in Pasadena I would probably still be there, greater LA be damned. It's a great place.
posted by something something at 6:25 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pasadena is where everybody in LA wants to live. Or the beach.
Have fun.

posted by SLC Mom at 8:13 AM on February 8, 2011

JPL is in La Canada, which is more of a spread-out suburb, and Cal Tech is in Pasadena, which is a small city. The smog days of the 60s/70s don't really exist now, but both places are in the San Gabriel Valley, which butts up against mountains, so there are foggy days in June, and inversions in August. It can get very hot, but it's not humid, and cools off at night. And you're always within driving distance of a beach--Malibu, Santa Monica, South Bay, etc.

Pasadena public schools are dismal, but private schools abound. La Canada HS is very good, San Marino schools are excellent, and the district is 85% Asian, so be prepared for your kids to be a minority. The best Asian food outside of the respective home countries exists in the San Gabriel Valley (check Chowhound, for specifics.)
There's lots of $$ in Pasadena, plenty of old money families (it's the WASPiest of Los Angeles suburbs), show biz types, and average folks. CalTech is pretty good about finding spouses some type of work to do, if you'd want to have a job. Lots of diversity at both CalTech and all over LA. Everyone is from someplace else, it seems.

Eagle Rock is a funkier suburb that's very close to Pasadena, but there's no public transport to speak of.
If you like gardening, everything grows here. Farmer's markets are great, wineries are within a couple of hours drive.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Altadena (which borders Pasadena and is actually mostly closer to JPL than Pasadena). Though I've really enjoyed living in other places, I always seem to move back to southern California.

Right now I'm watching the sun rise over Eaton Canyon. This is the view out the kitchen window of my rental apartment. The San Gabriel Valley is a pretty unique part of Los Angeles; in some areas it looks (to me) very much like the mountaious Hawaii.

The life you live in southern California will be very different than the life you describe in Munich, but there are a lot of bright spots. How is your access to fresh fruit and veggies in Munich? The fresh fruit available from farmer's markets several times a week in southern California is really incredible. Here's a description of the goodies available two weeks ago at the winter farmer's market at the Pasadena High School. There are farmer's markets throughout the week in all of the little communities around JPL.

Price and availability of housing may be another pleasant factor. Though the real estate market is pretty strong in southern California, I strongly suspect the prices for housing may be lower than what you'd pay in Europe. If you rent, very pleasant 2 bedroom homes/apartments can be had for $1300-$1700 in Pasadena, depending on the area you're interested in the amenities you're seeking.

You mention a small child, and Pasadena is great for that. There are lots of parents activities groups and plenty of room for walking. I don't have kids, but friends with children tell me the schools in South Pasadena are renowned throughout the area (housing prices are higher because of it). Many Pasadena residents choose to send their kids to private schools in Pasadena. San Marino, a wealthy enclave just south and east of S. Pasadena has superb schools, so much so that a friend moved with her daughter from Santa Monica to a tiny studio in San Marino just to take advantage of the schools.

And in terms of choosing places to live: if you're looking for a place where you'll be able to walk to the market and use public transportation more, consider Sierra Madre, South Pasadena or Monrovia. Sierra Madre is a small community just east of Pasadena with a strong community identity (they build their own Rose Parade float each year), a very cute downtown area, but pretty high housing prices. Monrovia has an appealing downtown area with plenty of housing just blocks away, a great library and park, and an evening farmer's market that is much a fair as a farmers market. Also a significant fault line, but we don't have to get into that unless you're considering buying real estate . Roughly the same distance from JPL (ish) is S. Pasadena, which also has a small and cute downtown area with a weekly farmer's market. It also has the advantage of being right on the metro line, with a stop right in downtown South Pasadena. The metro is surprisingly good in L.A., as long as your destination is somewhere that it is going.

I think Altadena is great, but you really need a car to get around here. In Pasadena, check out the Historic Highlands as well as Bungalow Heaven, two of my preferred neighborhoods. The area around Cal Tech is also nice, but on the expensive side with lots of competition from students and faculty for housing.

Pasadena also has a downtown area, called Old Town, but it is busy and pretty commerce-centered, with stores like Crate & Barrel, Apple, and American Apparel. There is housing near downtown, but it is pretty expensive and primarily in large managed "luxury" buildings. The housing prices there are about 30-40% higher than elsewhere in Pasadena.

Since your husband is serious about the JPL job, why not suggest a field trip? I know the tickets are expensive, but it seems like it would be worthwhile for you to have an opportunity to see the area first-hand to decide for yourself if it is a place that you could be happy.
posted by RachelSmith at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2011

Great museums (best in LA except for the Miracle Mile), good restaurants (especially for asian/Mexican), very livable, good shopping, relative quiet, easy access to freeways, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, downtown, Hollywood, etc. If you want the weather and SoCal lifestyle without the westside lifestyle, Pasadena is the place to be.
posted by charlesv at 8:49 AM on February 8, 2011

Vroman's Bookstore!
posted by brujita at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to what everyone else has said, I'll add that the beautiful LA County Arboretum is in Arcadia, which is about ten minutes east of Pasadena. I'm too lazy to do the link, but if you Google the name, you'll find the website. It has all kinds of events and classes, including many for children.

And I'll second what jbenben said about Jones Coffee, which is some of the best I've ever had anywhere. Friendly atmosphere, too.
posted by chicainthecity at 9:47 AM on February 8, 2011

I stayed with a friend who lived two blocks from Cal Tech with his wife and child, working as a freelance copyeditor. We were able to walk to everything we wanted--shopping, restaurants, parks--and he spends an hour or so every day walking with his son and doing chores. He rarely drives. A pedestrian lifestyle is very easy within the area around Cal Tech.
posted by fatbird at 10:00 AM on February 8, 2011

via acidic: If you live in Pasadena you don't need to visit LA unless you want to.

I keep coming back to this comment because it is (a) very very true, and (b) wasteful when folks limit themselves to one area in LA -- a common mistake.

Learn the roads (especially side streets to avoid traffic) and don't limit yourself to one area. Make it a point to venture out regularly. You'll like it here more if you do.
posted by jbenben at 10:59 AM on February 8, 2011

Pasadena is where everybody in LA wants to live.

Not true, especially in September... but a lot of LA people never actually get out to Pasadena -- like everybody else they only see it on New Years Day, on TV: the Rose Bowl parade. Like jbenben just pointed out, many people (not just in LA) merely oscillate between the home neighborhood and work, missing out on so many things.

Another benefit, you can use the Burbank airport instead of schlepping all the way down to LAX.
posted by Rash at 11:29 AM on February 8, 2011

Like many others have stated here, you *should* be excited to move to Pasadena! Echoing the other commenters, the area is really unlike what people think of stereotypical LA. The LA area really changes once you cross the threshold between the 101/110 freeways. There's the "west side," the "mid wilshire," and then the "east side."

I feel like you can certainly make yourself home at the east side (Pasadena, San Gabriel Valley area). It's more down to earth, more family oriented, less hustle and bustle. While the public transportation does suck, everything else is really workable. There are really nice shops, restaurants, cafes, parks, etc. Lots of cultural events. The people are friendlier. It's a great place to settle down, and really the opposite of what you are probably thinking about LA.

And then when you really do venture east of the 101/110, then you may see what you are thinking of "dirty" LA - Hollywood, the entertainment industry, grungy strip malls, stuck in traffic forever, etc. Which is a culture in itself! But isn't your type of thing.

Take this as you will from someone that grew up in idyllic South Pasadena, it was actually a culture shock when I lived and worked in Santa Monica after college!
posted by xtine at 11:44 AM on February 8, 2011

Typo above. I of course meant west of Pasadena in reference to crossing the freeway barrier.
posted by xtine at 11:45 AM on February 8, 2011

I grew up in a house at the very top of Altadena, basically in the mountains right next to JPL. I went through the public school system and attended Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College.

I WISH I grew up in South Pasadena. Actually, I'm stationed in Hawaii right now and if I had the chance to move back, I would be living in South Pas in a heartbeat. It's one of the most walkable cities in the area (Trader Joe's, Videotheque, Buster's, Mama's Brickhouse Oven, Garfield Park, a public library, a farmer's market, a Gold Line station, plus a handful of cute small businesses as well as chain stores) it's safe at night, and from what I've heard, the schools are wayyy better than any of the the PUSD schools. You can take the Gold Line to the busier areas of Pasadena, including Old Town, or you can take it towards Chinatown/Union Station if you need to get to the LA area. Your husband would probably need a car to get to JPL. I've never seen a bus anywhere near JPL. It's a short drive to the 210, and only a few miles to the Arroyo/Windsor exit which takes you right to JPL. Or you can take the scenic route up Orange Grove and along the Rose Bowl. The drive from JPL to South Pas manages to avoid much of the 210 traffic that bottles up at the tunnel where it connects with the 134 traffic.
Cal Tech is much more accessible, public transit-wise.

As for the other areas... Pasadena is okay if you stick to the southwestern region. The rest is a bit lacking my opinion, and too spread out to be walkable. Altadena is too far from society. Sierra Madre is another cute, fairly walkable town but is also too far removed from society. Highland Park is feared for it's gang activity ("The Avenues") but all the young, hip people are moving there for the low rent. Eagle Rock is a small college town. San Marino, I don't know much about, except they have Lacy Park, which is my favorite. Alhambra, San Gabriel, Temple City, and Arcadia have a large Asian population, while Glendale is known for it's large Armenian population. Arcadia and Glendale have the biggest shopping malls in the area.
The beach is about 40 minutes away. In the summer, Altadena has a bus shuttle that takes you to the beach. I'm not sure if any other cities have this.
posted by zap at 12:27 PM on February 8, 2011

(first off, its Caltech, not CalTech or worse Cal Tech. seeing all these variations is driving me crazy :) )

I lived in Pasadena for 4 years when going to... Caltech. The campus itself is quite nice, although if he's working at JPL that's a little bit away (I've only been to JPL once and don't remember it very well). It's in a nice, quiet area of Pasadena.

If you're by the campus, you can walk to Lake Ave just a few blocks west of campus, which has a mall, groceries, bunch of nice little stores, etc. Old Pasadena is full of stuff and isn't too far away, you can get there via bus (at least this used to be true, the ARTS bus) and Old Pas itself is quite walkable.

Basically, like others said, it's a bit self-contained. You can (and should!) explore more of LA, but you don't need to leave Pasadena for anything, and traffic is not a big problem in town.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:13 PM on February 8, 2011

Don't forget that JPL and Caltech are connected by a shuttle. It doesn't arrive very often-- maybe hourly-- but if you live close to Caltech it's a good option.
posted by acidic at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! I feel much, much better! I marked the ones that brought me an immediate sense of relief, but all of the answers have been very helpful. I'm an American, but have somehow lived my entire adult life in 3 different cities where cars are optional. I'm so happy to hear that I won't be living in my car stuck on a freeway while my daughter cries in the backseat, like I feared. You have all given me hope and helped me get my mind right - attitude adjusted!
posted by munichmaiden at 2:26 AM on February 9, 2011

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