What should I do in Pasadena?
June 30, 2006 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What should I do in Pasadena?

I'll be in Pasadena, CA for about a week in mid-August. I will be attending a conference there, so my days will be booked. But what is there to do in or around Pasadena after 5:00 pm? I like the outdoors, food, music, and cultural events and my tastes run more to the adventurous side than the conservative.

(P.S. I have been to L.A. and Hollywood and am not fond of either. Amusement parks, i.e. Knotts Berry Farm, are a no-no, as well.)
posted by eviltiff to Travel & Transportation around Pasadena, CA (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why dont you go for a hike, lots of travels in the area.. I currently am looking at the mountains here in pasadena from my work desk.
posted by crewshell at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2006

Whatever you do, don't go to Old Town at night. Teeming with people, filled with boring shops and restaurants. If you have a car, try Eagle Rock for great food. If you can make it as far as Los Feliz or Silver lake (20-30 minute drive at night), there's a lot of great bars etc.
posted by maxreax at 11:42 AM on June 30, 2006

Will you have a car? What part of town are you staying in?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2006

Tour The Gamble House and Wrigley Mansion. The Pasadena Playhouse is a Historical Site. The Huntington Library (gardens)is nice. Look at the nice Craftsman houses. Old Town has some nice shops, but it's becoming more main stream and it's losing it's uniqueness. If you are there on the first Saturday of the month, go to the PCC flea market. The Rose Bowl flea market is over rated. The Norton Simon Museum and Pasadena Contempory Museum of Art are options and The Asian Pacific Museum. I'm not sure if The Pasadena Symphony will be in session or not, but it is nice.

I'm not far from this area currently (minutes). E-mail me if you want more details.
posted by 6:1 at 11:52 AM on June 30, 2006

Eaton Canyon--hikers like it. Kind of borders Pasadena/Altadena. I believe you need a pass, REI would know.
posted by 6:1 at 11:53 AM on June 30, 2006

I'd second the Huntington, but I believe it closes rather early. If you have a car, go the Getty. Not only eye candy for the grounds and works of art, they have an exceptional restaurant. Norton Simon, Hollywood Bowl (good eats there as well...).
posted by JABof72 at 12:00 PM on June 30, 2006

Seconding Huntington Gardens and Norton Simon. If you like gardens, Descanso Gardens and the LA Arboretum are fairly close by as well. So is Santa Anita if you like horse racing. Slightly less close, the LA zoo is off the 5 near Glendale.
posted by willnot at 12:06 PM on June 30, 2006

Go to Burger Continental -- it is an experience, and the food is excellent and cheap, particularly the buffet.

The Norton Simon is open until 9pm on Friday, and has a choice Indian art collection, as well as their more famous offerings. The Pacifc Asia Museum is also open until 8pm on Friday.

Enjoy Sierra Madre, the semi-artsy time-warp Mayberry of greater LA, just north east of PaSAH-denNAH. Look for the "Childhood home of Methylviolet" plaque. Beantown has open mic nights, and is a nice place to use free wifi and relax.

Go look at the Pasadena Libarary, and its City Hall -- it amazes me to think that LA public buildings were ever like this.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:09 PM on June 30, 2006

Make a pilgramage to Poobah records, one of the last indepedent record store to survive -- because they have everything, and the clerks know everything.

ArtCenter, Caltech, and Pasadena City College often have public events -- talks, concerts, etc -- but August does look kind of dry.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:22 PM on June 30, 2006

Go to Vroman's, the largest & oldest independent bookstore in southern California. They hold a lot of interesting events, here's their calendar.

Saladang- the BEST Thai restaurant ever, and the prices are very decent. Also, it's not in Old Town. If it's crowded, the restaurant right next to it, Saladang Song, is under the same ownership and the menu is similar enough in terms of giving you a lot of tasty options.
posted by invisible ink at 1:34 PM on June 30, 2006

I forgot to mention, Vroman's is right next to an independent movie theatre that shows only artsy/foreign stuff, so that might also be something you could check out.
posted by invisible ink at 1:41 PM on June 30, 2006

I have been to L.A. and Hollywood and am not fond of either

...then you probably won't like Pasadena, since it's all LA (county). But yeah, Vromans, and Poobah (plus my favorite, if it's still there: the Pasadena Cafeteria, with its special organ music. If it's no longer, their sister operation Beadles is still around, but they were never the same after they moved off of Colorado Blvd). Another interesting shop, way out on Colorado, which had "Store Closing - Sale" signs in the window when I was there last year, is C & H Surplus. Electronic stuff; used to have an amazing selection.
(Doubt that they're related to the sugar company... you know that stands for California and Hawaii, right?)

Whatever you do, don't go to Old Town at night. Teeming with people, filled with boring shops and restaurants

... and no parking! Speaking of same, if you're into NASA you'll be making the pilgrimage out to JPL. Be advised, there's no visitor center, but they do offer tours.

Fortunately, being August, you won't be experiencing the worst of the smog -- that comes in September.
posted by Rash at 2:24 PM on June 30, 2006

Seconding the Gamble House. Also, the Norton Simon is underappreciated. Definitely visit if you have time. Saladang & Saladang Song are a lot of fun, decent thai food and very fun atmosphere.
posted by luriete at 2:30 PM on June 30, 2006

Pasadena Museum of Art has jazz on the terrace on weekends.
Downtown South Pasadena is nice, especially Buster's.

I second Burger Continental, even though I've only been there for their bellydancing weekend brunch.
posted by Lillitatiana at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2006

BTW, if you didn't like Hollywood or L.A., you still might like Pasadena. It's much different, even if it still is L.A. County.
posted by Lillitatiana at 4:22 PM on June 30, 2006

I second the Norton Simon. If you have one day free, go to the Huntington Gardens if you can. They are beautiful. You can take a ride into the city on the gold line, it's a really pretty ride. Will you be alone or with others?

You could take the gold line into downtown LA and get dinner at Oomasa in Little Tokyo (best sushi in LA in my opinion).

Old Town is truly terrible, do avoid it. What kind of music do you like? I could probably suggest some good clubs if you can point to a particular preference.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:24 PM on June 30, 2006

Norton Simon...very, very good, as is the Asia Pacific on a less grand scale.

Personally, I like Old Town, but, heck, I'm from the mid-west and only get out to visit the kid once a year or so... and anyplace that has an Apple Store can't be ALL bad!

Also, I'll go with Gamble House... very interesting, the best of the Craftsman Architecture.
posted by HuronBob at 6:35 PM on June 30, 2006

If the idea of a non-chain fast-food joint appeals to you, Lucky Boy on Arroyo Parkway two blocks south of California Blvd. was one of my favorite places growing up. The chili cheese fries, pastrami burger, and especially the carne asada taco were my mainstays. I always go there when I cruise through town, keeping my eyes open for the newbie who invariably orders enough food to feed 4 hulking men.

A few blocks further south on Arroyo, the Parkway Grill is the exact other end of the fine dining experience, and if you're in the mood for something extravagant, it's an excellent restaurant.

The awesomeness of the Huntington (the robber baron Henry Huntington's private home, now a giant botanical garden and museum) hasn't been fully conveyed during this thread; if you can spare a weekend day to it, you won't regret it. Among its crowd pleasers are the world's best-preserved Gutenberg Bible, Gainsborough's Blue Boy, and the manuscript to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; you have to have a little knowledge, on the other hand, to appreciate, say, the succulent garden, which contains examples of mature plants imported from Africa and found nowhere else in this hemisphere. The Norton Simon, on the other hand, is also excellent, but it's a small community museum.

Old Town is full of rowdy kids; I know, I used to be one. I can understand why people are warning you off. Still, it is the heart of Pasadena's nightlife, such as it is. I used to enjoy walking there at night; the Suicide Bridge (Flickr photoset) is really pretty and relatively quiet compared to the noisy intersection of Fair Oaks and Colorado Blvd.

Stats, at 120 S Raymond, is a large store that's open late and has been there forever. It's a home decoration/seasonal/crafts store, and if you go there you'll have a better idea of what living in Pasadena is about. (If you care; for someone more adventurous than conservative it'll be more along the line of an anthropology expedition.)

At one time, there was a sit-down pizza place on Fair Oaks, just north of California on the east side of the street, in a brick building. It didn't advertise, didn't have a name or a sign, and had really, really good pizza. If you walk inside and see a giant banner of Michelangelo's David, that's the place.

The CalTech campus, at California and Wilson, is kind of pretty to walk on, especially at night in August when there aren't too many people around. It's quite safe. I liked the southeast part of the campus where there is a little garden with lily pools, benches, and a couple of little waterfalls. I went to the little prep school across Wilson St., Polytechnic School; Richard Feynman used to come over and host African drum circles for our assemblies.

The Gamble House was better before they parted out a bunch of the beautiful fixtures to crafts museums across the world, but it's still worth seeing.

I second Vromans, Poobahs, Burger Continental (much better with the belly dancer), and Arcadia's Arboretum and Santa Anita Racetrack. The Arboretum is full of tame peacocks and peahens; we were forever chasing them out of our backyard.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:02 PM on June 30, 2006

Burger Continental is wild. You never know what will happen. It's even more fun if you are/go with/bring a person of the female persuasion. The staff will pay a lot more attention to you. I went once with my wife and sister. For some reason, the waiter thought we were a "threesome" and brought us complimentary beer, wine, and desserts--even after I identified the woman on my right as my wife and the woman on my left as my sister. We stayed about 2 hours longer than we should have.
posted by GarageWine at 8:41 PM on June 30, 2006

Burger Continental! What an excellent suggestion, I forgot all about that place. Now I'm homesick. Bring some people, definitely. The food is excellent. Last time I was there, the band did a cover of Kenny Roger's "Lady" that was not to be believed. I really love that place.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2006

Some guilty pleasure type food joints:

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles

Pie and Burger

The Rose Bowl is a decent place to ride a bike or jog around when it cools off in the evening. There is also an aquatic center if you wanna swim.

5-10 minutes west on Colorado is the Eagle Rock neighborhood - a very good french restaurant, good pizza (that you ALWAYS have to wait to be seated for), and a bar - The Chalet - that is gussied up but prolly won't fill up with kids mid week.

Hiking is great in the Angeles Crest Mountains/foothills, just north of Pasadena - probably some nice ones that you could check out in an hour or so after work.

From your OP, Olde Towne might drive you bats. The movie theatre on Colorado next to Vroman's is a good suggestion and there are some spots to eat or get coffee all round there. There are also some decent used bookshops near Vroman's, namely Cliff's and * crap, the other one that slipped my mind.

Pasadena is pretty "nice", having trouble coming up with something adventurous.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2006

At least once, get a breakfast burrito at Lucky Boy. Seriously.
posted by subclub at 10:40 AM on July 1, 2006

Because this appears to have become a convenient compendium of so many things I've enjoyed in the Pasadena area, I'll add a few more suggestions that are not especially tailored to the original poster's requests but may be enjoyed by anyone - Orean's, Pita! Pita!, and the famous Zankou Chicken (not for the faint-of-garlic). These places are known for their food, and not so much for elegant dining room surroundings - that kind of thing is better found at the Huntington's Rose Garden Tea Room. The Huntington is in San Marino, as is Lacy Park - open later, free on weekdays and one of the prettiest city parks I've visited in SoCal. Picking up a copy of Pasadena Weekly will help in finding more time-sensitive happenings.
posted by PY at 2:41 PM on July 1, 2006

I don't know if this counts as a self-link, but the paper I work for just published a "Best of LA" issue that you can read online. There's some good stuff in there; check it out.
posted by maxreax at 6:26 PM on July 1, 2006

The squirrels in Lacy Park carry bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis), and I would suggest avoiding the park after dark; it's not well trafficked nor well lit.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2006

Well, I'm back. Thanks to everyone for their advise/suggestions.

I did not have access to a car during my trip, so I was limited to adventures within walking distance or which were accessible via public transportation. (The ARTS buses are FABU!)

We were also required to do a quite a bit of studying in the evenings, so I wasn't able to get out of the hotel on a few nights. But, our group was given 2-hour lunchbreaks. So, every afternoon I picked a random direction and wandered around. Here's what I did:

I was dragged out to Old Town by a few colleagues. It was as horrible and touristy as everyone warned. (I just don't get the popularity of The Cheesecake Factory.) We stopped for dinner at Radhika's on N. Raymond Ave. The food was rather good, but I was disappointed to learn that everything was served a la carte and that we had to pay extra for a side of rice.

The second day, I walked over to S. Lake Ave and stopped in at Wahoo's Fish Tacos. I had fish tacos (of course) which were pretty decent. I loved the decor and spent about half an hour staring at the Polaroid instant photos of neighborhood regulars and celebrities, local band flyers, and miscellaneous tschokes tacked to the walls.

S. Lake Ave reminded me of what Miami Beach was like when I lived there as a child. Lots of people out and about, but not as touristy as Old Town.

While wandering about, I happened upon Aardvarks Odd Ark, the BEST THRIFT SHOP IN THE UNIVERSE! It's a bit more "vintage" than "thrifty", but the prices were still more than reasonable. The place was sooooo big that I went back twice, just to make sure I didn't overlook a treasure or two.

Burger Continental was a huge hit! We went on a evening when a bellydancer was performing. Our waiter was very kind and attentive and kept returning to our table with free appetizers and desserts as big as my head. My colleagues made me promise to pass on their praise.

On my last night, I made sure to stop in at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. I grew up hearing about Roscoe's and felt the need to go, if for nothing other than to say "I went there." On the advise of the waitress, I had the Chicken and Waffle plate (duh!) which arrived within minutes. The chicken was damn good as was the waffle. Inspired by this, I also ordered several side dishes. Big mistake. The smothered potatoes were awful and macaroni and cheese was the blandest I've ever eaten. I don't even want to talk about the sweet potato pie. I'll definitely stick to the chicken and/or waffles next time.

posted by eviltiff at 2:04 PM on August 30, 2006

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