The month of December is a perfect time of year to share a few itinerary ideas for visiting one of my favorite places, Pasadena, California. The Rose Bowl, The Tournament of Roses New Year’s Day Parade and perfect weather, draw thousands of people to the city every December. When you watch the parade on television you can clearly see the majestic San Gabriel Mountains that are just north of the city and so beautiful. Blue skies and bright sunshine are especially enticing to those that are experiencing a harsh winter.
A little personal back story…
I was fortunate to grow up in Arcadia, a small community which was about ten minutes east of Pasadena. Pasadena is a much larger city and became very important to me when I was a teenager. When I was seventeen, I became part of something quite extraordinary that changed my life forever.
Over 900 happy, yet nervous, high school seniors from Pasadena and three other neighboring cities participated in a series of interviews. Our hope was to be chosen one of seven members of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Royal Court. Lucky me, I was chosen to be one of them.
The experience was one of a kind and the thrill of meeting so many different kinds of people (mostly adults) and representing such an important organization like the Tournament, was a dream come true. We made personal appearances throughout Southern California, spoke to philanthropy groups, Rotary Clubs, hosted Rose Bowl events for the visiting colleges and even drove the Goodyear blimp! For a 17 year old high school senior, it was quite mind-blowing. We were on the Bob Hope Christmas Special, danced with Lawrence Welk on his television show and featured on magazine covers.
The grand prize was to ride on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, waving to the crowds, where a million people line the curbs of Colorado Blvd and 100 million more watched it on TV.
Back then Pasadena wasn’t quite the hip, urban foodie scene that it is today. We have recently moved back to Pasadena after living elsewhere for thirty five years and it warms my heart to see it become such an attractive, vibrant, magnetic city.
Today, Pasadena is an ideal vacation destination, with beautiful gardens, historic architecture, delicious food, handcrafted cocktails and fantastic shopping. It is also just a quick fifteen minute drive to downtown Los Angeles, where the food scene is exploding as well!
Where to go in Pasadena~
Little Flower– Best breakfast in town. The baked goods are to die for, delicious coffee and tea, excellent scrambled eggs with sausage in a quaint, little place.
Lincoln – Owned by the same talented chef/restaurauteur as Little Flower, it is relatively new, much larger and INCREDIBLE. Lincoln offers breakfast and lunch and is about a 10 minute drive from downtown Pasadena.
You can find any type of food you want in downtown Pasadena. There are the chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory, pizza places, burgers spots, salads, soups, sandwiches at every price point. Here are a few of my faves to take a look at:
Kabuki – Great sushi and noodle bowls piled high with fresh veggies and chicken, beef or shrimp.
Mijares – Family mexican food since 1929 – Great margaritas too!
800 Degrees – Choose your own topping pizza, awesome salads and very affordable. If you haven’t been, and love pizza,this is a must
Mi Piace – Upscale Italian. Excellent, huge menu, great vibe, cafe style eating on sidewalk if you like that!
Drinks and Appetizers:
Magnolia House – Phenomenal atmosphere, handcrafted cocktails. and scrumptious appetizers on Lake Avenue in Pasadena
White Horse Lounge – Fairly new and a happening spot, the drinks are exceptional and the bar food is noteworthy. Located on De Lacey St, it is just a few steps off Colorado Boulevard in Old Town. Jason, the award winning mixologist, makes an Old Fashioned to die for! We love the housemade hummus and warm pita bread, the juicy burger, truffle fries and Spicy Panko Mac N Cheese.
Union– By far my favorite restaurant in Pasadena (sorry to everyone else) – Delicious handmade pasta, farm fresh food, small plates. You must have a reservation and the vibe is fun, hip and friendly! Chef Bruce Kalman recently beat Bobby Flay on Bobby’s Food Network show. The menu changes seasonally and offers vibrant, locally sourced, AMAZING food!
The Parkway Grill – Also a big favorite of mine. Fantastic innovative cuisine, excellent service, classy, crazy good cocktails -A reservation is a must as well.
The Grande Orange – Housed in an old train station, they offer an eclectic menu with great burgers and amazing tacos. Brunch is great here as well. They do not take reservations.
Smitty’s – Love this place – American comfort food forms the core of the menu, which features iron skillet cornbread, homemade chicken pot pie, and BBQ baby-back ribs, along with daily, fresh seafood specials, and other contemporary and irresistible offerings. They make excellent cocktails (always important), delicious side dishes and offer terrific personal service. We love sitting in a large booth looking out at the restaurant and reservations are a good idea!
There are several shopping areas to visit, depending upon your interests:
Old Town Pasadena – My favorite spot – It has everything I would be looking for. Fun Boutiques, J Crew, Madewell, Tiffany, Sephora – you get the idea.
Paseo Colorado – More of the typical mall offering with White House Black Market, Tommy Bahamas.
Vromans – Best book store in the San Gabriel Valley, located on Colorado Blvd near the Paseo
Lake Avenue – Great specialty stores and Macy’s, plus lots of fast food type restaurants (Chipotle, Lemonade, Starbucks)
Located in my hometown, The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, 127 acres, is an arboretum, botanical garden, and historical site. Many films and television shows have been filmed there. The very recognizable, Lucky Baldwin House was used on “Fantasy Island”.
Santa Anita Park is a thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, California, United States. It offers some of the prominent racing events in the United States during the winter and in spring. Built in 1934, Santa Anita Park is spectacularly beautiful and you must check out their FREE tours on Saturday and Sunday during race season.
It was such a pleasure creating this small list of fantastic restaurants, glorious gardens and activities in and near Pasadena. This is just a start, there are walking tours, more restaurants, coffee and tea bars and other historical areas to choose from as well**. There just wasn’t room here for everything! I am proud to have represented Pasadena so very long ago and I encourage you to visit and enjoy all the magic this historical city provides.
** If you have additional favorites in Pasadena, please email me at email@example.com – I will be creating a guide for the city and would love your additional perspective.
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