A Visit to Pasadena is Especially Exciting This Time of Year

visit to Pasadena
The Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California


A Visit to Pasadena in December

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.
Rose Court 1979
That’s me, far left – 1979
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.

a visit to Pasadena
A colorful Rose Parade float.
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~


visit to Pasadena
Gorgeous pillows of yum at Little Flower Bakery
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.
visit to Pasadena
White beans, sausage, greens and poached egg at Lincoln.


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:

Green Street – Excellent salads, sandwiches and burgers
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
Tasty cocktail with a sprig of lavender at Magnolia House
A tasty cocktail with a sprig of lavender at Magnolia House
visit to Pasadean
I dream about this dish! Brussel Sprouts with cilantro pistachio pesto, smoked bacon, crispy egg & pecorino cheese,
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!
visit to Pasadena
Garden tomato appetizer – Union


visit to Pasadena
Union housemade pasta with pork ragú – Are you kidding – love it!


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!
visit to Pasadena
Enjoying our cocktails at Smitty’s


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)

Places to Visit

The Gamble House

Designed by Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene, the Gamble House is considered to be one of the finest examples of architecture from the early 20th century Arts & Crafts Movement.

The Huntington 

Founded in 1919 by Henry Huntington, the extensive library, exceptional gardens, extraordinary art collection and tea room is just minutes from Pasadena.

Descanso Gardens

Every season brings something new at this glorious garden. Just 15 minutes north of Pasadena.

Arcadia Arboreteum

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 Racetrack

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.

Other relevant posts:

A Memorable Meal by Outstanding in the Field

A Walk in the Lower Arroyo Seco Natural Park

 ** If you have additional favorites in Pasadena, please email me at suzannestavert@me.com – I will be creating a guide for the city and would love your additional perspective.


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16 thoughts on “A Visit to Pasadena is Especially Exciting This Time of Year”

  1. I’m regret to say that I haven’t gone to all those restaurants yet. Your pictures are always so beautiful (not to mention they make me hungry!). I love the picture of you on the Royal Court too! 🙂

    • Thanks Kim. You have lots of time to enjoy these restaurants.Pasadena is a great place to visit. Thank you for the compliment! The photos make me hungry too.

  2. Many, many fond memories of Parkway Grill for special family occasions! Prior to it’s closing we were huge fans of the Chronicle in Pasadena – I think that’s where I learned to drink CA Chardonnay! (Luckily I’m over that now!!) Green St – I remember the old location too! Such fun Christmas lunches with my Arcadia High girlfriends at Green street over the years. Was just there for lunch last week! Thanks for the memories Suzanne!!

  3. What an amazing experience to be part of the Rose Parade as well as meet so many of the celebrity participants! Family legend says that I was named after the Santa Anita Racetrack (mentioned quite disapprovingly by the way) by my father who loved the sport. I grew up spending weekends with my grandparents in Pasadena so it holds a lot of great memories for me along with many middle of the night/early morning forays to claim our spot to watch the Rose Parade.

  4. I have never met anyone who was named after the race track! I am glad you that you still have such fond memories of those early mornings at the parade. There is nothing like it. Thank you for sharing Anita!

  5. I love Pasadena, and it has been a long time since I’ve visited. I enjoyed especially your yummy images of good food. Coincidentally, I recently painted my toes with beautiful “Rose Bowl” pinkish-red nail polish by Essie brand–perfect for a visit to Bali or for watching the Rose Parade.


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