18 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

Located just northeast of Los Angeles, Pasadena, California is a popular city to visit. With beautiful art deco buildings, California sunshine, a lots of things to do — this town is a must-visit.

While shopping is certainly a popular activity here, many love taking walking tours of the city or exploring Old Pasadena, where visitors can see the beautiful architecture.

Pasadena offers a number of outdoor activities, thanks to the Angeles National Forest residing here. Pasadena is sort of like its own world and has a lot to offer. It’s definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Southern California!

Here are 18 things to do in Pasadena, California that you’re not going to want to miss.

18 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, ART MUSEUM AND BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden technically is not in Pasadena, and it’s not Huntington Beach either. It’s located in San Marino, a small residential area just 10 minutes outside the city center of Pasadena. Known as The Huntington, this institute offers scholarly collections and education to its visitors.

The library is home to one of the world’s greatest independent research libraries, containing collections from the 11th century to the 21st century. In fact, they have more than 11 million items to be explored here. 

The art museum contains art galleries showcasing more than 500 years worth of treasured art. Their most well-known exhibit includes 18th-century Grand Manner Portraiture.

If art and books aren’t your thing, don’t worry, because they also have incredible botanical gardens. Of the entire 207 acres here, 130 acres of it are dedicated to the gardens. They have more than a dozen separate gardens, each containing its own theme to explore. 

NORTON SIMON MUSEUM

Another spectacular art museum located in Pasadena, California is the Norton Simon Museum, also known as the Pasadena Art Institute or the Pasadena Art Museum. This may seem like a tough follow-up to the previously listed activity, but it’s worth your time.

This museum has a huge focus on European impressionist art, with more than 11,000 collections in total. But European art is not the only thing that draws visitors. They also have a lot of art loaned from The Simon Foundation, with Asian background and culture. While the art novice can appreciate the beauty here, it’s also a haven for fine art connoisseurs. 

DESCANSO GARDENS

Imagine taking in 150 acres of beautiful outdoor space featuring beautiful gardens. You can at Descanso Gardens, located just slightly north of Pasadena in La Canada Flintridge. They get more than 750,000 visitors each year, as guests check out multiple points of interest throughout the area. 

Learn more about the life of the founder, Descanoso, in the Boddy House, then explore the art collections at the Sturt Haaga Gallery. Make sure to make time to visit the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden too.

After you’re done exploring, stop for a bite to eat at the on-site cafe.

OLD PASADENA WALKING TOURS

Pasadena is filled with beautiful architecture that has a long history worth knowing about. While you can walk the streets yourself, it is totally worth getting on a walking tour to really understand where its beauty comes from. While it is the business district today, it is also registered as a National Register Historic District, offering 22 blocks of sightseeing and open-air shopping. 

Old Pasadena offers locals and tourists some of the best shopping, dining, and amazing events along Colorado Boulevard, which is considered to be the main drag. As far as choosing what tours to work with, Visit Pasadena offers both guided and self-tours that give you the lay of the land. 

LOS ANGELES COUNTY ARBORETUM

Just 15 minutes outside Pasadena is the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, California. Beautifully tucked in the hills of the San Gabriel Mountains are 129 acres of botanic gardens. 

It’s also a historic site including structures from the Mexican Era Adobe. One of the most beloved historic sites is the Baldwin Cottage, which was constructed in 1865 as a honeymoon gift for Baldwin’s fourth wife.

While the historic sites are beautiful, the 11 different gardens are the best part. The Celebration Garden, in particular, shows Southern California landscape styles through seven different vignettes.

The most important thing is to check out the bloom calendar hosted on their main website. This will give you the best times to visit each garden! 

KIDSPACE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

Located right next to the Rose Bowl is the Kidspace Children’s Museum, which features a beloved event called Butterfly Season. Here they can learn about the entire life cycle of a butterfly, as well as the different types, with hands-on experience.

In addition, Robert’s Guild offers tons of imagination space that lets little ones build with their hands. During warmer days, let the kids cool off at the splash pad.

This fun children’s museum features both permanent and touring exhibits, so there’s always something new to discover.

ROSE BOWL STADIUM

Most people don’t realize that the Rose Bowl Stadium is actually a National Historic Landmark, as well as a California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It originally opened in 1922, and can seat just under 93,000 people. It’s the 16th largest stadium in the world, as well as the 11th largest in the United States.

It’s historically known as the home for the Rose Bowl NCAA College Football Game, and the home stadium on various occasions to the UCLA Bruins. The Tournament of the Roses Parade, or the Rose Parade, is a popular festivity that travels down Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena to the stadium following the Rose Bowl game. 

TOURNAMENT HOUSE & WRIGLEY GARDENS

There is something appealing about diving into the lives of the rich and famous. Well at the Tournament House and Wrigley Gardens you can do just that, as this is an Italian-Renaissance-inspired mansion that is now open to the public for touring. 

What makes this place so interesting is that the owners handed it over to the City of Pasadena with the idea that it would be the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses. Today, many come to tour the four-and-a-half acres of rose gardens and more.

Make sure to ask where the Tournament of Rose Roses are, because this is not only important to its history, but pretty to look at as well.

ARLINGTON GARDENS

Pasadena certainly is home to tons of flowers and gardens, and we aren’t complaining. The Arlington Garden is a city-owned garden that sits on roughly three acres of land. This quaint garden is a non-profit, and was made to not only give the people of Pasadena a nice area to enjoy beautiful flowers, but something for the birds and bees too! 

The garden also serves as an education site, where they show techniques of the regenerative garden that promotes sustainability and earth-friendly tactics. This is the perfect place to do something low-key and just enjoy an open-air space. 

JET PROPULSION LABORATORY 

Calling all NASA lovers! This is the stop for you. Pasadena is actually home to a lot of research-funded institutes, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of them. This lab is a federally funded research and development center and NASA center! It’s managed by the California Institute of Technology, and is open for guided tours. 

While technically you can take a virtual tour, it is so much cooler to see this space in person. Their multi-media presentation of “Journey to the Planets and Beyond” is reason enough to go. The presentation goes over what the lab has accomplished to date, as well as what they are currently working on. Technology is the theme, and considering how far we have come in the last decade, this is truly an eye-opening experience. 

GAMBLE HOUSE 

Pasadena really is known for its fine art, Victorian-style homes, and its generally posh nature. It’s cool to be in Pasadena, and that’s exactly how The Gamble House feels. Taking a guided tour here will instantly remind you that fine architecture was just as much of a priority then as it is now.

This is a craftsman’s house from the work of Henry and Charles Greene. Preserving its nature inside and out, while inspiring the public, is the main goal here. What you will really learn is what life was like for the Gambles in Pasadena, and the thought process of the architects in creating such an exquisite house. 

If you have an appreciation for design, then this is the spot for you. 

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST

This is the ultimate destination for those looking for a more nature-filled activity. The Angeles National Forest sits in the San Gabriel Mountains and the Sierra Pelona Mountains. You won’t be able to explore every bit of the land in one trip, though, because it is a whopping 706,176 acres of dense forest. 

If you want to explore the forest a little faster, you can take the Angeles Crest Highway for some of the most scenic views. It spans 65 miles, so you can spend the day pulling over at various spots to take it all in. 

There is so much recreation here, from game hunting to hiking and, of course, the famous Mt Baldy Ski Resort. Located in San Bernardino County and the San Gabriel Mountains, this ski resort often just referred to as Baldy. It’s incredibly popular because it sits just 56 minutes outside of Los Angeles.

PASADENA MUSEUM OF HISTORY

A walking tour through Old Pasadena will tell you a lot about the city, but it is no replacement for the Pasadena Museum of History. This private non-profit is dedicated to all things Pasadena. They offer tons of online exhibitions, but the ones in person can’t be beaten. One of the best galleries to check out is called Starting Anew.

Starting Anew gives you the complete history of Pasadena from 1890 to 1930, during a time when the city began to see major changes and come into its own. The development of the businesses and shopping areas that we see today were inspired by this era, showing us how it came to be! 

They also have several interesting exhibits on the mansions of Pasadena, as it was and still is, one of the wealthiest places to live in California.  A visit here is one of the best things to do in Pasadena.

USC PACIFIC ASIA MUSEUM

The University of Southern California is known around the world, and something definitely interesting to see there is the USC Pacific Asia Museum. It’s located right in Pasadena, and has an amazing focus and display of Asian art and culture. Interestingly enough, it is also the only school-owned museum in the United States dedicated to Asian-specific culture and history. 

The impressive art collection features over 15,000 items from more than 5,000 years, including some of the most sought-after pieces in contemporary Chinese art. You’ll even find one of the first contemporary Aboriginal art pieces found in the United States. 

GREENE & GREENE NEIGHBORHOOD WALKING TOUR

We mentioned that The Gable House was architecturally designed by Henry and Charles Greene. Well, it wasn’t the only exquisite home that they were behind. You can take a Greene and Greene Neighborhood Walking Tour to see all of their masterpieces. 

This tour is actually presented by The Gamble House, and brings its visitors through the historic Arroyo Terrace neighborhood. This entire neighborhood is a National Registered Historic District, and features nine separate homes done by Greene and Greene. 

On this tour, you will also get to see incredible properties done by other well-known architects, like Emer Grey, Myron Hunt, and more. What’s even more interesting, is that two of these residences belong to none other than Myron Hunt and Charles Greene, giving you insight into not only what they did for others’ homes, but their own.

EATON CANYON NATURE CENTER

California is home to incredible wildlife areas and is the place to be when you want to spend time outdoors. That’s why coming to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center certainly won’t disappoint. Many come here simply to observe animals. Watch your step and keep an eye out, because snakes reside here!

One of the most popular trails here is the Eaton Falls Trail. It’s 3.5 miles roundtrip, and will ultimately take you to the beautiful views of Eaton Falls. In terms of the hike itself, it’s about 1.1 miles of easy walking with .065 miles of a slight incline up the canyon! 

No matter where you are in the park, you will have beautiful views of the San Gabriel Mountains, considering the nature center sits right at the base. And for those who love to learn history, the actual Eaton Canyon Nature Center building offers information on the park inside. 

PASADENA CITY HALL

You are probably wondering why City Hall? It’s not always the first thing we think of when touring a city, but this one will make sense. For starters, it’s gorgeous, as with any of the other buildings in Pasadena. It was a clear representation of the City Beautiful movement that happened in the 1920s, as it was erected in 1923 for $3.5 million. Think about how much money that was back then! 

Bakewell and Brown are the architectural masterminds who used a Mediterranean Revival Style with Spanish Colonial architecture to bring this beauty to life. It is six stories with a dome that brings the entire height to 361 feet. It also features 235 rooms, signifying just how big this building is compared to some other city halls! 

Whether you take a tour on the inside or just marvel at it from the outside, the Pasadena City Hall passes as a historic and art-deco building just like the rest. 

PASADENA PLAYHOUSE

The Pasadena Playhouse is the state theatre of California. This is the place to come to see live entertainment and amazing shows.

In addition to seeing Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, you can also take a tour of the iconic playhouse. Free tours are offered that will include historical information, architectural insights, and more. Call in advance to set up your free tour.

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