15 Best Things to Do in Pasadena (CA)

Pasadena is a city of more than 140,000 residents located approximately 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

It may be best known for its annual Rose Championship parade and the Rose Bowl football game, which features high-profile Midwest and West Coast teams, but it’s also a center for technology, industry, and the arts.

Pasadena is full of important historical and cultural attractions. Its proximity to many undisturbed natural areas makes it easy for visitors to engage in a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain climbing, and wildlife photography.

Here are 15 things to do in Pasadena, California.

1. Rose Bowl

rose bowl

Since its construction in the early 1920s, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl has been one of America’s most iconic college sports venues.

Although it retains much of its original architecture, the stadium has undergone extensive renovations in recent years, costing more than $150 million.

Most sports at the Rose Bowl take place in the fall and winter when football season is in full swing, but the stadium is also a popular venue for other events such as live entertainment, fairs and festivals, and guided tours.

It’s conveniently located on Rose Bowl Boulevard in Pasadena, close to other city attractions.

2. Historic Old Pasadena

Historic Old Pasadena

More than a century ago, when Los Angeles wasn’t the sprawling metropolis it is today, Pasadena was a relatively quiet desert town.

Now, it is one of the most modern and bustling cities in Los Angeles. But if you know where to look, you can still see what it looked like decades ago.

Old Pasadena has a distinctly historic feel. It is full of galleries, museums and many entertainment options, including dining, shopping and sightseeing.

The region also hosts various annual events that attract music, food, wine and craft lovers from all over the country.

3. Competition Venue and Wrigley Garden

Competition Venue and Wrigley Garden

Although William Wrigley Jr. was born in Pennsylvania in the 1860s, he was so successful in the chewing gum industry that he was able to buy mansions in several states, including Arizona and California.

The Tournament Building in Pasadena is one such residence, but it is now the official home of the city’s Tournament of Roses Association.

This is a historic attraction open to the public, known for its impressive Italian Renaissance architecture and ornate facilities.

The residence also features exhibits related to Rose Bowl football games from past years, as well as an impressive garden with over 1,000 roses and other flowers.

4. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

jet propulsion laboratory

Since its founding in 1936, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has been at the forefront of technological development in aerospace and aeronautics.

The world-renowned laboratory is a partnership between NASA and Caltech and now works in other fields, including astronomy and robotics.

JPL is open to visitors regularly, but visitors need to register before visiting.

Tours include engaging and educational narration from knowledgeable local guides, as well as tours through the Visitor and Flight Operations Center and the normally off-limits spacecraft assembly facility.

JPL is located on Oak Grove Drive in Pasadena, just minutes from downtown.

5. Pasadena Museum of History

Pasadena History Museum

Pasadena’s history dates back to the mid-1870s, when the area was first settled by out-of-state settlers hoping to start over on the West Coast.

But it wasn’t until nearly 50 years later that a group of civic-minded locals established a historical association to preserve the city’s heritage.

Today, the Pasadena Historical Museum is the region’s premier historic preservation institution. It is a popular destination for locals and tourists.

It is located on the idyllic grounds of the estate that was originally built more than a century ago in the town. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there are various events including guided tours, lectures and workshops.

6. Fork in the road

fork in the road

Venturing off well-worn roads is a great way to escape the crowds and see unique and eclectic sights that are often overlooked.

Located at the surprisingly unassuming intersection of Pasadena Avenue and St. John’s Avenue, the city’s “fork in the road” is popular with foodies, amateur photographers and all-around lovers of quirky Americana.

Nearly 20 feet tall, the fork is the brainchild of two local men who are full of creativity and free time.

While the deeper meaning of the fork is still up for debate, it’s free to visit, open 24/7, and a worthwhile stop between other nearby attractions.

7. Gambling House

gambling house

California has always attracted wealthy families from all over the country. People come here to enjoy unrivaled weather, open spaces and breathtaking natural beauty.

In the early 20th century, the Gamble House was designed and built by famous architects for the heirs of Procter & Gamble.

Many visitors are surprised when they see the house for the first time; its dark wood exterior and brooding ski lodge-like exterior look out of place in the desert setting.

Often open to docent-led tours, the residence is considered one of the state’s premier examples of Arts and Crafts-style American architecture.

8. Gold bug

gold bug

Located on a quiet side street in Old Pasadena, Gold Bug is a truly unique store for those who refuse to mass-produce merchandise that lacks creativity and character.

It’s been described as a bohemian smorgasbord full of eclectic treasures. They cover everything from locally made jewelry made from all-natural items found in the desert to smart casual wear and cool art.

Creative local craftsmen create a lot of what you’ll find inside. There aren’t many places nearby to find one-of-a-kind items that make great gifts and souvenirs.

9. Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Eaton Canyon

Located on nearly 2,000 acres at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is a must-see for anyone interested in spending quality time outdoors without having to drive across the state.

The facility includes a visitor center featuring interactive exhibits and live animals, as well as a variety of natural habitats that are home to a variety of native plant and wildlife species.

The center’s grounds are crisscrossed with a network of well-marked trails, most of which are relatively flat and suitable for visitors of most ages.

Picnics and guided hikes are also popular activities.

10. Pasadena Symphony Orchestra

Pasadena Symphony Orchestra

The local symphony orchestra is often overlooked by travelers who want to see more traditional attractions on a limited vacation.

However, for music lovers, they’re a great community resource for regular free and cheap shows, which is great for those hard-earned vacation money.

The Pasadena Symphony Orchestra is conveniently located near downtown. It hosts various annual performances in conjunction with other civic organizations.

Tickets for popular shows tend to sell out quickly, so if you’re interested in attending a show or two, it’s a good idea to check the events calendar on their website and buy tickets in advance.

11. Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is home to one of the most impressive private collections of priceless art in the Golden State.

The collection contains more than 10,000 individual works spanning over a century. It was collected over a lifetime by the wealthy industrialist, and the museum is now named after him.

In addition to the permanent and rotating exhibitions, the museum’s staff regularly hosts a variety of courses, seminars, lectures and guided tours.

Works include original paintings by Rembrandt and Van Gogh. The museum is just minutes from downtown Pasadena on West Colorado Avenue.

12. Lucky Baldwin Bar

Chi Mei Beer

While craft and small batch whisky distillation has been all the rage over the past few years, the movement towards locally and regionally produced high-quality beers and spirits was only just beginning in the late 90s.

Lucky Baldwin’s Pub is named after an interesting local figure who established a famous horse trail in nearby Santa Anita. It offers over 50 beers.

The bar has a traditional British theme. It is known for its delicious fish and chips and rich European beers that are darker and tastier than many American beers.

Lucky Baldwin’s offers indoor and outdoor seating, but tends to fill up quickly during peak hours.

13. USC Asia Pacific Museum

USC Asia Pacific Museum

Since the gold rush and railroad days of the 1800s, California has experienced a steady stream of immigrants from various Asian countries.

Located on North Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena, the USC Asia Pacific Museum was established nearly five years ago to preserve the state’s Asian culture and its art.

The museum is a valuable historical attraction, focusing primarily on works created by Asian immigrants, but many of the more than 10,000 individual works were created thousands of years ago—long before mass immigration began.

Throughout the year, museum staff host a variety of exhibitions, performances, workshops and festivals.

14. Mount Wilson Observatory

Mount Wilson Observatory

Mount Wilson is one of the highest peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains that surround most of Pasadena.

More than 100 years ago, when Los Angeles wasn’t producing as much light as it does now, a huge observatory was built and is still in use today.

The observatory was originally run by renowned astronomer and inventor Edwin Hubble, who made many major discoveries while working on the site.

While it’s not open year-round, the Mount Wilson Observatory does offer nighttime stargazing with trained professionals during the season.

The observatory is located about ten kilometers from downtown Pasadena on Audio Road.

15. St Andrew’s Church

St. Andrew's Church, Pasadena

For most travelers with limited vacation resources, traveling to Europe to see great works of art by Renaissance masters is as possible as a trip to the moon.

Thankfully, for visitors to Pasadena, there is a more convenient and cheaper way to do it.

With its soaring Romanesque spire, impressive Old World architecture, and frescoes of the Virgin Mary rivaling Italy’s, St. Andrew’s has been a Pasadena icon since it was built more than a century ago.

It’s still a functioning church, so it’s not always open to tourists, so call them or ask around town before making a special trip to see it.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Pasadena, CA (CA)
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