Why You Should Visit Pasadena Right Now

Arts and Crafts architecture, afternoon tea, and yes, the Rose Parade, make this LGBT-friendly town a worthy destination.

For more than a century, Pasadena, has invited the world to the Tournament of Roses Parade, a festival of flowers, music, and sport on New Year’s Day.

Photo by Aydin Tuna Palabiyikoglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Rose Parade is legendary for its lavish floats, each drowning in flowers, shrubbery, and other natural materials. (Its estimated that more than a half-million roses are used in each parade.) But this Southern California city has plenty to offer year-round.

Just 15 minutes from DTLA, Pasadena is quite LGBT-friendly: it’s not uncommon to see gay couples holding hands as they stroll down tree-lined streets filled with great restaurants and shops. There’s also quite a few cultural offerings, including museums, parks, and architecture beauties like City Hall and the Arroyo Seco Bridge (above).

Photo by Eddie Brady/Getty Images

Things To Do

You can take in spectacular flora all year at the The Huntington, originally the private estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington. It offers 120 acres of stunning gardens representing a variety of temperate zones. The institution also boasts a stunning collection of rare books and art, including Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

Be sure to stop in the Rose Garden Tea Room for a traditional afternoon tea.

Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena

Continue your cultural exploration at The Gamble House, built in 1908 by architects Charles and Henry Greene for David and Mary Gamble (of Procter & Gamble Company fame). Docent-led tours of the home, a quintessential example of American Arts and Crafts architecture, are offered Thursday through Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena

Afterward, stroll down Colorado Boulevard to the Norton Simon Museum (above), home to a remarkable collection of modern and classic European art and Asian sculpture.

Further down Colorado Boulevard, you’ll find one of Pasadena’s main shopping thoroughfares, lined with unique stores like Goorin Bros. hat shop and Vroman’s Bookstore, Southern California’s oldest independent bookstore.

Where To Eat And Drink

Photo courtesy of Maestro Pasadena
Grab brunch at Maestro Pasadena, where diners chow down on satisfying Mexican dishes like chilaquiles and chorizo-and-egg tacos. Located in the Del Mar train station, La Grande Orange Café is another fun option, with filling fare like the succulent (and spicy!) Ingo’s short-rib hash and lemon-ricotta hotcakes with crème fraîche and mint.

Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena

For dinner, head to Bruce Kalman’s 50-seat eatery, Union, for an inspired meal of Northern Italian fare through a California lens. Standouts include bucatini cacio e pepe with black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and a 63-degree egg.

With nods to the Arts and Crafts movement, the dining room at the Parkway Grill (above) probably feels more like Pasadena than any other. Located at the terminus of the the Arroyo Seco Parkway, it’s been serving California cuisine long since 1984 (long before California cuisine was even a thing). Some stars of the menu include the roasted bone marrow with foie-gras crust, house giardiniera, and sourdough toast; and the pan-roasted Scottish salmon with french green beans, bacon, and mushroom ragout.

Photo courtesy of Boulevard Bar

End your night at The Boulevard Bar, Pasadena’s only LGBT bar, offering nearly nightly karaoke and a drag show on Friday nights.

Where To Stay

If you decide to spend the night, check into the Westin Pasadena, walking distance (or short Uber ride) to just about everything mentioned above.

Photo courtesy of Westin Pasadena

This 350-room, pet-friendly hotel also features a heated outdoor pool, gym, spa, and a well-stocked library in the lobby.

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he's been or the famous people forced to talk to him.