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Sunny Southern California is a favorite destination among many travelers, but it’s easy to be all-consumed with Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. However, Pasadena is most certainly worth a spot on your SoCal travel itinerary, and it is a hub for culture enthusiasts and sports fans. There are also some excellent opportunities to get active in the outdoors on hiking trails nearby. To help you plan your trip, here are our top picks for the top things to do in Pasadena.
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Even if you have very little interest in local government, it is still worth planning a visit to Pasadena City Hall. It features Spanish Colonial and Italian Renaissance architecture and is a great place to take some photos. Visitors come here to climb the corner stair towers and walk around the fountains in the courtyard. It’s also charming to walk around this area and snap some photos at night.
The California Institute of Technology is a doctorate-granting research university in Pasadena with a beautiful campus. This is a big school for engineering and natural sciences, but it’s also played host to short film scenes in movies and television. The campus is walkable from Old Town Pasadena and the local theater district. Spanning 124 acres, the campus has lovely walkways and is at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.
One popular hiking area near Pasadena is the Santa Anita Canyon, which is in the Angeles National Forest. There’s a loop trail that is around nine miles long and very enjoyable with the tall Sturtevant Falls along the way. You can bring your dog to hike here with you on a leash. Also, you will need a pass to park your vehicle at the Chantry Flats Trailhead. Due to its proximity to town, this is often a crowded hiking area on weekends and evenings.
Eaton Canyon is very close to Pasadena and a nice place to hike for people of all ages and skill levels. You can see wildflowers, bridges, and streams here that lead to the 40-foot waterfall. This is a popular hike, so expect some crowds, especially on the weekends. The hike will take about 1.5 hours and comes in at under four miles round-trip. The 190-acre nature preserve is at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and has equestrian trails and picnic areas too. There’s an Eaton Canyon Nature Center here that offers tours and guided nature walks.
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Norton Simon Museum, which is a wonderful art museum that features many major artists. Here you can see the works of famous artists like Rodin, Degas, Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh. Check the museum’s website to see what special exhibitions and events will be happening during your visit.
When you’re in Pasadena, also make a point to see the Wrigley Mansion, which is an Italian Renaissance mansion that was built in 1906. This was the home of William Wrigley, Jr., the famous chewing gum mogul. Today, it is the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses and surrounded by lovely gardens that span about 4.5 acres with over 1,500 varieties of roses and other flowers. You can take a free tour of the mansion on select days and the grounds are open to the public year-round.
It’s also fun to check out the Huntington Botanical Gardens near Pasadena, which spans about 120 acres of beautiful gardens and is the legacy of railroad businessman Henry E. Huntington. There’s a research library and art collection here as well. The property is on the Pasadena-San Marino border and offers occasional art lectures, tours, and painting classes. You can also take a free self-guided tour of the themed gardens to explore at your own pace.
Made even more famous by the movie La La Land, the Colorado Street Bridge is a curvilinear bridge with old-fashioned lamps. It’s over a century old and has sidewalks to go for a scenic stroll. Don’t be deterred by the bridge’s nickname of “Suicide Bridge.” Yes, suicides have happened here, but the bridge also has a fascinating history to learn about and offers incredible views of the city that have been featured in numerous TV shows and movies. If you can, attend the Colorado Street Bridge Party, which takes place on Saturday evenings in July to celebrate the bridge’s history.
One of the reasons that people all across the country have heard of Pasadena is the famous Rose Bowl parade. The Tournament of Roses Parade is a New Year’s Day tradition that has been taking place since 1890. Millions of people around the world watch this parade on TV, which travels 5.5 miles down Colorado Boulevard. The parade features floral floats, equestrian units, bands, nonprofits, and tournament entries. During the parade, residents and merchants also host viewing parties and special safety guidelines are in effect. These floral-decorated floats really are a sight to see in person!
Football fans may also want to attend the Rose Bowl game in-person to be a part of all the excitement going on in Pasadena. This is a college football game that is one of the most-watched games of the season. The game takes place on New Year’s Day, and the 2020 game will be the 106th Rose Bowl game in history. The much-anticipated annual event features top teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten.