15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena

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15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Whether for a date night with my husband or a day trip with friends, Pasadena is one of my favorite cities in Los Angeles County. I love its historic buildings, public art, museums, cafes, and boutiques. There are so many fun and diverse things to do in Pasadena – dubbed the City of Roses. These are my 15 favorites.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - Public art abounds in Old Town Pasadena.
Public art abounds in Old Town Pasadena. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Where is Pasadena?

Nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena is located about 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles. From Old Town Pasadena to the Arroyo Seco (a watershed that runs through the city), Pasadena is known for its distinctive neighborhoods. Pedestrian-friendly Old Town is popular for its eateries, boutiques, and public art.

The city is also known for its historic buildings, including Pasadena City Hall, as well as educational institutions like the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

But it’s the annual Tournament of Roses parade that put Pasadena on the map and is the city’s pride and joy.

Here are the top things to do in Pasadena

Read More: Best Things to Do in Pasadena with Kids

1. Explore Old Town Pasadena

Park the car and walk. It’s the best way to experience Old Pasadena, a historic district with restaurants, boutiques, shops, and art galleries. In fact, public art is all over Pasadena. Murals, sculptures, statues, and more adorn city streets and buildings. Download a map or pick one up from the Pasadena Convention & Visitor Bureau.

Pasadena offers several walking tours, including the Boba Trail, which leads to several cafes featuring the Taiwanese tea-based beverage.

2. Visit Vroman’s Bookstore

When you visit Pasadena, be sure to stop by Vroman’s Bookstore, the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. The two-story building is crammed with books of various genres and a variety of gifts. Named after the year Vroman’s opened, the 1894 Wine Bar is on the first floor. You’ll also find a newsstand outdoors on Colorado Boulevard. Vroman’s has a second branch in Pasadena’s Hastings Ranch.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - The Colorado Street Bridge straddles Arroyo Seco.
The Colorado Street Bridge straddles Arroyo Seco. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

3. Cross the Colorado Street Bridge

With its distinctive arches and vintage street lights, the historic Beaux Arts Colorado Street Bridge is an impressive sight. Built in 1913, the concrete bridge spans the Arroyo Seco and connects Pasadena and Los Angeles. You can drive or walk over the bridge.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

4. Stroll through the Botanical Gardens

Pasadena is home to several stunning botanical gardens that offer visitors an opportunity to enjoy nature and learn about various plant species.

Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

One of the most popular gardens is The Huntington. It features over a dozen themed gardens, including a Japanese garden, a desert garden, and a rose garden. The Huntington is also known for its extensive library and diverse art collection. Onsite eateries are located at the entrance and throughout the gardens.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Allow several hours or a full day to explore the gardens and art galleries.

Arlington Gardens

This smaller community garden features a variety of drought-tolerant plants and a butterfly garden. Events include concerts and art shows.

Descanso Gardens

Nestled in a residential neighborhood in nearby La Canada, Descanso is a peaceful place with streams and themed gardens that include a Japanese garden, a rose garden, and a California native garden.

5. Peruse Art Galleries at the Norton Simon Museum

Allow at least two to three hours to peruse the collections of European, Asian, and American art, including works by famous artists like Van Gogh and Picasso. Be sure to take a stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden surrounding a pond.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - Eaton Canyon is a nature preserve with hiking trails.
Eaton Canyon is a nature preserve with hiking trails. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

6. Hike in Eaton Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center

Learn about local wildlife and ecosystems at this 198-acre natural area, home to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, exhibits, and about 10 hiking trails.

7. Watch the Tournament of Roses Parade

The Rose Parade, which debuted in 1890, takes place on New Year’s Day and features elaborately decorated floats, marching bands, and equestrian units. A Grand Marshall leads the parade, which starts on Orange Grove Boulevard and travels for 5.5 miles. The parade is televised on national TV but you should see it in person at least once in your lifetime.

If you miss seeing the parade in person, you can still see the floats on display when you visit Pasadena around New Year’s Day.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - Visit the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium.
Visit the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

8. Catch a Game at the Rose Bowl Stadium

Each year, the Rose Bowl Game follows the Rose Parade. The parade and football game make up the annual iconic Rose Bowl. In addition to football games, the Rose Bowl Stadium is the site for a large flea market, which typically takes place on the second Sunday of each month. Hundreds of vendors are on hand to sell vintage clothing, jewelry, antiques, and other items. It’s one of the largest flea markets in Southern California.

Walking tours of the stadium are available.

9. Smell the Roses at Wrigley Mansion

Serving as the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses, the Wrigley mansion is known as the Tournament House. It was presented to the City of Pasadena by the Wrigley family in 1958. The 1906 Renaissance-style mansion was the former home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.

Surrounding the house are the 4.5-acre Wrigley Gardens featuring 1,500 varieties of roses, camellias, and annuals. Smell the roses for yourself on a free garden tour typically offered April – August. Reservations are required.

10. Play at Kidspace Children’s Museum

Designed for kids ages 1 – 10, this interactive museum offers hands-on exhibits about science, arts, humanities, and nature. Find the museum next door at the Rose Bowl.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - The historic Pasadena Playhouse.
The historic Pasadena Playhouse. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

11. See a Show at the Pasadena Playhouse

Enjoy a live show at this renowned theater, one of the oldest playhouses in the U.S. Built in 1917, the Pasadena Playhouse was designed in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

12. Take a Tour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Explore interactive exhibits and learn about NASA’s missions. On your visit, see models of spacecraft like Voyager and Mars Rovers, view the Mission Control Center from the visitor gallery, and more.

13. Admire Art at the USC Pacific Asia Museum

Housed in a historic building, the museum features a variety of Asian and Pacific Island art and artifacts. Collections include sculptures, paintings, ceramics, and more.

14. Enjoy the Outdoors at Brookside Park

Bring a picnic, relax, and play at the 61.1-acre park. Located south of the Rose Bowl Stadium, the sprawling park contains a baseball stadium, a large multi-purpose field, picnic tables, a play area, and barbecue pits.

15 Top Things to Do in Pasadena - The Gamble House is a National Historic Landmark.
The Gamble House is a National Historic Landmark. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

15. Take a Tour of the Gamble House

Built in 1908-1909, the historic Gamble House is an example of 20th-century American Arts and Crafts architecture. On a guided tour of the Gamble House, you’ll learn more about this National Historic Landmark. If you’ve seen the movie Back to the Future, you may recognize the craftsman house as Doc Brown’s mansion.

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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