24 Hours in Pasadena

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View of Pasadena from above the Rose Bowl

Pasadena has transformed into the sexy trophy wife for the stodgy stockbroker. There are a lot of expensive bistros and fine dining and entertainment venues and hip loft apartments along the Metro Gold line. This is a stark contrast to the Pasadena I lived in from 1980-84 while commuting to USC. The Pasadena of the eighties had a dying old town and plenty of grubby areas where students and people of color lived. Then the downtown area still catered to the old money in Pasadena and San Marino with several large department stores. We house-sat a home above the Rose Bowl one year and got to know an older long married couple who invited us to their club with their wealthy Republican friends. Her hair was “set” each week and his coat and tie wasn’t new but screamed quality. That was the eighties.

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Sriracha is all the rage at restaurants in SoCal including this McDonalds on Lake Avenue where I found a large Diet Coke.

Their Pasadena still looked and socialized like the city of Julia Child’s youth. She grew up in Pasadena before World War II when the wealthy families built the large churches along Colorado Boulevard and the large homes above the Rose Bowl. Pasadena’s history makes it a more interesting place to visit, even as they tear down and build new or facelift the old.

Pasadena deserves to be a distinct place to visit, apart from Los Angeles. Besides the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, there is the Norton Simon Museum, Huntington Library and Gardens, Gamble House, Pasadena Playhouse and more. My 24 hours in Pasadena is also filled with meeting up with friends. The first night I met friends in Old Town at La Grande Orange Cafe and we dined outside in springtime. Ah Pasadena! The next day I met friends at Green Street Restaurant for breakfast, then Pete’s on Lake Avenue to grab coffee and walk a friend with her dogs, then lunch at a friend’s home above the Rose Bowl. I spent the late afternoon and evening faffing around downtown shopping at Vroman’s bookstore and dining on fancy pizza.

When I was a student resident I had to drive or walk everywhere. Now you can catch the Gold line to downtown. Pasadena’s one shortcoming is the lack of bike lanes. It is relatively flat and could be a great place to cycle. I like to stay at the Hilton Pasadena because of its central location and value. It makes a good home base for visiting Santa Anita Park or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or Universal Studios.

 

I’d love to live in Pasadena today but it is just as out of reach as when I was a student. It is a great place to visit and I look forward to going back.

One of the world’s best: New York Botanical Garden

For years I have wanted to visit the New York Botanical Garden. On previous visits to New York City I have not been able to carve out enough time from my business commitments or I could not convince my friends that it was more interesting than say, the Statue of Liberty.  At last, I was able to spend about 3 hours in this world class botanical garden. I could have spent all day.

Largest Victorian glasshouse in USA
Largest Victorian glasshouse in USA

I entered at the Mosholu gate and proceeded to the nearest cafe. The view of the Conservatory from the terrace was breathtaking. I was overheated from my bike ride so I opted for the air-conditioned indoor dining. The chicken waldorf salad was satisfying and I poured over the garden map while I chewed.

The challenge of NYBG is choosing how to spend your time because there is so much to see and do. In an ideal visit, I would have time to just sit and relax by the soothing lily pond. (How do they grow pineapples in large pots?) And wander through the native plant garden.

Lily pond in Conservatory courtyard.
Lily pond in Conservatory courtyard.

A sure sign of the level of excellence of an institution is the quality of the staff and exhibits. NYBG manages to combine the best of both. I was lucky to visit on the last weekend of “Wild Medicine” in the Conservatory.  The exhibits packed a lot of fascinating information in a readable, entertaining way. I was torn between reading every word and pressing on to see more of the Garden.  Then they took it to another level and offered interactive booths with very knowledgeable docents giving demonstrations on tea and chocolate with samples!

Docent knew as much about tea as the best Napa winery pourer knows about wine!
Docent knew as much about tea as the best Napa winery pourer knows about wine!

I kept moving because I had only scratched the surface of the Garden and it closes at 6 pm.  I walked toward the visitor center and admired the mature plants. I have visited a number of botanical gardens and the younger gardens are at a disadvantage because a well cared for garden improves with age.  NYBG has the added advantage that due to the foresight of the founders, they even have original forest from pre-development Bronx.

Visitor Center has a second cafe and a terrific gift shop.
Visitor Center has a second cafe and a terrific gift shop.

Plus they take advantage of existing buildings like the Stone Mill. Even the more modern buildings are designed to complement the Garden. The impressive library, the gracious visitor center, and even the modern research center are all signs that the Garden is well supported by the community.

With still so much to see, I hopped on the tram and rode it through the rest of the Garden. You can hop on and off, or stay on and get a windshield tour in about 30 minutes.  I am glad I did this or I would have missed my favorite plant in the garden–the Turkey Oak.

Favorite tree in garden. Reminds me of the wonderful Moreton Bay Fig.
Favorite tree in garden. Reminds me of the wonderful Moreton Bay Fig.

My last stop before closing was at the Library. There are special films shown at designated times during the day along with special collections. My mouth dropped open at the beauty of the rotunda. I wished I had more time and promised myself that I would come back and spend the entire day. To think that at one point I thought I would visit both the Garden and the Bronx Zoo (nearby). Ha!

Beautiful library--they do not build them like this anymore.
Beautiful library–they do not build them like this anymore.

Since my visit I have been thinking about my favorite gardens. NYBG stands in a class above the rest with Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden. All the same I have enjoyed some other gardens, including:

1. Huntington Library (and gardens) in San Marino, California (near Los Angeles)

2. Filoli county estate and gardens in Woodside, California (south of San Francisco)

3. The interesting (although a little worn around edges) Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, California.

4. Chelsea Flower Show temporary, yet amazing gardens in London each May (May 20-24, 2014)

5. Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden at the White House and Martha Washington’s garden at Mount Vernon both in Washington, DC area.

6. Powerscourt Garden in Dublin, Ireland. Also has a tempting gift shop.

7. Bilbo Baggins’ garden at Hobbiton near Matamata, New Zealand.

8. Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, England.

Honorable mention: whimsical garden at Belfast Castle–lovely memories of searching for all of the “cats” and the cut flowers at the University of Portland Farmers Market.

And if I could go to any garden, real or imaginary I would go to Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove, or the Secret Garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s imagination.  And my wanderlust will someday take me to Versailles, Amsterdam Flower Mart/Show, the Philadelphia Flower Show, Longwood, and Victoria, British Columbia.

What would you recommend?