24 Hours in Pasadena

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.

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.

Dare Mighty Things: Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles

A friend who works as an aeronautical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada, California (just above the Rose Bowl near Pasadena) offered to give us a tour of the campus. We said yes!

Sound Stage? for Mars Production?
Sound Stage? for Mars Production?

There is a considerable amount of security, as there should be for a partnership between CalTech and NASA that does research for space and “security programs”.  We started our tour at a kind of visitor’s center. We walked past a herd of deer placidly lounging on the grass completely unperturbed.

The place is empty on a Saturday. It is easy to imagine what a weekday might be like with every cubicle full, and engineers conducting experiments in the viewing areas. Our host, John Luke, showed us one area that they use to figure out how to get the Mars Rover unstuck. However, it also looks like the perfect sound stage if you wanted to fake a Mars landing!  All the conspiracy theorists who think we have never been to the moon would love it.

JPL Open House traditionally in June, may resume if funding permits
JPL Open House traditionally in June, may resume if funding permits

I found the organization of the place fascinating from the kinetic sculptures to the tennis court sized area for larger drop tests. I love their motto: Dare Mighty Things.  John Luke works on the Mars Landing team. He is very enthusiastic about the designs they are devising to ensure the Rover makes a soft landing.

You do not have to know a rocket scientist to tour JPL.  Public tours are available and if funding approves they will resume their annual open house in June.  (Like Disneyland for aspiring scientists!)