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.

Whole New Visitor Complex at Huntington Library and Gardens

The new cafe at Huntington Gardens has great outdoor seating.
The new cafe at Huntington Gardens has great outdoor seating.

We were meeting a friend at the new cafe in the Huntington Library and gardens in Pasadena. Jen is a member so we got to be guests. Sweet. I was here 2 years ago with UK Sarah and I was not expecting such a transformation. There is an amazing new visitor complex with a series of outdoor rooms that are a great showcase of what you can do in a dry climate without sacrificing grace and beauty.

inspiration gardenThe cafe reminded us of the Google cafes–even the dish collection system. I chose the teriyaki chicken stir fry. Connie and Jen chose the salads with pizza. It was 96 degrees outside so we ate in the cafe. We still had great views.

Jen had to go prep for a dinner party so we strolled through the gardens to the Library. I have always prioritized the gardens and so this was the first time I enjoyed the rare book collection, including the Magna Carta. It also helped that it is beautifully air conditioned!

Huntington LibraryWe also checked out the house with the Huntington’s art collection. As always it skews toward romantic French furnishings. I love the collection of Gainsborough portraits. Again, hooray for air conditioning.

We continued our stroll through gardens and we found some shady paths back to the gift shop. I am a connoisseur of museum gift shops and this one ranks up there with the NY Botanical Gardens or Buckingham Palace. That is, two thumbs up.

Another plus, they do not charge for parking and they have a small cafe right by the exit so we could grab some mini scones and cold water on our way out.

Other notes on our stay in Los Angeles

My friend Connie and I are in Los Angeles to celebrate Christie’s milestone: completing a masters degree! We flew into Burbank airport from SFO and SMF. It is one of the I have not been to Burbank airport in a while and I was delighted to see they replaced the stairs with a ramp. So while you still exit the plane outside it is a lot easier to handle my carry-ons.

Gusto steak tastes amazing.
Gusto steak tastes amazing.

We are staying at the hip and chic Elan Hotel in the Fairfax district near the Beverly Center. Our friend Jen recommended the restaurant Gusto. The Italian food was the best I have eaten in a very long time. The steak was amazing. Oh, did I mention that it was not steak we ordered. Our next-table-neighbors shared their food and we shared ours so we got more tastes! The 16 oz steak special was intimidating so Connie and I went for the Mary’s chicken and cappeccelli. We were completely full but I never say no to pie. The coconut gelato pie on a bed of chocolate sauce was perfect.

Pie so good we tasted it before the photo!
Pie so good we tasted it before the photo!

We went with our new friends Steve and Jodi to find a nightcap. We checked out several places on 3rd Street. Several places were serving dinner in their bars. We even crashed a grand opening party at Matiere, a hip men’s clothing store. Jodi talked her way into gift bags for all, but we moved on to Goldies and finally found space at the bar. Our adorable bartender from Melbourne made tasty cocktails. Connie said her martini was excellent.

Time to go back to The Elan and our quiet room for some good sleep.