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17 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Pasadena, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Mar 22, 2022

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The San Gabriel Mountains back the city of Pasadena, approximately 10 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It's a city of history and beautiful weather, and perhaps best known for its January 1st Tournament of Roses, as well as the college football Rose Bowl. This esteemed collegiate event takes place at Rose Bowl Stadium and literally takes over the streets every year.

But the palm trees and beautiful weather of Pasadena remain well after the game and throughout the rest of the year, as do Pasadena's outdoor attractions, including a growing collection of public gardens that lend the city its nickname, the City of Roses.

Alongside its blooming attractions, Pasadena also offers a plethora of cultural appeal. The 22-block national historic district known as Old Pasadena is an excellent place to sample the city's historic nature, and other tourist attractions, like house tours and the Norton Simon Museum, round out a day or weekend trip to Pasadena.

Explore this picturesque, palm-lined city and find the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Pasadena.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Old Pasadena

Old Pasadena
Old Pasadena | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Old Pasadena is the historic downtown district of the city, reflecting its past with well-preserved 19th- and 20th-century architecture and buildings. This shopping and dining district also reflects the current community, with hundreds of boutique storefronts and local eateries.

This once bustling center of the economy went into serious decline throughout the 1960s and 70s. A major revitalization transformed the district into the center of attraction it is today. It's now on the National Register of Historic Places and encompasses 22 blocks.

Historical buildings and modern storefronts, including the stylish One Colorado shopping mall, line Colorado Boulevard, the main drag of this charming downtown district. And with over 100 restaurants along this corridor, Old Pasadena appeals to most any appetite.

Alley in Old Pasadena
Alley in Old Pasadena | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Downtown is also the place to visit for community events. The Old Pasadena Summer Cinema is one such event, hosting a month-long outdoor film festival with over 20 screenings. Other downtown events include walking tours and different culinary-themed weeks.

Address: 23 E Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://www.oldpasadena.org/

2. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington Rose Garden
The Huntington Rose Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This sprawling estate once belonged to the railroad tycoon, Henry Huntington. Today, this world-class collection of gardens, cultural institutions, and artwork is now a public space for the community to enjoy.

The estate encompasses 207 acres of beautifully manicured lawns. And every inch caters to art, garden, architecture lovers, and the casual observer. The trail map provided by the admission kiosks is a handy item to study and take along with any visit.

A good direction to head when visiting is toward the three-acre Rose Garden, which presents a particularly colorful plot come spring when everything is in full bloom. Along the way, visitors pass through a dazzling California Garden with over 50,000 native species representing a Mediterranean climate.

Other gardens stem from this area of the park, with 16 uniquely themed gardens in total. A true gem of the collection is the immersive Garden of Flowing Fragrance, featuring a 1.5-acre lake and numerous traditional Chinese structures. This part of the park also houses an impressive bonsai collection.

Garden of Flowing Fragrance
Garden of Flowing Fragrance | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Cultural institutions punctuate the dynamic garden space. The Huntington Art Gallery, for example, has over 1,200 pieces of European art housed within Henry Huntington's past residence, a 55,000-square foot custom-built mansion, and photogenic demonstration of Beaux-Arts architecture.

The on-site Huntington Library attracts scholars from across the globe, and with over nine million items spanning the library's collection, there is a good chance of finding something to catch any interest.

Address: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California

Official site: https://www.huntington.org/

3. Rose Bowl Stadium

Rose Bowl Stadium
Rose Bowl Stadium | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Every New Year's day, a national spotlight shines on Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses college football game. This esteemed bowl game overtakes the city with visiting fans and a whole host of outdoor activities, including the iconic Rose Parade.

Thousands of spectators line the 5.5-mile Rose Parade route, starting on Orange Grove Boulevard and quickly heading east along Colorado Boulevard. The parade proudly showcases marching bands, community groups, and intricate floral parade floats that are truly a work of art.

The Rose Bowl Stadium, centered within the sprawling Brookside Park and Golf Course, is a national historic landmark built in 1922. Modern renovations have made this centerpiece attraction memorable for fans and visitors.

Besides the Tournament of Roses, the stadium hosts hundreds of different events throughout the year. It's home to the R.G. Canning Flea Market, touted as the world's largest flea market. Rose Bowl Stadium also features live music concerts, Fourth of July celebrations, and UCLA home football games.

Address: 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://www.rosebowlstadium.com

4. Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum
Norton Simon Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Norton Simon Museum has a long-standing reputation for world-class art. It features nearly 12,000 works within its private collection, with an emphasis on European and American painting and sculpture, as well as South and Southeast Asia artworks. The museum also features a constant rotation of nationally touring exhibitions.

Highlights of the Norton Simon collection include works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Goya, and Vuillard, including interpretive information about how these famous pieces ended up in Southern California.

The Norton Simon Museum also plays an active role in providing community events and programs. Garden parties, lecture series, and Chess at the Museum are some of the regularly scheduled events. Norton Simon also offers adult art classes, film screenings, and live music concerts.

For afternoon refreshments, the on-site Garden Café features a lush outdoor patio with plenty of shade.

Address: 411 W Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://www.nortonsimon.org/

5. The Gamble House

The Gamble House
The Gamble House | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This historic residence and stunning piece of architecture was constructed in 1908 at the behest of David and Mary Gamble, second-generation members of the Procter and Gamble Company. This exquisite estate is now owned by the city of Pasadena.

The city offers various tours to see the intricate detail built into this historic bungalow, including a popular one-hour, docent-led tour which explores the interior of the home. Special "Behind the Velvet Rope" tours are also available, which allow visitors to study the Arts and Crafts-style details of the architecture with a flashlight in hand.

Tour times vary throughout the year, and reservations are recommended.

Address: 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://gamblehouse.org

6. Descanso Gardens

The  Japanese Garden at Descanso Gardens
The Japanese Garden at Descanso Gardens

It's hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles is less than 20 miles away when exploring Descanso Gardens at the northwest edge of Pasadena. Nine different meticulously landscaped spaces easily transport visitors to a place of natural beauty, including the tranquil atmosphere found beneath the blossoming cherry trees of the Japanese Garden.

Other notable areas of interest at Descanso Gardens include a rose garden with over 1,600 varieties and North America's largest collection of camellia flowers. The grounds are also home to an expansive oak forest, where trails twist and turn leading to lovely sitting spaces and benches. For the most wildlife sightings, head to the pond in the northwest corner, where rafts of ducks tend to congregate.

Descanso also offers much more than just gardens. Weekly programs and special events pack the garden's event calendar, including various activities like haiku workshops and pumpkin carving festivals.

Descanso Gardens
Descanso Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Members of the gardens receive free admission, while the general public is required to buy an entry ticket. Members also get special access during "member-only" hours. Check the official website for current operating hours and membership information.

Address: 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, California

Official site: https://www.descansogardens.org/

7. Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Eaton Canyon Falls
Eaton Canyon Falls

The Eaton Canyon Nature Center provides insight and trailheads for the San Gabriel Mountains, on the northeast edge of the city. The 7,600-square-foot Nature Center is filled with a fascinating collection of exhibits, live animals, and information about Eaton Canyon, including numerous taxidermic animals and birds.

Just outside the front door of the Nature Center, visitors can explore Eaton Canyon via numerous trailheads. By far one of the most popular, Eaton Canyon Falls is a family-friendly, four-mile, which is known to draw quite the crowd. The trail is open year-round, but for the biggest flow, plan on checking out the falls in the late winter or spring.

Address: 1750 N Altadena Drive, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://www.ecnca.org/

8. Tournament House and Wrigley Gardens

Wrigley Mansion
Wrigley Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This massive Italian Renaissance mansion is the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses, earning its nickname as the Tournament House. It was donated to the city by the Wrigley family years after the passing of chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley Jr., also lending the mansion the moniker, the Wrigley Mansion.

The 18,500-square-foot mansion is undeniably eye-catching on Orange Grove Boulevard, not far from the start of the Rose Parade. This neighborhood is also just south of Pasadena's Millionaire Row, filled with other stately residences. But what really makes the Tournament house stand out are the lovely gardens surrounding the home headquarters.

On the property are over 1,500 floral varieties. The rose garden itself, backed by a lovely arbor, has several types of blooming attractions, including its own Tournament of Roses Rose. Other outdoor areas at the gardens have landscaped paths and views of the mansion.

Wrigley Gardens
Wrigley Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Tournament of Roses Association offers free tours of the mansion between February and August, historically at 2 and 3pm. No reservations are required.

Official site: https://tournamentofroses.com/

9. USC Pacific Asia Museum

USC Pacific Asia Museum
USC Pacific Asia Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This popular museum is housed in a historic building and has been open to the public since 1971. It celebrates the art and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands and serves the greater Los Angeles area, hosting thousands of visitors each year.

The USC Pacific Asia Museum features nationally rotating exhibits supplemented with a collection of over 17,000 objects. Artwork and artifacts regularly on display include Japanese folk paintings, Chinese ceramics, and Buddhist art from all over Asia. The museum also puts on regular lectures, guided tours, and workshops.

Address: 46 N Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://pacificasiamuseum.usc.edu/

10. Pasadena Convention Center

Pasadena Civic Auditorium
Pasadena Civic Auditorium | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Pasadena Convention Center is part of the Civic Center District, which includes the Central Library and City Hall. This eye-catching part of the city provides a campus full of attractions, and at the center, the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium is home to numerous expos and conventions every year.

The Pasadena Ice Skating Center is also on campus, providing public skating every day, as well as regular hockey, figure skating, and other ice-sport lessons. Across Green Street from the Convention Center campus, The Paseo features ample shops and restaurants connected by an outdoor plaza.

Address: 300 E Green Street, Pasadena, California

11. Angeles National Forest

Pyramid Lake, Angeles National Forest
Pyramid Lake, Angeles National Forest

The San Gabriel Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to Pasadena and a quick retreat into the wilderness for community members and tourists alike. The Angeles National Forest covers nearly 700,000 acres in Pasadena's backyard, providing endless hiking trails, campgrounds, and new adventures to explore.

The Angeles Crest Highway is the scenic thoroughfare through the mountains, linking great campgrounds like Buckhorn Campground with awesome hiking trails like Strawberry Point, and winter in the Angeles Forest brings about downhill skiing at places like Mt. Baldy Ski Resort.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/angeles/

12. Pasadena Museum of History

Fenyes Mansion, Pasadena Museum of History
Fenyes Mansion, Pasadena Museum of History | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Pasadena Museum of History celebrates the modern heritage of the West San Gabriel Valley, displaying regional artwork dating as far back as 1834. The museum's permanent collection has over a million artifacts including photos, books, and maps. The museum also regularly features rotating exhibitions in a 2,000-square-foot gallery space.

The Fenyes Mansion on Millionaires Row is next door, authentically preserved by the museum, and is available for docent-led tours. A Finnish Folk Art Museum is also on campus, located within a traditional Finnish sauna and guesthouse.

Address: 470 W Walnut Street, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://pasadenahistory.org/

13. Los Angeles County Arboretum

Peacock at the Los Angeles County Arboretum
Peacock at the Los Angeles County Arboretum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum is less than 10 miles east of Pasadena. This inviting outdoor space has several gardens and landscapes to explore. And thanks to the Mediterranean climate, something is always in bloom.

A few popular gardens at the arboretum include a rose garden, a tropical greenhouse, and a Crescent Farm – a demonstration farm built to showcase drought-resistant landscaping. Visitors also come to see plants from around the world, from such far-flung places as Madagascar and the Canary Islands.

The Arboretum operates throughout the year, excluding major holidays. There is a small price of admission for entry, and as of 2022, advance online tickets are required. The Arboretum offers free admission on the third Tuesday of every month.

Official site: https://www.arboretum.org/

14. Playhouse District

Playhouse District
Playhouse District | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The city's Playhouse District is east of Old Pasadena, adding even more culture to Colorado Boulevard, including plenty of public art on the streets. This lively cultural district offers other unique restaurants and shopping opportunities and is home to the historic Pasadena Playhouse, the official state theater of California.

For bibliophiles and casual readers alike, Southern California's largest and oldest independent bookstore, Vroman's Bookstore, is also in the neighborhood and worth a visit.

15. Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory | OmegaGx3 / Shutterstock.com

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a cutting-edge research facility specializing in robotic space and Earth science missions. It's managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, and is located approximately three miles east of Descanso Gardens. This world-renowned laboratory is credited for designing and operating the country's first satellite, Explorer 1.

Free public tours of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are available by advance reservation.

Official site: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/tours/

16. Arlington Gardens

Arlington Gardens
Arlington Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Arlington Gardens is a lovely three-acre space a few blocks south of Old Pasadena. It's Pasadena's only designated public garden, and it offers a tranquil space to spend a few moments in the day. And the gardens are packed with short, winding trails that lead to distinct areas, offering a family-friendly adventure space.

Take some time to check out the citrus grove and olive alley at Arlington Gardens, and it's hard to miss the central formal terrace with tables and seating. Also listen for some of the other park residents, as butterflies, birds, and bees are often buzzing around. Other tranquil sitting spaces are spread throughout, including a few shaded benches.

Official site: https://www.arlingtongardenpasadena.com/

17. Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena City Hall
Pasadena City Hall | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Pasadena City Hall easily catches the eye as a stately symbol of the city. It was constructed in 1927 and embodies a 16th-century Italian Renaissance and Spanish design that speaks of a time much further in the past.

Red roof tiles, a six-story tower, and a stunning inner courtyard add to the aesthetics of City Hall and make it a popular place to photograph or simply stroll the public space. In front of the ornate bell tower, Centennial Square is home to outdoor movies on Friday nights in the summer.

Address: 100 Garfield Ave, Pasadena, California

Official site: https://www.cityofpasadena.net/about-pasadena/city-hall/

Where to Stay in Pasadena, California for Sightseeing

Luxury Hotels:

  • The iconic The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, Los Angeles provides the most luxurious place to stay in Pasadena. This five-star landmark hotel encompasses over 23 acres of lush gardens for an easy escape into nature, just nine miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Guests feel like royalty while staying in one of the 375 guest rooms, including deluxe patio rooms and cottage suites. Other resort amenities at the hotel include an array of dining options, signature Afternoon Tea service, and the award-winning Chuan Spa.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Alongside a moderate rate, the Hilton Pasadena has an excellent location for exploring Pasadena. It's within short walking distance of Old Pasadena, where a surplus of shops, restaurants, and Southern California architecture defines many days. The hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle service to other town attractions, including the Rose Bowl Stadium. Overnight accommodations at Hilton Pasadena include standard and deluxe rooms, many with great views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
  • The Hyatt Place Pasadena is another beautiful downtown hotel packed with style. It features over 180 rooms, including a handful of spacious suites, with every overnight accommodation equipped with plush bedding and additional sitting areas. Complimentary items at the hotel include fast Wi-Fi and a full breakfast bar in the morning. And this pet-friendly hotel also features a fully-equipped fitness studio and outdoor swimming pool with lounge chairs.
  • The Best Western Pasadena Royale Inn & Suites is a popular hotel for its favorable rate and excellent location. The facility has also grown an excellent reputation for its attention to detail and customer service. It features over 60 well-appointed rooms and suites, each with new pillow-top beds and newly renovated decor. Alongside comfortable rooms for a dependable night's sleep, the hotel also provides free parking; complimentary Wi-Fi; and a full breakfast bar in the morning with eggs, meats, and fresh fruit.
  • Surrounded by Old Pasadena, the Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town offers a stylish stay for a surprisingly moderate rate. Like the decadent lobby and landscaped patio with an outdoor pool, common spaces at the hotel exude a Southern California style conducive to relaxing. The rooms, ranging from standard queens to two-bedroom suites, also have this laid-back sense of comfort. And every overnight accommodation comes with a coffee maker, ergonomic workstation, and soundproof insulation.

Budget Hotels:

  • For one of the best deals in town, the Super 8 by Wyndham Pasadena/La Area has a budget-friendly rate and a family-friendly reputation. Amenities at the hotel that add to the value include free parking, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a breakfast bar near the lobby each morning. The hotel is also pet-friendly for those traveling with dogs. And the outdoor pool is often a magnet for moments between exploring the city.
  • For a unique hotel with a favorable rate, The Astro Pasadena Hotel provides a retro feel with modern accommodations. This motor inn was completely renovated in 2016, and now, all 25 rooms feature decor with a distinct Googie design. This Space Age decor also comes with in-room amenities like 55-inch televisions and air-conditioning. Some rooms at The Astro also feature romantic Jacuzzi tubs.

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