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10 fresh, fun things to do in Pasadena

The Pasadena skyline at dusk The Pasadena skyline at dusk. | Photo by Jamie Pham

The historic, cultured city is hopping with hip restaurants, hotels, and more.

Best known for iconic events like the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game, as well as its museums and Craftsman architecture, Pasadena boasts plenty of other attractions that make this historic city worth a second look. Here are 10 reasons to visit the city, from rotating public artwork to fresh eateries. 

1. Dine at the Crack Shack

Crack Shack

Photo courtesy Crack Shack

Both the chicken and the egg come first at the Crack Shack, which recently opened in Old Pas. It’s the fifth location for celebrity chef Richard Blais and CEO Michael Rosen’s fresh-food concept, first hatched in San Diego. Stop by for happy hour 3–6 p.m. weekdays and pair spicy chicken sliders with a Hot Mess cocktail (mescal and chile liqueur with grapefruit and honey). From the BAE (bacon, avocado, sunny-side egg, and cheese on an English muffin) to the Cookie Monster Milkshake made with Afters ice cream, this is comfort food at its best. 30 W. Green St. 424-901-0077; crackshack.com.

2. Check out the rotating Public Art Exhibition Program

Karen Reitzel’s Calm a Little Soul (2018), an outdoor sculpture inspired by an endangered butterfly and situated on a median along busy Sierra Madre Boulevard, is part of the city’s Rotating Public Art Exhibition Program, which allows residents to help select temporary artwork installations they want displayed in their neighborhoods. It’s one of nine artworks recently installed and among the nearly 200 public works of art in Pasadena. “In addition to experiencing art in a new way, people are also experiencing public space in a new way,” explains Wendy Miller, the city’s public-art curator. cityofpasadena.net/arts.

3. Smell the the Huntington's new bloom 

The Huntington Rose Garden

Photo courtesy The Huntington

To commemorate its centennial, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in nearby San Marino unveiled a new rose variety, Huntington’s 100th, a pastel yellow and orchid pink floribunda (also known as the Life of the Party). Its story began in 2009, when award-winning rose hybridizer Tom Carruth first crossed his Julia Child rose with a French variety named Stormy Weather. “Beautiful colors aside, what really makes this variety stand out is the intense fragrance of lemon blossom with a hint of fruit,” says Carruth, who has served as The Huntington’s E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collections since 2012. Find it in the Rose Garden and the new Centennial garden display near the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Centennial exhibitions and events will take place September 2019 through September 2020. 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. 626-405-2100; huntington.org.

4. Take a film location tour

My Valley Pass offers two three-hour tours where “you can really see the evolution of Pasadena from the filming that’s been done here,” says guide Jared Cowan. A new walking tour of the elegant Langham Huntington, a popular filming location since the earliest days of cinema, concludes with conversation and afternoon “Cream Tea” in the hotel’s Lobby Lounge. A separate tour takes guests on a luxury bus for a city tour that features 30 locations, including Doc Brown’s house from Back to the Future. Tour dates are typically posted several weeks in advance. Reservations recommended. 818-850-3836; myvalleypass.com.

5. Have family fun at the Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum

Photo courtesy Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum has created a new tool to help guide family conversation, exploration, and creation during and after a visit to the museum’s galleries. The Family Guide brochure, which came out in early 2019, is available at the front desk and poses questions and suggestions related to 15 artworks at the museum, such as Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and Vincent van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree. Museum admission for ages 18 and under is free. 411 W. Colorado Boulevard. 626-449-6840; nortonsimon.org.

6. Dine family style at Dan Modern Chinese

When Dan Modern Chinese opened at The Commons in late 2018, it drew crowds eager to experience the eatery’s xiao long bao (Chinese soup dumpling), crab fried rice, and other delights from its open kitchen. Regulars recommend taking advantage of Yelp’s Waitlist to put your name in before you arrive. Plan for a leisurely, family-style meal. 146 S. Lake Avenue. 626-817-9799.

7. Get pampered at Hyatt Place Pasadena 

Hyatt Place Pasadena

Photo courtesy Hyatt Place Pasadena

The new 189-room Hyatt Place Pasadena—the city’s first Hyatt-branded hotel—is attached to The Paseo and within walking distance of Old Pasadena shopping, the Pasadena Convention Center, and other local hot spots. The hotel offers on-site hot breakfast, a pool, a workout room, and a bar. Plus, guests have easy access to the Rose Parade route, just one block away. 399 E. Green Street. 626-788-9108; hyatt.com. 

8. Nosh at Lêberry Bakery

The new Lêberry Bakery at Colorado Boulevard and Los Robles Avenue stands out with its friendly staff and its vegan, organic, and gluten-free offerings. With croissants, cupcakes, and creative doughnut flavors such as blood orange and pistachio, plus organic coffees, teas, craft beers, and wine, this bakery invites you to linger. Lêberry closes by 3 p.m. most weekdays, but it has a 5–10 p.m. happy hour on Friday and Saturday. 445 E. Colorado Boulevard. 626-993-9898; leberrybakery.com. 

9. Power up at Kidspace Children's Museum

Kidspace Children's Museum

Photo courtesy Kidspace Children's Museum

Visitors exploring Kidspace Children’s Museum can now fuel up on-site at Bean Sprouts Café, whose pizzas, salads, and sandwiches are made with “clean” ingredients. The kids’ menu offers whimsical “Imaginibbles” such as the Grilledzilla, shaped in the face of a monster, and the crocodile-shaped Crocamole, an avocado-hummus veggie dipper. Adults appreciate the café’s organic espresso bar and sandwiches such as the Chicken Pesto Chango and the Great Turkado. 480 N. Arroyo Boulevard. 626-460-8830; kidspacemuseum.org/visit/cafe.

10. Take in a new Rose Parade tradition

The family-friendly Pasadena Tournament of Roses Sip and Savor event, a festive lead-up to the Rose Parade, will return for a second year in December 2019. Located adjacent to Rose Bowl Stadium, the three-day end-of-year celebration features a vast array of local foods, wines, craft brews, and entertainment, as well as the opportunity to view parade floats as they’re being decorated. sipandsavorpasadena.com.

Get a free Pasadena map

To help you get around Pasadena, a free Pasadena Quick Guide map is available at a AAA Auto Club branch. For information about TourBookGuides and TripTik Travel Planners, visit a branch or go to AAA.com/maps.

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