Experience Pasadena, California
Pasadena’s dining and cultural attractions that make it a worthy destination year round.
Pasadena, aka, The City of Roses, thanks to the Rose Parade held every New Year’s Day since Y 1890.
The Southern California city was once home to resorts attracting scores of Midwestern business magnates and their families fleeing the chill in their hometowns in Fall and Winter
Many of those families stayed, building homes and founding businesses that continue to flourish to this day.
An example is late 19th-Century railroad baron Henry E. Huntington, who built The Huntington Library and Gardens, and in Y 1914 also purchased, developed, and reopened the Huntington Hotel, now known as The Langham Huntington.
The families’ presence gave the city a wealthy tone, evidenced by stately mansions, manicured lawns and elegant tree-lined boulevards, creating an image of a neighborhood for the old rich, with traditional tastes to match.
But in the last 15 years, a raft of craft coffee joints, artisanal bakeries and farm-to-table cafes infiltrating the historic downtown core of Old Pasadena is helping Pasadena to shed its very staid image.
Among these is decades-old The Raymond, with 5-year-old adjoining watering hole Bar 1886 specializing in craft cocktails. The Raymond embodies the Pasadena paradox: It’s simultaneously old school and nouvelle.
On the one hand, you get regulars and old-timers who drop in weekly for signature dishes like the 72-hour Braised Short Rib or Ribeye For Two. On the other hand, you get a young, slick crowd eager to get their drink on, while grazing on a selection of small plates.
Some favorite are the Octopus And Bone Marrow Bruschetta and Steamed Mussels With Angry Lady Sauce.
Drinks, people recommend Maggie The Cat, a beautifully balanced concoction of citrus flavors and herbal bitters.
Chef Tim Guiltinan offers a spread rooted in traditional French culinary techniques, inspired by seasonal ingredients and influenced by a variety of ethnic cultures.
Technique Restaurant, operated by students graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, offers a stronger sense of place. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of an historic, circa 1925 Beaux- Arts building that was once the HQ’s of local newspaper firm Star-News.
A large, canteen-style venue with an open kitchen has been carved out of the space, allowing diners to observe the students earnestly preparing French-Californian fare.
Part of the thrill in dining here is discovering the next big culinary talent, who might just find fame on television.
Vertical Wine Bistro is a stylish wine bar by film producer Gale Anne Hurd of The Walking Dead fame. With over 600 labels from the world’s main wine-growing regions available.
Executive Chef Laurent Quenioux’s Europeanish California bistro menu sees dishes like beef bourguignon offered alongside steamed whole Maine lobster.
Those looking for a caffeine fix will find their haven in the Pasadena outpost of Chicago-based Third Wave Coffee chain Intelligentsia, which opened 4 years ago. The cafe plays host to a comprehensive range of single origins, as well as items you don’t normally find at other artisanal coffee bars: a curated selection of craft beer and wine.
For you coffee lovers order a cold brew, park yourself in the outdoor seating area, and watching the people stroll and drive by.
Pasadena is home to a vibrant cultural scene, anchored by the Playhouse District.
Within the 32 blocks of the “District” are institutions such as the Pasadena Playhouse; the Pacific Asia Museum; and the Ice House Comedy Club, where David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno and Robin Williams have performed stand-ups in their careers.
Then there is Vroman’s Bookstore, a 121-year-old enterprise that is the oldest independent bookseller in Southern California.
The store is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of Pasadena life that locals have come to regard it as a sort of community center, says Jennifer Ramos, Vroman’s promotional director.
She adds: “The thing that we pride ourselves most on is the fact that all our employees love books so much that they’re able to recommend good reads to our customers. We have customers that have the same interests as particular employees, and they’ll seek those employees out when they’re looking for something new.”
The Staff Picks section is extremely popular and has built up somewhat of a cult following, thanks to the personalised, handwritten reviews posted by employees. In an era of e-Books and iPads, this feature is charmingly anachronistic yet refreshing.
Farther west on Colorado Boulevard, find the Norton Simon Museum, home to one of the world’s finest private art collections with an inventory that would make any billionaire “green” with envy.
Think Old Master paintings, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pieces, and, intriguingly, an extensive collection of Indian and Indochinese sculptures.
According to a museum spokesperson, founder Norton Simon, a wealthy industrialist from the late 20th Century, fell in love with Indian art after marrying his second wife, actress Jennifer Jones Simon. With about 12,000 works in the collection, you could easily spend an entire afternoon immersed in art. Be sure to take a stroll through the delightful, sculpture-laden garden styled to resemble Monet’s Giverny.
Culture vultures should also devote some time to explore The Huntington Library and Gardens, a sprawling estate established by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington. He and his wife, Arabella, lived on-site until Y 1924, and a tour of the estate gives an insight into the extravagant lives of 2 of Pasadena’s most prominent early residents.
The library is off-limits to visitors, unless you are a qualified scholar or researcher, but the 2 galleries: The Huntington Art Gallery and the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art are well worth a visit for their collections of 18th and 19th-Century European art, and 17th- to mid 20th-Century American art, respectively.
The gardens, which are divided into more than 12 themes, each an attractions unto themselves.
The exquisite Japanese Garden, for instance, rivals Kyoto’s Okochi-Sanso Villa, while the Chinese Garden is reputed to make Suzhou’s Humble Administrator’s Garden pale in comparison. Aside from the Japanese and Chinese gardens, the naturally perfumed Rose Garden is not to be missed. Pasadena is the City of Roses.
Have a terrific Thanksgiving Holiday weekend