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Travel Spotlight: Things to Do (and More) in Pasadena, California

California has so much to offer to tourists visiting the state for the first time. It has Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and other loud and bright tourist attractions that you just can’t miss.

When you need a break from the busy and bustling cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, you could spend some time in Pasadena, “a village within a city” in California. It’s an upscale community with a flourishing entertainment, arts and cultural scene. It also has fantastic places for dining and shopping. Whether you’ll be visiting for the culture, arts, sports, recreation or shopping, you’ll find many things to do in Pasadena.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you explore Pasadena and appreciate what this city has to offer.

Where is Pasadena?

Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr Creative Commons

Pasadena is a city situated 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. When you check out Pasadena on a map, you’ll find that it’s near the Arroyo Seco (a dry riverbed) and at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Some residents of Los Angeles believe that Pasadena, given its proximity to LA, is just another suburb. Although its location may be close to the neighborhoods and suburbs of downtown LA, Pasadena is a separate city in its own right.

You can get to Pasadena in the following ways:

By Car

The primary travel route to this city is the 110 Harbor Freeway. This route ends in Pasadena and turns into Arroyo Parkway as it heads north into town.

Alternatively, you could take the 134/210 freeway, which combines and becomes route 210, a freeway traversing the northern portion of the city of Pasadena from west to east.

Before you hop in your car, make sure you plan your routes and list of things to do in Pasadena carefully. Use Google Maps to obtain the information you need. If you get lost along the way, don’t hesitate to ask for directions from the locals in the area.

By Plane

If you’re traveling from another state, such as Florida or New York, and want to get to Pasadena, California, you could fly to one of these airports:

  • Hollywood Burbank Airport (formerly known as Bob Hope Airport) – This is the closest airport to the city of Pasadena. It’s just 15 miles from the city, making traveling by car more convenient for you.
  • Ontario International Airport – No, this isn’t in Canada. Ontario is a city situated in California’s San Bernardino County. Although this is a little further away from Pasadena (approximately 37 miles from the airport), the journey and the navigation won’t be that much of a problem.
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – You could fly into this airport if you’re coming from overseas locations. From LAX, you could rent a car or use public transport to get to Pasadena.

By Using Public Transportation

Don’t have a car (or choosing not to travel with one)? That’s perfectly fine. If you’re coming from the Los Angeles International Airport, you could hop on an LAX Flyaway bus that goes directly to Union Station. From Union Station, you could get to Pasadena by taking the Metro Gold Line. Take note that travel times will vary depending on the traffic situation in Los Angeles.

You could also take the bus going to Pasadena. Some Amtrak buses originating from various destinations in Los Angeles stop at the Pasadena Hilton Hotel. You could also take a bus provided by the Foothill Transit Authority and the MTA.

If you’re going by yourself (and have plenty of travel fund to spare), you could book an Uber or Lyft going to Pasadena. Make sure to check the fare rates, so you know how much you’re going to spend on the trip.

Where to Eat in Pasadena

Photo by Brendan C via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the first things tourists do in Pasadena is to get some grub.

Apart from the usual 24/7 fast food places, Pasadena has plenty of food establishments that will blow away your taste buds and leave you feeling satisfied with your meal. The city offers an eclectic and unique selection of fantastic food for every occasion.

Some of the best places to eat in Pasadena are the following:

Slater’s 50/50

This amazing restaurant offers delicious fried bacon mac n’ cheese balls, mouth-watering burgers and beer to wash down all that food. You have the option to choose from a burger menu or come up with your burger masterpiece. If you’re hankering for American comfort food right now, Slater’s 50/50 should be your first choice.

El Taquito Mexican Truck

Looking for a taco joint in Pasadena? Satisfy your Mexican cravings by getting your food at this food truck. They offer a variety of taco delights, including chicharron, lengua and carne asado tacos.      

Mediterranean Café

If you’re on a budget and want quick food, this café covers the bases. You could get a satisfying meal in under ten dollars and be in and out of the place in ten minutes or less. Enjoy the Mediterranean basics, including pita bread, Greek salad and grilled meat of your choice.  

Tourist Attractions in Pasadena

Photo by The Marmot via Flickr Creative Commons

Not sure what else to do in Pasadena? This city has plenty of attractions for tourists to enjoy.

Here are some noteworthy places you could visit while you’re staying in this amazing city:

Old Pasadena

This historic downtown district showcases the well-preserved buildings and architecture of Pasadena. You’ll find a wide range of local eateries and boutique storefronts in this charming location.

Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Another thing you could do in Pasadena is to take a nature break by visiting Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon Nature Center. This 7,600-square-foot natural attraction features a wonderful collection of live animals, exhibits and other pertinent information about Eaton Canyon. While you’re there, check out the Eaton Canyon falls, a family-friendly waterfall that attracts quite the crowd.

Descanso Gardens

Enjoy a “nature vacation” by exploring the meticulously landscaped spaces of Descanso Gardens. Take Instagram-worthy photos of blossoming cherry trees, a rose garden with more than a thousand varieties and the biggest collection of camellia flowers in North America.

Pasadena Museum of History

Learn how the city of Pasadena came to be by checking out this city museum. It features regional artwork along with a permanent collection of more than a million maps, photographs, books and other artifacts.

Events to See in Pasadena

Photo by Gareth Simpson via Flickr Creative Commons

You may as well check out the events held in Pasadena every year, especially if you have plans on visiting this city regularly. Here are a few celebrations, festivals and other events that you could check out:


One of the things to do in Pasadena during the fourth of July is to celebrate Americafest at the Rose Bowl Stadium. The event is a huge patriotic gathering that welcomes thousands of people for a whole day of entertainment and celebration. Some of the events typically held on the stadium include live performances by talented singers, a motorcycle stunt show and a world-class fireworks display to top off the evening.

Pasadena Chalk Festival

This family-friendly event, which traditionally takes place over Father’s day weekend, attracts hundreds of artists to create temporary works of art in chalk at the Paseo Colorado shopping center. You’ll come across various styles of artwork, ranging from classical to contemporary. If you’re bringing your little ones to the festival, they too can create their masterpieces at Kid’s Chalkland.

Apart from the main street painting event, the festival offers food, live music and Police Classic Car Show on Sunday. The festival caps off with an awards show. Once the festival is over, the organizers wash up the chalk artworks for good.

Day of the Dead Celebration

Visiting during Halloween week? One of the things you could do in Pasadena during this time is to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead festival. This vibrant yet reverent Mexican holiday extends to Pasadena and spans two days. It gives people the opportunity to honor their loved ones who have departed the Earth before them.

During the community celebration, check out the businesses throughout the Old Pasadena district as they decorate their establishment with dedication messages for their loved ones and beautiful altar creations. You could also join the evening Salsa on the Alley Dance Party, which features energetic Latin rhythms and a live performance from an LA-based ensemble. Get into the celebration by having your face painted during the free Calavera face painting session.

When you’re visiting California for the first time, don’t hesitate to visit this “village within a city.” You definitely won’t run out of things to do in Pasadena. This city will make you realize that there’s more to California than LA’s Disney World or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

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