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Tour an Arts and Crafts masterpiece and more in the home of the Rose Bowl

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Set at the base of the towering San Gabriel MountainsPasadena is best known as the home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl football matchup. But this appealing city about 10 miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles has secret charms that go well beyond the marching bands, flower-covered floats, and touchdowns on New Year’s Day. With architectural gems and world-class museums, stylish shopping and red-hot restaurants and hotels, Pasadena has plenty of ways to fill a break from big-city bustle.

Things to Do in Pasadena

Start with a guided tour of the Gamble House, built as a private home in 1908 by celebrated architects Charles and Henry Greene. Now a National Historic Landmark and open for public tours, the spectacular structure is considered one of the finest examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture. Take a tour to see elegant interior details that include exquisite woodwork and luminous stained-glass entry doors depicting a coast live oak. 

Five blocks away on Colorado Boulevard, stroll the galleries of the Norton Simon Museum to see more than 100 works by Degas, as well as paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, and Renoir. There’s also an extensive collection of Asian sculptures and paintings.

For a hands-on art fix for families with little ones, head to the lively Kidspace Children’s Museum, across from the Rose Bowl. Explore its 3.5-acre campus, with more than 40 creative indoor and outdoor exhibits, including plenty of arts and crafts supplies and other fun techniques to help kids learn. And good luck trying to pry your pint-size scramblers away from two soaring climbing towers.

Cross into the adjacent community of San Marino to see impressive collections at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, then relax in the Huntington’s lovely Chinese-style Garden of Flowing Fragrance, with ornate bridges and a shimmering lake.

Restaurants and Theater in Old Pasadena

Now head to Old Pasadena, a 22-block national historic district filled with restored buildings housing hip boutiques, buzz-worthy restaurants, and a beloved cinema. Try Northern Italian dishes with California influences at the intimate Union restaurant (save room for delectable olive-oil cake for dessert). Or sample Southeast Asian cuisine at Bone Kettle, where Erwin Tjahyadi, who apprenticed under Wolfgang Puck and Trey Foshee, serves up an array of intriguing Indonesian-inspired small plates and such main dishes as Singapore-style chili-fried lobster. Fans of live theater visiting Old Pasadena should know that they are within strolling distance of the official state theater of California. The Pasadena Playhouse has been staging productions almost continuously since 1917.

Mount Wilson Observatory

A few dozen miles northeast of Pasadena is the Mount Wilson Observatory, which was home to the world’s largest telescopes for most of the first half of the 20th century. Today, with its CHARA (Center for High Angular Resolutions Astronomy) facility, it’s still at the cutting edge of astrophysics, and offers a variety of tours, a full schedule of events, and a place to recharge with the Cosmic Café.

Finish your visit back in Pasadena with afternoon tea—served on signature Wedgwood tea sets—at one of California’s grand-dame hotels, The Langham Huntington Hotel. This historic resort, one of the first in the state, boasts a heated saltwater pool, the 11,000-square-foot Chuan Spa, and excellent dining options, all located on 23 acres at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Useful info: Before you go, check out a calendar of events for all the goings-on in Pasadena.

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