Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Pasadena, CA

  • Published 2022/04/30

Sunny Pasadena, situated in the bosom of the San Gabriel Mountains, is one of the best tourist destinations in California for people of all ages.

Its location makes it more attractive, as it is just a 10-mile drive from one of the greatest cities in California—Los Angeles.

Tourists usually treat this as a pleasant weekend getaway, perfect for those interested in going hiking or admiring art.

The Tournament of Roses and the parade bring most of the footfall.

Here are the best things to do in Pasadena, California:

Walk around Downtown Pasadena

Street view of Downtown Pasadena on a bright sunny day

Sundry Photography /

Downtown Pasadena is a place that speaks of history.

All the buildings in the area are historically significant—downtown Pasadena is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

People crossing the road in Downtown Pasadena

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What was once the center of trade and commerce in Pasadena is now a popular tourist attraction.

Though the buildings date back to the 19th century, the restaurants and shops represent the modern 21st century.

A vegan restaurant at Downtown Pasadena

Chris Allan /

There are many areas for tourists to check out downtown, such as Colorado Boulevard and the picturesque Colorado Street Bridge.

On top of that, there’s also a street designed for book lovers here in the heart of downtown.

Join in on the Festivities at the Rose Bowl Stadium

Aerial view of Rose Bowl Stadium

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The Pasadena Tournament of Roses, also known as the Rose Parade, is one of the city’s main events.

Hundreds of people flock to Pasadena during the time of the tournament.

Fully filled Rose Bowl Stadium during a football game

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The college football game held on the first day of every year is of huge importance to the people around.

The marching bands, cheerleaders, supporters, decorations—everything makes this parade a truly enjoyable sight.

Front exterior view of Rose Bowl Stadium

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The stadium was declared an iconic landmark of Pasadena.

It was constructed around 1922 and now holds several UCLA games and 4th of July celebrations.

Surround Yourself with Nature at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Plants, trees, pond and wooden bridge at Huntington Library and Gardens

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Henry E. Huntington was a man of culture who was heavily invested in arts, gardens, and books.

He founded the 207-acre estate, which houses the representatives of all three of his loves.

In 1919, Huntington constructed the estate of his dreams, and now the public gets to admire it every day.

Statue surrounded by colorful flowers at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

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The vast art collection boasts several pieces by American, French, and British artists.

The Botanical Gardens are beautiful beyond words.

During the winter, roses of different colors bloom, making the garden prettier than a painting.

Tourists enjoying the beauty of nature at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Bokehboo Studios /

The California garden is open to the public throughout the year, with more than 50,000 native species of the Mediterranean region.

Overall, you can find 16 gardens with various flowers and themes, along with a lake that adds more to its beauty.

The library has more than 9 million collections that will make your day.

Browse through the Norton Simon Museum’s Impressive Art Collection

Stunning interior of Norton Simon Museum

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American industrialist and philanthropist Norton Simon put his heart into building an art collection.

It turned out to be so phenomenal that it was transformed into the Norton Simon Museum.

Exterior of Norton Simon Museum

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Apart from the main museum that displays the exceptional permanent collection, there is also a sculpture garden that boasts work by some of the best talents from all over the world.

There are a lot of workshops hosted by the museum authorities, so if you are an up-and-coming artist, you can sharpen your skills.

People admiring the paintings at Norton Simon Museum

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Enjoy the Architecture of the Gamble House

Beautiful architecture of Gamble House

Sundry Photography /

David and Mary Gamble built the house of their dreams back in 1908.

It later came to be known as the Gamble House.

Interior of the Gamble House

Sundry Photography /

Charles and Henry Greene were the architects who helped the Procter & Gamble company owners pursue their dreams.

It was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1978.

People taking pictures of an exotic car parked in the Gamble House

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If you are into beautiful buildings or are an architect looking for a piece of inspiration, then the Gamble House is a must for you all.

There are a lot of private and special tours where you can visit the house and look at its intricate details.

Visit the Iconic Pasadena City Hall

Stunning white building of the City Hall

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One of Pasadena’s most significant icons, City Hall has been standing since 1927 and is a massive work of architecture.

It has got great historical significance.

Fountain at Pasadena City Hall

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Built on an area of 170,000 square feet, Pasadena City Hall is one of the best examples of Italian architectural excellence.

A lantern sits on the top of the building, representing the influence of the Renaissance arts in architecture.

Chalk art competition at Pasadena City Hall

Kit Leong /

There are more than 235 huge rooms inside, with innumerable passageways running and connecting the rooms.

You can book private tours and explore this massive government building.

Go Hiking at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Offering panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is one of Pasadena’s most visited tourist spots.

It is not situated in the city center, but a short drive towards Pasadena’s northeastern outskirts will bring you to this natural beauty.

There are a lot of trails that lead through the San Gabriel Mountains, and all of these start in the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

Nature lovers and hikers are attracted to this exotic location.

Stretching across 7,600 square feet, the Eaton Canyon Nature Center has something for everyone.

You can also explore the area as there are many native plant and animal species.

There are a lot of rocks available here, so geologists seem to love this place.

Treat Yourself to a Meal at the Raymond 1886

Located in the well-renowned Raymond Hotel that dates back to the 19th century, the Raymond 1886 offers quite a unique dining experience.

It is known to serve Hollywood personalities like Charlie Chaplin.

The restaurant’s ribs and pork are a must-try.

Even if you aren’t a history buff, you must check out the place for its excellent dishes.

You are bound to fall in love with its ambiance and menu.

Catch a Pasadena Symphony and POPS Performance

If you are looking for some entertainment on a pleasant Californian evening, the Pasadena Symphony and POPS are at your service.

Hosting some of the best musical performances in the California area, they also have several programs for you to take part in.

The Pasadena Symphony and POPS have performed several concerts on brilliant pieces on Mozart Symphony No 40 and many more.

They always have a schedule prepared ahead of the year.

Before visiting, you can check it out and purchase tickets to your desired show.

Learn Something New at USC Pacific Asia Museum

Exterior view of USC Pacific Asia Museum

Minnaert, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Pasadena’s major tourist attractions, USC Pacific Asia Museum is all about Californian culture.

It opened its gates back in 1971 and has been trying to teach the people about art and culture since then.

The permanent collection houses almost 17,000 pieces that include contemporary and classical artwork.

You can find folk paintings from Japan, ceramics from China, Asian Buddha sculptures, and many more.

You can even attend special classes that teach calligraphy, yoga, haiku, and tai chi.

They also organize events and festivals all year round.

Revisit the Old Days at Pasadena Museum of History

Side view of the Pasadena Museum of History

David Tonelson /

No place can teach you about the local history better than Pasadena Museum of History.

The museum undergoes renovations frequently, so the objects change.

Even if you’ve been here before, there are plenty of reasons to revisit.

Front view of Pasadena Museum of History

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You can find old Californian paintings, documents, clothes, and relics here.

Locals contribute to this museum, so you will also see a lot of volunteers willing to show you around.

Sign board of Pasadena Museum of History

The Image Party /

Explore the Trendy Pasadena Playhouse Village

Street view of Pasadena Playhouse district

Angel DiBilio /

Want to visit Pasadena’s center of culture?

Head over to the Playhouse Village, which sits just walking distance from the downtown area.

The village is home to several museums and theaters.

Night view of Pasadena Playhouse Village

Angel DiBilio /

Are you looking for some luxurious dining?

Explore, and you will find some of the finest dining opportunities in California.

Fountain decorated with flowers at Pasadena Playhouse

Angel DiBilio /

Go Ice Skating at the Historic Pasadena Convention Center

People strolling in front of Pasadena Convention Center

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The Pasadena Convention Center is located in the Civic Center District.

Its name attraction is its campus filled with tourist spots.

Close up of a Ballroom at Pasadena Convention Center

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You can find the auditorium here, along with an ice skating center.

If you’ve never tried ice skating, the Pasadena Convention Center offers you a golden opportunity to do so during the winter.

Stunning buildings with unique architecture at Pasadena Convention Center

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Peruse the Shops at Old Pasadena

Outdoor seating area at restaurants in Old Pasadena

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Old Pasadena is a great place to visit if you seek a genuine historic downtown experience.

This culturally rich neighborhood is just 10 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.

You’ll find everything from museums and art galleries to movies and restaurants to shopping here.

Shops in Old Pasadena

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Many musical and outdoor events, such as a food tour and various street displays, are available throughout the year and are open to the public.

Visitors may shop in over 200 shops and major retailers, combining old-world elegance with modern convenience.

Street view of Old Pasadena

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See Celestial Bodies Up Close at the Carnegie Observatories

In the field of astronomy, the Carnegie Observatories is a leading worldwide research facility.

As a result, the company owns an astronomical observatory in Chile.

Additionally, they have outreach initiatives that aim to educate the broader public on the most relevant themes to their work.

Each spring, a free public lecture series is held by the Carnegie Observatories in San Marino to educate the public on the latest astronomical developments.

Public tours of their facilities are offered at their yearly Open House.

Bring Your Kids to Explore Kidspace Children’s Museum

People entering the Kidspace Children's Museum

The Image Party /

As a non-formal educational resource for children, the Kidspace Children’s Museum was established in 1979 at the California Institute of Technology.

The museum attracts more than 200,000 visitors each year, and its displays and programs empower people to release their imagination.

An adventure garden, outdoor theater, and a physics forest are just a few of the attractions.

Sign board of Kidspace Children's Museum

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The Kidspace Children’s Museum has it all: art, nature, science—you name it.

A few of their most popular attractions are the Kidspace Critters section, which holds a wide variety of reptiles and beetles, and the Imagination Workshop.

Meditate at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

Entrance of Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

TheCatalyst31, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grab the chance to visit Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden if you’ve ever wondered what a Kinzuchi Fujii garden might look like.

Located on two acres, the garden is a haven of peace and tranquility in the city.

Narrow paved entry way to Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

TheCatalyst31, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are multiple ponds in the traditional Tea House and a 15-foot waterfall to enjoy.

When not being utilized for weddings or other special events, the gardens are available to the public on weekends.

Make sure that you book in advance to enjoy this Japanese garden.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore Descanso Gardens

Cherry Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Kit Leong /

Want to take a walk among beautiful flowers away from the busy city?

In Descanso Garden, you don’t even have to go far away from the city.

On the edge of Pasadena lies this tranquil garden not even 20 miles from Los Angeles.

Picturesque view of the Red bridge passing over a creek in Descanso Gardens

Kit Leong /

If you are tired of city life, do come to visit this peaceful place.

It is one of the major tourist attractions for Los Angeles and Pasadena visitors.

Descanso Garden is blessed with Japanese cherry blossom trees, roses, and camellia flowers.

Rose arch with a visitors bench at Descanso Gardens

Ken Wolter /

Go Camping in the Wild Angeles National Forest

Scenic view of Angeles National Forest

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If you want a few days away from the city hustle, the San Gabriel Mountains are the perfect relaxation spot for you.

The Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains encompasses a vast area of 700,000 acres.

There is a large number of hiking trails to choose from.

View of the snow capped mountains in Angeles National Forest

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Interested in camping in a forest?

Buckhorn Campground is one of the most favored camping spots.

There are also skiing locations where the snow covers the ground in the winter.

Top view of Angeles National Forest

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Unleash Your Inner Physics Geek at Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sign board of Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a joint Caltech and NASA facility that holds astronomy missions, builds robotic spacecraft, and other deep-space projects.

The Curiosity rover, NuSTAR X-ray telescope, and Mars Science Laboratory are just a few examples.

Visitors are welcome to view the facilities, but they must make reservations first.

Interior view of Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sundry Photography /

See live demos of JPL science and technology, listen to a lecture using various media, see the von Karman Visitor Center, and visit the Space Flight Operations and Spacecraft Assembly Facilities.

If you wish to try all of its attractions, allot at least two and a half hours on your day.

Meachines and different equipments at Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Michael Gordon /

Final Thoughts

Thanks to its historic buildings, lush scenery, and California sunlight, Pasadena is a charming destination to get away from it all.

Downtown Los Angeles is only 10 miles away, yet Pasadena remains a peaceful haven nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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