Nestled on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Pasadena might not come to mind when you’re thinking of neighbourhoods to visit, especially when compared with its more famous counterparts such as Hollywood, Santa Monica or many of the city’s other iconic spots. However, Pasadena is a hidden gem, backdropped by the beautiful San Gabriel mountains. Things to do in Pasadena include shopping, discovering history, live entertainment and eating delicious food.
Whether you prefer to spend time in nature in a zen garden, hike Mount Wilson, or want to experience a night of comedy and excellent local food, it’s all right at your fingertips in Pasadena – with a local and authentic Californian vibe.
- Pasadena, California
- Top 3 Pasadena Tours
- 20 Things To Do In Pasadena
- 1- Explore Old Pasadena
- 2- Visit The Gamble House
- 3- Watch A Game At The Rose Bowl
- 4- Admire The Architecture Of City Hall
- 5- Explore Nature At Eaton Canyon Nature Centre
- 6- Admire Works Of The Old Masters At Norton Simon Museum
- 7- Transport Yourself To The Future At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- 8- See A Show At Pasadena Playhouse
- 9- Browse Through Vroman’s Bookstore
- 10- See The Colorado Street Bridge That Starred In La La Land
- 11- Hike The San Gabriel Mountains
- 12- Brookside Park
- 13- Tour Tournament House
- 14- Hang Out At Caltech
- 15- Drive Or Hike Up Mount Wilson
- 16- Have A Good Laugh At The Ice House Comedy Club
- 17- Relax In Huntington Library & Gardens
- 18- Shop At A Flea Market
- 19- Have Fun At A Festival At Levitt Pavilion
- 20- Visit Bungalow Heaven
Top 3 Pasadena Tours
- Explore Pasadena Walking Tour – learn the secrets of Old Pasadena, its pioneers, historic vaudeville and more.
- Haunted Pasadena Walking Tour – hunt for ghosts in spooky buildings, tunnels and alleys and learn about the mysteries of this historic city.
- Self-guided Tour – This budget version will take you to some of the city’s most stunning posts. It’s perfect for photographers.
20 Things To Do In Pasadena
1- Explore Old Pasadena
Old Town Pasadena is surprisingly full of history and lots to explore, given this is the heart of the neighbourhood.
Head along Colorado Boulevard to check out various shops, restaurants and cafes – there are over 200 interesting stores here to discover.
There are also museums, markets, theatres and more here.
Many of Pasadena’s top things to do are located in this area, so taking a stroll can be a great way to familiarise yourself with the area.
Make sure not to miss Castle Green Monument, Central Park and The Speakeasy for a first taste of the real Pasadena.
If you’re on a budget, this self-guided tour of Pasadena will take you to the historical and most instagrammable spots without breaking the bank.
2- Visit The Gamble House
One of the most beautiful houses in Pasadena, the Gamble house was built for one of the recipients of the Procter & Gamble fortune, the now world-renowned big pharma company.
The National Historical Landmark is a popular attraction due to its stunning architecture, which is based on the Art and Crafts movement in the area.
Tours run four days per week where you can learn more about the history of the house and gardens, or if you’re interested specifically in the design and interiors, there are also frequent in-depth tours on the subject.
The Gamble House is at 4 Westmoreland Pl, Pasadena, CA 91103.
For more California ideas, see:
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- 23 Landmarks In Los Angeles
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- Best Time To Visit California
- Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip
- San Diego To San Francisco Road Trip
- 20 Things To Do In Ventura
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- 20 Things To Do In Pasadena
- Where To Stay In Los Angeles
- 20 Ghost Towns In California
- 20 Ways To Spend Christmas In California
- San Francisco Itinerary
- San Francisco Bike Tours
- San Francisco Go Cars
- Exploring Hearst Castle
- Yosemite National Park
- 9 California National Parks
- Lake Tahoe Snowshoe Adventure
- 20 Things To Do In Bakersfield
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3- Watch A Game At The Rose Bowl
The Rose Bowl is probably Pasadena’s most famous attraction, a 90,000-seat stadium used for everything from college matches to the Olympics and huge music concerts.
The stadium is another of Pasadena’s National Historic Landmarks, as it kept much of its original design, although it has been renovated several times.
If you’re visiting in winter, you might be lucky enough to catch a football match here, which is great for experiencing the all-American atmosphere at sports games.
On certain weekends, it also hosts one of the area’s biggest flea markets, where you can pick up fabulous antiques, clothes and souvenirs.
The Rose Bowl is at 1001 Rose Bowl Dr, Pasadena, CA 91103.
4- Admire The Architecture Of City Hall
Pasadena City Hall is one of the area’s most iconic sights, featuring incredible Renaissance architecture and fascinating history.
The building has a huge six-storey tower and a pretty courtyard inside.
You can stroll through the building to see its pretty rose garden, courtyard and fountains, popular spots for wedding photoshoots.
Many people visit City Hall for a memorable photos since the building has been used in famous movies such as Mission Impossible, The Big Bang Theory and Parks & Recreation.
City Hall is at 100 Garfield Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101. Meet in front of City Hall for a walking tour of Pasadena’s top spots but make sure to prebook your spot on the tour here.
5- Explore Nature At Eaton Canyon Nature Centre
Pasadena will soon prove you wrong if you thought LA was just a built-up metropolis.
Eaton Canyon is one of the best places in the city to get out into nature, with loads of great hikes and walks which take you through forests and to waterfalls in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Even for kids, the centre can be educational, with a visitors centre full of information about the area’s wildlife, nature and history.
Aside from pretty hikes, there are picnic trails where you’ll end up at a scenic spot along with your lunch, areas for horse-riding, and if you’re not as experienced, guided walks and tours can lead you to the scenic spots.
Eaton Canyon Nature Centre is at 1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107.
6- Admire Works Of The Old Masters At Norton Simon Museum
Norton Simon Museum houses one of California’s best art collections, with a permanent exhibition comprising over 12,000 pieces.
It’s especially popular due to its large number of Old Masters, with works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet and more.
The museum also hosts limited runs of exhibitions with artwork spanning centuries and across the world, as well as workshops, tours and classes which are perfect for art buffs or budding artists.
It has pretty grounds to explore, including a vast sculpture garden perfect for a post-museum stroll, and is one of Pasadena’s unmissable attractions.
Norton Simon Museum is at 411 W Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105.
7- Transport Yourself To The Future At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory
You can find all sorts of cool tech-related attractions in California, so it’s no surprise that there’s a collaboration between NASA and Caltech in Pasadena.
The lab studies everything to do with aviation, space, robotics and astronomy and is even behind inventions such as the Curiosity Rover and space probes.
You need to book tours here well in advance, but if you manage to snag a spot, you’ll learn all about the science behind what goes on here.
You’ll watch the scientists who control space rovers peek inside the Space Flight Operations Centre and see cool space and technology demonstrations.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is at 4800 Oak Grove Dr, Pasadena, CA 91109.
8- See A Show At Pasadena Playhouse
The Pasadena Playhouse is the area’s famous 600+ seat theatre venue, where you can catch all sorts of fun shows, from musicals to plays, dance performances and concerts.
It’s the official state theatre of California, and if you don’t manage to see a show, do join a guided tour of the theatre to admire its stunning interior.
The Playhouse District is a neighbourhood packed with some of the area’s best restaurants, bars and clubs, and multiple museums, so you won’t be short of things to do during your visit.
Pasadena Playhouse is at 39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101. The Haunted Pasadena Walking Tour meets at 6.30 pm across the street from the Pasadena Playhouse and is a spooky tour with haunting tales. Find out more about it here.
9- Browse Through Vroman’s Bookstore
Vroman’s bookstore is a must-visit for anyone who loves to read and even those who don’t.
It’s the largest independent bookshop in SoCal and one of the largest in the USA.
Many of the world’s most famous writers have held book signings here, such as Salman Rushdie and Joan Didion, and it has a vast selection of books on all kinds of topics, including California.
If you purchase a book or two, they have an onsite wine bar, 1894, which is the perfect place to enjoy a drink while you read.
Vroman’s Bookstore is at 695 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91101. Looking for a fun way to visit Pasadena’s highlights (including Vroman’s bookstore)? Check out this fun challenge-solving game you can play on your phone.
10- See The Colorado Street Bridge That Starred In La La Land
Despite its tragic history, the Colorado Street Bridge has become one of Pasadena’s most famous locations.
During the great depression, over 100 suicides occurred here, leading to police having to patrol the area.
More recently, you may recognise the beautiful Beaux-Arts arches and streetlamps from the film La La Land, which has given the bridge new life and continues to attract visitors from all around for an iconic movie photo.
You’ll find it most busy at sunset when people flock to try and capture the purple and orange hues as their backdrop.
The Colorado Street Bridge is at 504 W Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105.
11- Hike The San Gabriel Mountains
The San Gabriel Mountains sit just behind Pasadena and make a perfect escape from the city for those who love nature.
The mountains stretch through many northern Californian cities and hide many stunning peaks, canyons and waterfalls, which you can explore through hikes.
If you’re up for a challenge, hike up to Mount San Antonio, the highest peak in LA County.
Alternatively, there are a few less strenuous places to see, such as the Bridge to Nowhere, Jackson’s Lake and Strawberry Peak, perfect for less experienced hikers.
Slightly further afield, enjoy a winter holiday in the ski region of Mountain High before returning to the sunny shores of LA.
12- Brookside Park
For a relaxing day out in nature without too much strenuous activity, check out Brookside Park.
The vast 62-acre (25 ha) Pasadena park is set against the San Gabriel Mountains and is where you can spend a day outdoors.
Take a picnic, go for a stroll, bring a ball and play on the sports fields. It’s a top spot to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle.
You can also go running or biking around the park or try to catch a game at the Jackie Robinson Baseball Stadium in the north of the park.
There are plenty of amenities, such as barbecue pits, picnic areas and playgrounds for a fun and relaxed day out.
Brookside Park is at 360 N Arroyo Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91103.
13- Tour Tournament House
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Wrigley chewing gum, so why not visit Tournament House and Wrigley Gardens, an estate bought by William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate himself?
The house is home to the Tournament of Roses Association which organises games at the nearby Rose Bowl, but the house is an attraction in itself.
With stunning Renaissance architecture, exhibitions and tours inside, plus the 4.5 acres of beautifully manicured gardens with over 1,000 different flower varieties outside, it’s a sight worth visiting.
Tours run for half the year, so it’s worth checking beforehand that you’ll be there at the right time.
Tournament House and Wrigley Gardens are at 391 S. Orange Grove Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105.
14- Hang Out At Caltech
Caltech (California Institute of Technology) is a world-renowned university for pioneering scientific and technological discoveries.
It’s one of the most preeminent universities for science and engineering and has produced some of the best minds in these industries.
Although the campus is sometimes closed to the public, there are frequent tours of the 124-acre (50 ha) grounds where you’ll learn more about its history and alumni.
Plus, anyone can attend the shows and musical performances in the theatre or check out the historic buildings – you’ll feel smarter just by visiting.
Caltech is at 1200 E California Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91125.
15- Drive Or Hike Up Mount Wilson
Mount Wilson is another peak that sits among the San Gabriel Mountains, however, this one is far more popular, and its peak can be seen from across LA.
It can be a pain to hike here, although you can if you’re determined, but you can also drive up, where you’ll discover the Mount Wilson Observatory, which houses a 100-inch telescope, once the largest in the world.
It was also the location where the speed of light was first recorded.
Aside from science, there are also spectacular views across Pasadena, LA and most of California on a clear day.
There’s also a museum full of artefacts owned by Edward Hubble and lots of walking trails to discover.
16- Have A Good Laugh At The Ice House Comedy Club
One of Pasadena’s most popular and iconic venues since the 1960s, Ice House Comedy Club is a consistent barrel of laughs and is the oldest comedy club in the country.
It’s a simple club with simple shows, but you’re guaranteed a good time if you spend the evening here, whether you get to see a famous face or an up-and-coming comedian.
Some huge comedic names have performed here, including Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams, and now two rooms host up to 7,000 attendees per month.
You can easily make an evening of it at the Ice House, as it offers onsite dinner, drinks and snacks so you can enjoy a tasty meal and cocktails before settling in for the show.
The Ice House Comedy Club is at 24 N Mentor Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106.
17- Relax In Huntington Library & Gardens
Huntington Gardens are a tranquil oasis in the city, created by Henry E. Huntington, a railroad magnate, in 1919.
The library and gardens combine art, research and nature in one place, and the art gallery here features three collections: British, American and French from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The botanical garden is full of wildflowers, housing a Chinese garden, rose garden, Japanese garden and a rose garden which you can explore.
There are two restaurants, a café and an elegant tea room for when you need a refuelling stop.
Huntington Library & Gardens is at 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108.
18- Shop At A Flea Market
As mentioned, the Rosebowl market is hosted on certain weekends of the month (9 am to 3 pm) at the famous Rose Bowl Stadium.
You’ll find over 2,500 vendors selling everything from antiques and vintage clothing to crafts and art.
Operating for over 45 years, this is an iconic market to visit for its shopping, history and concession stands offer food and drinks.
Keep on the lookout for a Hollywood celebrity or two.
Another market to check out is the City College Flea Market, which is usually on the first Sunday of each month, between 8 am to 3 pm.
Hundreds of vendors here offer all kinds of goods, but it’s not as large as the Rosebowl market.
There are more than 500 stalls selling antiques, clothes, books and souvenirs.
It’s called the City College Market, as many stalls are run by students who need jobs to fund their studies.
It’s mainly popular with locals, but that just means you’ll see a far more authentic side of Pasadena if you decide to visit.
City College Flea Market 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91106. Rosebowl Flea Market is at 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, CA 91103.
19- Have Fun At A Festival At Levitt Pavilion
This unassuming pavilion is in Memorial Park, in the heart of Pasadena.
During the summer, it’s the centre point of the area’s biggest festival, with live music performances and activities inside a miniature Hollywood Bowl.
Each summer sees around 50 concerts hosted here, with every possible genre from Pop to RnB, Jazz and Soul to Rock.
Many food and drink vendors offer some of California’s best cuisine and entertainment for kids and adults alike.
The event is always completely free, but it does get busy, so try and arrive early to set up in a good spot.
Levitt Pavilion is in Memorial Park, 85 E Holly St, Pasadena, CA 91103.
20- Visit Bungalow Heaven
Admiring real estate might not be the first thing on your sightseeing list if you’re visiting Pasadena, especially compared to more famous property locations like Mulholland Drive not far away, however, Bungalow Heaven is a must-see.
This area was voted one of the most beautiful places in America due to its huge collection of some of the country’s prettiest and most architecturally stunning bungalows.
Around 800 classically-designed bungalows dating back to the 1900s are on the National Register of Historic Places list.
Very occasionally (once per year), the neighbourhood offers tours, with guides set up all along the street so you can have a peek inside some of the most beautiful homes.