Name: Julia Long
Location: Pasadena, California, the “City of Roses”.
Home of the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses parade, location of the first Trader Joe’s, and the setting for The Big Bang Theory. Pasadena is a city full of culture, history, delicious food, and lots of hidden surprises! I grew up there, and no matter where else in the world I may roam, it will always be home.
There are four main commercial areas of Pasadena, where the highest concentration of restaurants and attractions can be found, all located on or just off of Colorado Boulevard - South Lake Avenue, Paseo Colorado, and Old Pasadena (often called “Lake”, “Paseo”, and “Old Town” by locals), and the Playhouse District. Paseo and Old Town are quite close to each other, and Lake is about a mile and a half to the East, with the Playhouse District in the middle.
Travel Style/Profile in 5 Words or Less: Camera-toting nomad in a vintage dress
Favourite Food Spots:
Pasadenans are major foodies. Pretty much every restaurant is fantastic, because it wouldn’t last long otherwise! Some of my personal favourites aren’t actually in Pasadena, but are close enough in neighboring cities, so I’m including them on this list...
Lincoln - Owned and operated by the founder of the Little Flower Candy Company, which is also worth a visit. Both locations feature handmade candies and pastries, coffees and tea, and a delicious assortment of food also. Great open-plan, warehouse kind of atmosphere, and a big outdoor patio with picnic tables and plants
Noda Sushi - Located on Lake, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Old Pasadena, lies one of the best sushi places I’ve ever been to. Usually packed, at all hours of the day, but never so much that you don’t get seated
Marston’s - A Pasadena institution, known for their cornflake french toast. If you’re going for breakfast on a weekend, go early! They’re also known for having delicious, “Pasadena” themed salads, packed full of different kinds of fruit and avocado
Din Tai Fung - World-renowned dumpling house, with locations in Glendale and Arcadia, neighbors of Pasadena. Specialties of the house include soup dumplings and noodles
Real Food Daily - This is a vegan chain of restaurants that has decent vegan food at all times, and amazing breakfast on weekends! Seriously, the pancakes are fantastic, and the açai bowl is bigger than your head!
Tender Greens - Farm-fresh salads and meat, and they always have roasted vegetables. The nicoise salad is full of lightly seared tuna, and the harvest salad features seasonal fruit and tons of creamy goat cheese
La Grande Orange / Luggage Room - Two restaurants housed in the same building, which is the old train station. Beautiful Craftsman architecture with imaginative menus. The Luggage Room focuses on pizza, and my favorites on the La Grande Orange (LGO) menu are the brussels sprout salad (seriously, you’ve never had brussels sprouts like this before!) and the tuna burger. Also, they have free fresh-baked cookies at the front!
Vince’s Deli - You would never look twice at this place if you didn’t know it was there. Not in any of the main shopping/eating districts, but in a strip mall across from Huntington Hospital. Seriously, though, they have some of the best sandwiches in the world! I don’t know where they get their avocado, but it’s always the most delicious, and they put so much of it on each sandwich! I always get the tuna on rye with avocado, and I would pretty much do anything to have one in my hand right now… The lines get long at lunchtime, and eating in isn’t the most atmospheric dining experience. I’d recommend getting sandwiches to go, and walking across the street to Singer Park or a couple blocks further to Arlington Garden for a picnic. Bonus: Arlington Garden has orange groves, and you are welcome to pick some fruit for dessert!
Pie n’ Burger - The quintessential greasy spoon diner, just off Lake on California Blvd. Eat all the burgers, fries, and milkshakes you want, but it would be a crime to fill up before pie time! Seriously incredible pie, and so many different kinds! If you’re lucky enough to be there during Ollallieberry season, definitely check that out.
Europane - Great bakery. There are two locations, both on Colorado Blvd. The original one is small and usually quite busy, but the newer one is right across the street from Paseo Colorado and has a great atmosphere -- big rustic wooden tables, huge vases of flowery branches, and floor-to-ceiling windows all around. They’re known for their egg salad sandwiches, and they don’t disappoint! If you’re there early enough in the day that they haven’t run out yet, pick up some bread and macarons for later
President Thai - Amazing Thai food in a building straight out of your most decadent Thailand fantasies. If it’s nice out, sit on the small patio, full of tropical plants and flowers
Roscoe’s - Chicken and waffles! Need I say more?
Ginger Corner Market - pick up some salads/ sandwiches and drinks and borrow a blanket for a picnic across the street in Grant Park
In ‘n Out - You can’t have a best-of California list without including this drive-through burger chain!
Camerons - Seafood with some of the best clam chowder I’ve ever had! And huge hunks of steaming sourdough bread for dunking...mmmm
Favourite Non-Food City Spots:
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, Botanical Gardens - The Library and Art Museum have amazing collections, but the 120 acres of gardens are truly the standout feature. Best place for wandering on a nice day. If you feel like treating yourself, indulge in freshly-baked scones and all-you-can-eat buffet at the Rose Garden Tea Room (might require a reservation)
Pasadena Playhouse - Long history of great theatre, and where stars like Dustin Hoffman and Leonard Nimoy honed their skills
The Gamble House - Pasadena is one of the centers of Craftsman Arts & Crafts architecture, and this is a beautifully preserved example (Also notable: the garage was Doc Brown’s workshop in Back to the Future!)
The Norton Simon - incredible small art collection. Highlights include works by Raphael, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and Degas, and a picturesque and relaxing sculpture garden
Civic Center - great examples of 1920s Beaux Arts architecture. Includes the Central Library, Civic Auditorium, and City Hall (recognizable as Pawnee City Hall from Parks and Recreation)
Botanical Gardens/ Parks:
Arboretum - in nearby Arcadia, across the street from the Art Deco-style Santa Anita Racetrack. Keep an eye out for the roaming band of peacocks!
Descanso Gardens - Peaceful gardens and hiking trails in the mountains of La Cañada
Lacy Park - if you go during the week, it’s free, but on weekends you have to pay if you don’t live in San Marino
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) - behind-the-scenes tours about cutting-edge astronomy, astrophysics, and space exploration (tours book up far in advance)
Old Town - most of the chain stores and restaurants are located in Old Town, but it still feels authentic, with retrofitted buildings and lots of secret alleyways
Crossroads - resale store where I never fail to find great stuff at great prices
Distant Lands - the kind of travel bookstore that makes you want to curl up in one of the leather armchairs and spend the rest of your life reading everything on the shelves
Burke Williams - day spa worth the splurge
South Pasadena - smaller city just south of Pasadena, full of cafés, small independent shops, and leafy, tree-lined streets
Vromans - Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore. In the Playhouse district, right next to the Laemmle, an art house movie theatre
Favourite Places To Go With Friends:
All of the above! I love picnics in the park, hiking, eating, walking, and talking. In the summer, there are free concerts in Memorial Park, and they screen old movies in the One Colorado Courtyard in Old Town. Sit on the patio at Il Fornaio and enjoy pasta, fresh bread, wine and cocktails on warm evenings, and then stroll over to 21 Choices for frozen yogurt.
A Perfect Saturday Looks Like:
Once I started thinking about this question, I realized that the perfect Saturday would have to start pretty early in order to fit everything in... So, while it’s nice to laze about in bed on the weekends, save that for Sunday and devote Saturday to some exploring!
First thing, I zip over to the farmer’s market for Bezian’s sourdough bread and fresh flowers. I take these back home and arrange flowers until I get hungry.
My favourite way to get around Pasadena is on my bike -- most of the city is pretty flat, and the tree-lined streets are so much fun to explore on 2 wheels. My route takes me first to Trader Joe’s on Lake, where I pick up a bag of unsalted peanut butter pretzels, and then across the street to Real Food Daily for a vanilla milkshake made with almond milk. I then pedal over to Caltech (California Institute of Technology), which has an incredibly gorgeous campus and is basically treated as a park by people who live nearby. I grew up riding my bike around the campus, catching crayfish in the ponds (and even jumping in during hot summers!) Now I like to go and spread out a blanket in a grassy spot and read, while I drink my shake and snack a bit.
Bike back leisurely, stopping at the public library, which is one of my favorite buildings in the world. Pick up some new books after a nice browse and store them in my basket (all the cool kids have bike baskets. And helmets. Be smart - protect your brain!).
In the evening, I might go see a movie, or during the summer on some Saturdays, the Huntington is open late for members. Stroll around the gardens, then have a picnic as the sun sets. If the mood strikes, maybe dancing with friends, or karaoke at the Boulevard. I’m equally happy to have a quiet night with good people and good food, talking until late!
Any Other City Favourites or Tips for Travellers?
Pasadena is not normally traversed without a car, but it is possible to do so -- There is a public transit system that is actually quite user-friendly and well-priced. The Gold line takes you straight to Pasadena from downtown LA’s Union Station (worth a visit, as it’s an incredible building that you’ll recognize from countless films!). Union Station is accessible by subway from other parts of LA (yes, LA has a subway system).
Get off at Del Mar or Memorial Park for Old Town, or Lake for Lake (duh). If you want to explore South Pasadena, alight at Mission. Once you’re in Pasadena, you can use the ARTS bus system to get around the city.
The best time to visit is in Winter and early Spring (typically January - April), where the weather is just superb, and the air is clear and smells like flowers!
Julia is also a fantastic florist (her company is called Hey, Bud! -- cute name, right??) - check out her website at http://heybudflowers.com and follow her adventures (currently as a curator at Drogo Castle in Exeter, UK) at @juliaisyourbud