Pasadena, California Past Times

Genie Davis December 21, 2011 No Comments


There are so many great small towns that make up what out-of-town visitors think of as completely “Los Angeles”. And for a quintessential LA experience of course visitors must go beyond the confines of downtown’s urban core, with its mini modern Times Square adjoining the concert and sports venue of Staples Center, historic Olvera Street, and crowded Broadway shops. Visitors usually think of Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica Beach, and Universal City Studios as all a part of “LA.” And truly they are a part of the Los Angeles experience, but they are individual communities.

Usually visitors and locals alike think of Pasadena, fifteen freeway minutes away from the heart of downtown LA, as a separate entity. And it is – it looks like an iconic, Craftsman-design small American town.

Full of history and beautiful green space, this northern suburban town is a special place and deserves a full-court visit even if you’re a SoCal local.

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

Norton Simon Art Museum, Pasadena

A good place to start is with the Norton Simon Art Museum, with a wonderful privately purchased, funded, and preserved art collection. With everything from Rodin sculptures to fabulous European paintings ranging from the contemporary to the Renaissance and a vast array of Asian art, the museum offers a wonderful display of art throughout its galleries and gardens. We love that the museum has so much outdoor space, and we also enjoy dining at the Garden Cafe located in the sculpture garden. It’s better than the usual museum fare, with salads and sandwiches crafted by the creators of LA’s eclectic Patina chain.

The museum itself rotates about a thousand exhibits from its extensive collection through a relatively small number of galleries, making it the perfect space for families of young children to explore. The staff is dedicated to putting on a variety of family programs too, including monthly Saturday Family Days with art-centric events such as kids art crafting workshops and tours of the permanent collection geared to children and parents. Several times a year, the museum also hosts family festivals, that include tours, a variety of craft workshops, musical performances and even cooking demos. What we like best: low key afternoon story times or small art project programs during the week, geared toward younger children.

There’s also an audio tour of the permanent collection geared to families, with humor and questions about the collection, reasonably priced. Most reasonable of all is a free family guide with questions and information about the permanent collection, which you can pick up upon arriving at the museum.

Gamble House in Central Pasadena

When you’ve seen enough art for the day, check out the historic Gamble House in Central Pasadena. Designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908, this beautiful home offers short, interesting tours four days a week. It’s a National Historic Landmark, and a wonderful outstanding example of the specialized American Arts and Crafts style architecture. The kids will love the look of the place and the large green lawn out back. We took a twenty-minute week day lunch time tour, which is just the right amount of time for small children to absorb information and see the fine glasswork and woodwork in the home.

Rose Bowl & Flea Market

If you’re in Pasadena on the second Sunday of each month, you can’t miss the enormous Rose Bowl flea market. From comic books to funky art, crafts fair style clothing booths, and bizarre rummage sale finds, the vastness of the offerings for sale will offer something for everyone, even if its something nobody ever thought they’d want, like a wooden lamp carved in the shape of a bird, or another eclectic used book. Plus, it will give you a chance to get a close up look at the beautiful Rose Bowl itself, without paying for a college football game or rock concert.

The world famous Rose Bowl

The world famous Rose Bowl

If you’re touring the area around New Year’s, you can watch some of the amazing Rose Bowl Floats being decorated right across from the stadium and on the stadium grounds. My kids loved the experience of seeing the floats being created right before their eyes, and being able to find out what various floats were made out of from flower petals to fruits and nuts and tiny seeds. There are food booths and usually some kind of live music to entertain the kids too. We found this a more relaxing experience than day-after-the parade or parade going itself when you have small children in tow. And watching the creative process itself is truly fascinating. We spend a great deal of time just watching one float, designed to look like a dove, take shape. The painstaking petal-placing is really enthralling to young children. They get to see how an idea becomes a reality – and that detailed work can be fun, too. We were allowed to hand some of the materials to float builders at several exhibition spaces, and that was a truly memorable experience.

Couple the visit with watching the Rose Parade live or on television, and yours kids will be delighted and able to explain just how those floats were made. And of course, be sure to get a photo in front of the iconic Rose Bowl rose logo on the stadium itself.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: , , Travel Excursions

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.