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11 Fun Things to Do in Pasadena
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11 Fun Things to Do in Pasadena

Ready to see the City of Roses yourself? These are all the fun things to do in Pasadena to add to your weekend itinerary.

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5 min read

October 25, 2021

Earl in the movie Rumor Has It says, “Nobody comes from Los Angeles. Everybody comes to Los Angeles. But if you do come from Los Angeles, then chances are you come from Pasadena.” And that often rings true. While Los Angeles County often seems to be on the brink of complete transformation, Pasadena is a city that feels historically preserved yet opulent with modern amenities. Gardens, galleries, football, theaters, and more Pasadena attractions provide you with plenty of options for vacation visits. Ready to see the City of Roses yourself? These are all the fun things to do in Pasadena to add to your itinerary.

11 Fun Things to Do in Pasadena

Old Town Pasadena began as the center of a research hub where research institutions such as Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory were founded.

1. Explore the Rich History of Old Town Pasadena

“Old Pas” is a must-add on any list of places to visit in Pasadena. Not only does it have 22 blocks on the National Register Historic District, but it’s also bound with impeccably restored late 19th and early 20th-century architecture. Eat at the restaurants along Colorado Boulevard, shop at the open-air plazas, and explore the hidden laneways—what’s not to love about Old Town Pasadena? 

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2. Tour the Norton Simon Museum

Renowned industrialist Norton Simon spent over three decades accumulating an incredible collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, as well as Indian and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Thanks to his efforts, Pasadena is home to the Norton Simon Museum, one of the most remarkable private art collections and a can’t-miss thing to see in Pasadena. 

You’ll also find modern and contemporary art from the U.S. and Europe on the grounds and view the coolest rotating exhibitions like Unseen Picasso on display through January 2022. 

The exterior of the Gamble House gained worldwide exposure as the home of Emmett "Doc" Brown in the 1985 movie Back to the Future.

3. Admire the Famous Gamble House

The Gamble House is an iconic home in Pasadena built during the height of the Craftsman-style architectural movement. Designed by the architectural firm Greene and Greene, the house is now known as a Pasadena attraction and National Historic Landmark.

The mission of the Gamble House is to inspire the public’s understanding and appreciation of architecture as fine art. Pay a visit, go on a tour, and awaken your inner architecture nerd—this is the best-preserved work of Arts and Crafts architects Charles and Henry Greene.

4. Stroll through the Fairytale Arlington Garden

Arlington Garden is a three-acre spot in Pasadena that looks like it’s plucked straight out of a fairytale. Serving as a refuge for Pasadena’s native flora and fauna, the beautiful garden hosts an abundance of birds, bees, and butterflies throughout the year. Discover the sculptures, go for a stroll with your date, plan a picnic, and enjoy a number of other fun Pasadena activities at the park—you won’t want to leave. 

The Pasadena Playhouse is a historic performing arts venue that produces a variety of cultural and artistic events and professional shows.

5. Spend an Artsy Afternoon at the Playhouse Village

Playhouse Village is known as Pasadena’s artsy corner. Home to a bunch of cool museums, galleries, restaurants, and independent shops, this spot is one of the coolest places to visit in Pasadena. Reserve in advance to watch a show at the historic Pasadena Playhouse and don’t forget to drop by Vroman’s Bookstore, which is Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore.

Eaton Canyon is a natural area and wildlife preserve dedicated to the protection of the beautiful natural resource.

6. Go on a Hike at Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Does hiking to a pretty waterfall sound like a fun thing to do in Pasadena? Head to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, hike the trail of the same name, and you’ll find yourself facing the Eaton Canyon Falls after tackling a quick 4.5-mile path. When hiking, keep an eye out for the smaller waterfalls hidden along the way—the Instagram-worthy photo ops are plenty! 

The Pasadena City Hall, Pasadena Central Library, and Pasadena Civic Auditorium serve as the centerpieces of the district.

7. Take a Self Guided Tour of the Pasadena Civic Center District

The Pasadena Civic Center District is a vibrant place adorned with Beaux-Arts and Mediterranean Revival buildings. The area is home to an abundance of Pasadena attractions and has set the stage for many films and television shows. So, if it all feels like a big movie set to you, you’re not too far off from the truth.

The City Hall and the Civic Auditorium are must-see places to visit in Pasadena, serving as centerpieces of the district. There are also many delicious eateries to check out in this district, as well as a variety of cool shops, from name-brand boutiques to family-owned antique shops.

8. Shop Along South Lake Avenue

Those who don’t take shopping lightly will feel right at home at the hip South Lake Avenue district. While there are lots of fun things to do in this Pasadena neighborhood, the boutiques, restaurants, and purveyors of beauty, health, and wellness steal the spotlight. You’ll find major chain stores, mom-and-pop shops, cutting-edge salons, fitness studios, and spas here—everything satisfies your self-care needs. Girls’ day in Pasadena, anyone?

In 2019, The Huntington kicked off a year-long celebration of its centennial year with exhibitions and a float in the 2020 Rose Parade in Pasadena.

9. Check out the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

While the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens technically lie on the border of San Marino, they’re always present on every list of fun things to do in Pasadena. Explore the meandering paths lined with lush greenery and flowers that connect the gardens, research library, and art exhibits. 

Care for a more organized Pasadena activity? The organization hosts painting classes, lectures, and other special events regularly. Visit on the first Thursday of every month and you’ll roam the 120 acres for free. 

10. Attend a Game at the Rose Bowl Stadium

You don’t have to be a college football fanatic to find a reason to visit the Rose Bowl Stadium. Besides thrilling matches and games, the iconic Pasadena attraction also hosts concerts, religious services, and even the world's largest flea market—did we mention that the AmericaFest Fourth of July Celebration is also held here? Even if you’re not attending anything, you can sign up for a guided tour of the stadium and cross it off your list of things to see in Pasadena.

Since 1890, the Tournament of Roses has brought traditions of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game to Pasadena.

11. Check out the Pasadena Tournament of Roses

Last but not least, there’s one fun thing to do in Pasadena that’s only available seasonally. Taking place every year since 1890, the Tournament of Roses has produced one of the nation’s greatest New Year Celebrations, bringing the traditions of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game to Pasadena. If you ever happen to be in the area around New Year, make sure to drop in—this is a fun thing to do in Pasadena you won’t want to miss.

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