Day Trip in Pasadena: An Essential Guide

Restaurants and stores in Pasadena, California. The buildings have many details and design elements.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Pasadena is never top-of-the-list for any California tourists. When most people visit L.A., they head straight for Santa Monica, Venice, or *shudder* Hollywood. On my few visits to L.A. before moving here a few years ago, I never even thought to visit Pasadena. 

It wasn’t until I was living out here when I got an internship that brought me to the city twice a week for a few months. Despite how boring that internship was, I always looked forward to my days in Pasadena. I’d always take an hour break for lunch so I could just walk around, explore different restaurants, and take in the city. Although I don’t get to visit quite as often nowadays, whenever I go, I can’t help but think how much I’d love to live there — if only it were a bit closer to the beach. Well, we can’t have it all, I guess. 

With that said, if you’re visiting Los Angeles, and you love beautiful Spanish style architecture, a walkable area, delicious food, and lots of shopping, then take a day trip to Pasadena. And when you do, here are all the best things to do — with lots of restaurant recommendations, too. (It was hard to narrow down — sorry in advance.)

Disclosure: Some of the included links may be affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I trust and have used. Thanks for your support!

Old Pasadena

What to Do in Pasadena

These are all my best Pasadena recommendations, and are too many to pack into just one day, so pick and choose what works best for your interests and schedule.

First things first, walking around Old Pasadena is a requirement. The architecture is so beautiful, and this whole area is filled with shops, restaurants, bars and cafes to explore.

While here, visit Pasadena City Hall. This is a gorgeous building to walk around and take photos of. The last couple times I visited, there were literally photo shoots happening everywhere you looked haha.

For art lovers, stop by the Armory Center for the Arts. It’s somewhat of a blend between a museum and an arts education space, and it hosts contemporary art exhibits. It’s pretty small, but it’s also free! (145 North Raymond Ave.)

The Norton Simon Museum is another great option. It’s $20 (or free if you have a Student ID, are a senior, or are under the age of 18), but it’s free every first Friday of the month. It’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and mostly features European art from the 14th to 19th centuries. (411 W Colorado Blvd.)

If you’re interested in architecture, you may want to visit the Gamble House. This historic home is still on my list of things to do, so I can’t speak for it, but tickets are $15, and it’s closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s one mile away from Old Pasadena. (4 Westmoreland Place)

Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade is a small shopping corridor that’s not unlike streets in London (or what I imagine they look like, since I haven’t actually been to London haha). I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a larger area, to be honest, but it was still really cute and a great place to grab a coffee. But, I maybe wouldn’t go too out of my way to come here if you’re short on time. (380 S Lake Ave.)

Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Southern California (if you ask me.) Tickets are $30, and reservations ahead of time are required Fridays through Sundays. This place is giant — 130 acres to be exact, only counting the part that’s open to visitors — so you can definitely spend a few hours here. It’s around three miles, or 10 minutes driving, from Old Pasadena. (1151 Oxford Road, San Marino)

If you’re looking for some nature, but without the price tag, here are a couple free options for your Pasadena day trip:

The garden at Wrigley Mansion is free to visit, and worth a quick stop. There’s a beautiful rose garden that’s relatively small, but still nice to check out. Just a heads up, the mansion here is only open during events. It’s the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses, an annual parade that happens in Pasadena. It’s about a mile away from Old Pasadena. (391 S Orange Grove Blvd.)

Arlington Garden is another free garden in Pasadena. It’s around three acres, and is considered “climate-wise.” (275 Arlington Drive)

Where to Shop in Pasadena

While you can find tons of your classic stores here, like Sephora, Free People, and so on and so forth, Pasadena is full of unique shops and hidden gems, making it the perfect place to do some shopping.

While you’re here, definitely don’t miss the Pasadena Antique Mall. This extensive shop has literally any type of item you can imagine. It’s been around for over 30 years, and it’s full of hidden treasures. (309 E Green St.)

Old Pasadena

Another gem is Vroman’s Bookstore. I love a good bookstore, and you can definitely spend ages here exploring its giant collection. (695 E. Colorado Blvd.) 

If used books are more your thing (they’re mine too), check out Book Alley. (1252 East Colorado Blvd.)

Homage is a great place to check out for everything ranging from jewelry, to accessories, to home decor, and more. (100 N. Fair Oaks Ave.)

For unique jewelry and funky art and home decor, head to Gold Bug. (38 E Holly St.)

Old Pasadena

Where to Eat in Pasadena

There are over 100 restaurants in Old Pasadena alone, so luckily, you’ve got plenty of options depending on what you’re craving and your budget! 

Here are some places I’ve tried and loved:

Maybe it’s just because I’m from New Jersey, but I’m always craving cozy diner food, and Russell’s definitely fits the bill for me. I would eat here all the time when I was frequently in Pasadena. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch, and close at 2 p.m. daily. (30 N Fair Oaks Ave.)

El Toreo Cafe is a cute Mexican spot that’s been around for decades. It has a great ambiance, delicious food, and an affordable price point. (21 S Fair Oaks Ave.)

Sage Regenerative Kitchen is a pricier option, but one of my favorites. They used to be totally vegan but just redid their menu to include meat, dairy, and eggs, and I haven’t been since then. But of its previous menu, I loved absolutely everything. (41 Hugus Aly)

Urth Caffe is a trendy chain with healthy and delicious sandwiches, salads, bakery items, and more. (594 E Colorado Blvd.)

Crepes De Paris is another spot I used to frequent a lot during my intern days thanks to its affordability. They of course serve a variety of sweet and savory crepes, but they also have a number of sandwiches, salads, and omelettes. (84 S Fair Oaks Ave.)

There are also lots of other food options about a mile away from Old Town Pasadena on Lake Avenue. I love Urban Plates when I’m looking for a casual but healthy meal. If you’re not familiar, it’s a mostly Southern California-based chain with lots of sandwiches, salads, and bowls where you can essentially pick your protein and sides. (269 South Lake Ave.)

If you’re looking for a fancier meal, Nick’s Pasadena is also around here. I haven’t been to the Pasadena location, but I’ve been to the Long Beach and Laguna Beach ones (there are seven total), and the menus are fairly similar. (336 S Lake Ave.)

Where to Stay in Pasadena

Looking to make your Pasadena day trip, well, longer than a day? It’s true that Pasadena is a fairly boujie area, but the good news is, there are some hotel options that aren’t egregiously expensive.

Here are a couple highly rated places that won’t break the bank:

Pasadena Rose & Crown Hotel includes breakfast, an outdoor pool, free parking (!), and is in a great location, with lots within walking distance. Find out more here.

Saga Motor Hotel Pasadena has more of a vintage feel, but also includes breakfast, a pool, and parking. It’s also in close proximity to lots of sightseeing. Check it out here.

If you plan on visiting more of L.A., you may want to check out my budget hotel and neighborhood guide for more places to stay!

Pasadena

Well, there you have it! Pasadena is a city full of history and charm, and hopefully you love it as much as I do. What else do you want to know about visiting Pasadena? Or if there are any restaurants or things to do that I missed, please let me know — I’m always looking for an excuse to take my own day trip to Pasadena. 

Xoxo, Tess

P.S. Looking for other California cities perfect for a day or weekend trip? Check out my Solvang weekend guide, my Santa Barbara guide, my 3 days in Long Beach itinerary, or this Little Tokyo day trip guide.

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8 Comments

  1. June 6, 2024 / 10:41 pm

    Thanks for the tips on exploring Old Pasadena and checking out the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens – must revisit on my next trip to the area!

    • Tess
      Author
      June 7, 2024 / 7:18 pm

      thanks for reading, Susye!

  2. June 7, 2024 / 8:43 am

    I can confirm that Burlington Arcade looks very similar to places you’d find in the UK! All these places look great x

    • Tess
      Author
      June 7, 2024 / 7:18 pm

      haha I’m happy to hear that!!

  3. Sara Meyer
    June 7, 2024 / 12:53 pm

    I’ heard it’s beautiful here. This guide is super helpful.

    • Tess
      Author
      June 7, 2024 / 7:18 pm

      thanks Sara!

  4. Marilyn
    June 8, 2024 / 12:48 pm

    I have visited California, but never Pasadena. Will have to check out some of these places next time I’m there. It looks great!

    • Tess
      Author
      June 8, 2024 / 4:56 pm

      I’m sure you’d love it!

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