If you only have one day in Pasadena – fear not! Exploring this beautiful and historic southern California destination can be done in a single day if you plan ahead. Of course, I can’t promise you won’t be exhausted when it’s all said and done but rest assured that you will have loved spending time here and will want to come back as soon as possible!
1. Start Your Day with Breakfast and a Walk Around Old Pasadena
Depending on where you’re coming from around southern California you’ll probably want to leave early to deal with or even beat some of the crazy morning traffic. Your motivation for the early alarm clock and the prize for not hitting “snooze” can be the treat of a delicious breakfast or early lunch in Old Pasadena.
There are lots of cool shops and places to eat – all walkable from one of the area’s parking garages or street meters. I took a total chance on a restaurant called Russell’s and it turned out to be amazing! It’s a wonderful old-school establishment with beautiful artwork on the walls and a large menu of comforting favorites. Breakfast options were abundant but couldn’t resist ordering a ravioli dish that turned out to really hit the spot on a rare cool and rainy morning in southern California.
2. Tour The Historic Gamble House
If you remember the movie Back To The Future, “Doc’ Emmett Brown lived in a large home where he tinkered with gadgets and experiments. His garage was where the iconic DeLorean time machine was stored. The home he lived in is called the 1908 Gamble House. (Curiously, this fun fact was never mentioned on the tour.) The garage is now a welcome center and book store.
The property was once owned by the Gamble family (think Proctor & Gamble) for winter getaways from their home base in Ohio. Pasadena was a getaway for high rollers that wanted constant sunshine in the early 1900s. The interior has been kept in place and the furnishings mostly original. Guided one hour tours are available where you’ll pop into most rooms of the home and be amazed at the early architecture and history.
3. Stop By The Wrigley Mansion
Only about five minutes from The Gamble House is a mansion once owned by chewing gum genius and businessman, William Wrigley. Upon the death of his wife who lived there until 1958, the home was donated to the city of Pasadena. The catch was that Pasadena had to use the home as a headquarters for the Tournament of Roses.
There are free tours of the mansion every Thursday (April-August) at 2:00pm. However, it should be noted that while the property itself remains beautiful, the interior has been almost completely renovated into meeting and office space. The public tour includes a rather lengthly lecture and video presentation before the tour actually begins.
My suggestion would be to skip the tour but still take a few minutes to admire the front of the mansion which is absolutely beautiful. There is street parking or a lot behind the building.
4. Spend Some Time at the Rose Bowl
Okay so this one is pretty cool. In the world of sports, the Rose Bowl is one of the most iconic venues of all time. I’ve actually heard it referred to as the “gem of Pasadena”.
The stadium has been open for over 100 years and has the distinct honor of hosting five Super Bowls – the most of any venue ever. It’s the home of the annual Rose Bowl football game – the longest running bowl game in history. It’s also one of the largest sports venues in the world seating over 90,000 fans.
Guided tours of the stadium are available on the last Friday of every month at 10:30 and 12:30. You’ll be able to visit the original locker room; get up close to the field; and have a chance to walk through this National Historic Landmark. (And chances are it will be sunny on the day you visit! Unlike the rainy morning I visited. It was still awesome though!)
5. Stroll Around The Grounds of the Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens
I’ve been lucky enough to visit dozens of botanical gardens around the U.S. and this one ranks near the top of the list! There are 16 gardens spread out across 130 acres and each one spectacularly displays a portion of the 83,000 living plants on site. Among the many garden themes: desert, Chinese, jungle, subtropical, and California.
Even on a busy day it’s large enough to find some peace and quiet among the gorgeous plants and flowers. All of the trails are easy to navigate though you’ll still want a map. You could easily spend an entire day here. It’s quite remarkable.
If you’re able to squeeze in more than this in a single day – you have my complete respect and admiration! Visit Pasadena has an entire website full of other fun things to do if you’re going to be in the area.