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In Love with Pasadena All Year Round

In Love with Pasadena All Year Round
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BY MARY JANE HORTON

I have a love/hate relationship with Pasadena, my home. I love it because it is small and quaint and pleasant, and it has everything a person needs within its borders. I love it because it has streets lined with purple Jacaranda trees, sometimes as far as the eye can see. I love it because it has the tradition of the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day and the Rose Bowl football game the next day. And I hate it because it has the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day and the football game the next day and the town gets boarded up – all the stores and restaurants. It is my town and sometimes I want all the tourists to leave and the ruckus to end.

But I know the tourists are part of the city that I mostly love. So, I will share Pasadena with you in the event that you come for the festivities, the parade and/or game, or any other time. (Pasadena is great any time of the year). There is a great deal to see and do within Pasadena as well as the many towns bordering it, such as La Canada, San Marino (which is actually part of Pasadena), Eagle Rock, and Monrovia to name just a few.

Nature, architecture and culture

Pasadena is a traditional sort of place and as such, offers such things as formal gardens and tea. The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens, www.huntington.org/, is worth a whole day’s visit. Railroad magnate Henry Edwards Huntington purchased this land – a citrus grove – in 1903. At that time it was 603 acres, now it is 207. Of those 150 are landscaped and open to the public. Gardens from all over the world are represented: Jungle, Subtropical and Australian Gardens, a formal Shakespeare Garden, a Rose Garden, a Zen Garden, Herb Garden, Desert Garden and more. The library holds well-known works of art such as Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt, and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie. The Tea Room (it’s a good idea to make reservations for tea, especially during the holidays) offers scones and little finger sandwiches, tea steeped in porcelain cups, and is adjacent to the rose garden – which makes you feel like you have been transported to Merry England.

For a techier take on Pasadena, take a stroll amid the buildings of California Institute of Technology – or Cal Tech, www.caltech.edu, as it is more fondly known. The campus is an eclectic collection of old and new buildings. One of the standout buildings, The Athenaeum, on Hill St, is modeled after the faculty clubs at Oxford and Cambridge universities in a style that recalls an Italian villa with an Andalusia flavor. It is the center of social activities for the teaching, research, and administrative staffs of Caltech. The Athenaeum was designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann and built in 1930, although its first formal dinner was delayed until 1931, when Albert Einstein arrived for a three-month visit to campus. On the other end of the spectrum, the brand new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology on California Ave., is impossible to miss. Whimsically wrapped in red-orange panels and looking like it is splitting apart in the middle, it is quite a striking addition to Pasadena where the architecture leans toward Craftsman.  And yet the Cahill Center’s architect, Thom Mayne, founder of the Santa Monica firm Morphosis, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times calling it a conventional building, one of the most conservative that he is done. The 100,000-square-foot building, on a prominent site on California Ave, is definitely one of the most public of the university’s buildings.

Surrounded by the stunning San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena has lots of nature to imbibe; there are hiking trails for all level of hikers north of the city. Eaton Canyon Natural Area, on Altadena Dr., a 190-acre zoological, botanical, and geological nature preserve situated at the base the mountains, is a place where many trails start off. In addition to hiking trails, there are equestrian trails with a staging area, picnic areas, seasonal stream, rocks and minerals, various natural habitats, native plants, and wildlife. To get a taste for the area’s fauna and flora, try a nature trail first, before heading higher into the mountains. The Fire Ecology Trail section and all the surrounding area burned in the brush fire of October 27, 1993, which swept through nearly 6,000 acres of the foothills, including approximately two-thirds of the Eaton Canyon Natural Area.  The slopes and flats in the park continue to recover from the fire, and the plants on this trail show several ways that plants regrow afterward. . The Nature Center will provide trail maps for this and many other trails. Plants on this trail plants include coffee berry, penstemon, scale-broom, sycamore, currant, coast live oak, yucca, mulefat, yerba santa, little-leaf redberry, cactus, poison oak, and matilija poppy.  You may also see various, birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, snakes and insects.

The Norton Simon Museum, a giant cultural institution in our small city, greats you with the stature of The Thinker outside (think the television show Dobie Gillis). Influential California industrialist Norton Simon was an avid collector and supporter of the arts, and, through his art foundations, he amassed an impressive collection or artworks ranging from 2000 year-old Asian sculptures to paintings by the Old Masters, Impressionists and early Modernists. The Museum is also home to masterpieces by post-war California artists assembled by the former Pasadena Art Museum. Artists on display include: Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso and many, many more. One of the highlights of the museum is the sculpture garden with an extensive collection of Henry Moore pieces.

The “halls” are decked

This is a town that lives for the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s all kinds of holiday decorations pop up in different places around town, making it a veritable wonderland. Old Town Pasadena, the main commercial area, is covered in snowflakes projected on buildings and there is a definite holiday atmosphere. This is the center for all kinds of shopping – on Colorado Ave., from Pasadena Ave. to Arroyo Parkway and surrounding streets, Holly and Union. The holidays bring a festive atmosphere (even without the snow).

People from all around drive up Allen Street to Glenview Terrace where the Balian House sits in all of its decorated glory. This 1922 Mediterranean Villa has been decorated to the hilt since 1995 with tens of thousands of colored lights and different holiday scenarios. There are even people outside selling snacks and glow lights.

Christmas Tree Lane, in Pasadena, on Santa Rosa Ave. between Woodbury Drive and Altadena Ave., gets the whole neighborhood into the spirit: trees on both sides of the street and above are decorated for an all-encompassing glow. And in nearby Montrose the shopping district is decorated and ready for its 4th-annual Old-Town holiday celebration, complete with horse-drawn trolley, pictures with Santa and strolls down the avenue with Mrs. Claus helping residents get in the spirit of the season. These holiday-themed events are held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning the day after Thanksgiving and culminating on Christmas Eve. Held on the 2400 block of Honolulu Avenue from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays throughout the season.

The Parade

The Rose Parade began at a Pasadena Valley Hunt Club meeting in 1890, when Professor Charles Holder suggested holding a festival to tell the world about California. That first year, two thousand people watched flower-covered carriages travel down Colorado Avenue. Today, a million people turn out every New Year’s Day to watch dozens of floats, bands and equestrian groups.

It’s an amazing spectacle – the parade and what comes before. Starting at 12 noon the day before the parade, there are people lining the streets of the parade route – Colorado Blvd. and Orange Grove Blvd.  Many sleep on the side of the road in sleeping bags; they cook dinner, drink hot chocolate and lots of beer. It is one big party with a rowdy crowd. If you want, you can join in – it is first come, first serve — or you can go to see the floats in the wee hours of the morning lining up on Orange Grove.  If you want to get a peak of the parade there are side streets all up and down the route and you can sometimes sneak into the end of the street and position yourself. The parade starts at 8 a.m., so it is probably best to start positioning around 6:30 to 7:00. And if you want to go the straight and narrow route, you can get a ticket for the Sharp Seating, www.sharpseating.com/.

Everybody, regardless of age, must have a ticket for the grandstands. Tickets cost as much as $30 less near the route’s end than at the beginning.

Restaurants

Pasadena has gotten to be a foodie haven lately. Here are a few of the standouts:

Gales, www.galesrestaurant.com/. Gale used to one of Disney’s favorite caterers and now, with her husband, Renee, runs of the best and busiest restaurants in town. The Northern Italian cuisine includes such favorites as Portobello Mushroom Ravioli with Cream Sauce, Mussels in White Wine, and Chicken Picatta, and don’t miss the delicious stuffed artichoke.

Sushi Roku, www.innovativedining.com/restaurants/sushiroku. Right in the middle of the action in Old Town, Sushi Roku combines the finest, freshest fish from around the globe for traditional sushi, together with a splash of California innovation. Sushi Roku is a pioneer of contemporary sushi, incorporating diverse, non-traditional ingredients from Latin America (e.g. jalapeños) and Europe (e.g. olive oil) into its edible works of art. Look for such dishes as Shrimp Wrapped Spicy Tuna, Filet Mignon Wrapped Asparagus, and Garden Roll with cucumber and asparagus.

AKA American Bistro http://akabistro.com/.  Also in Old Town, AKA offers the best of organic and sustainable foods in a modern and comfortable atmosphere with lots of dark wood and red highlights. One of the signature dishes is the Portobello Fries, but everything is great. Other highlights include: Crispy Duck Confit Salad and Pulled Doruc Duck Sandwich.

Hotels

In terms of hotels, the pickings in Pasadena and environs are pretty basic with one exception.  The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com/index.html,  (which is actually in San Marino and about 10 minutes from Pasadena proper), is an amazing property which was originally built in 1865 and sits on 23 lush acres with beautifully landscaped grounds.  It is opulent with marble and golden flourishes, yet cozy. You really feel like you are getting away from the stressful outside world when you are here. The Huntington Spa offers state of the art treatments in 12 treatment rooms and has just added the Chuan Spa, the first luxury spa in Los Angeles to offer treatments based on Chinese medicine.  The restaurant, the Royce, is world renowned with a new chef – David Féau who is doing such innovative dishes as Beet Sorbet with Caviar, Morel with Hen Egg, and Veal Belly with Plums.

The Westin Pasadena, www.starwoodhotels.com/westin/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1453, is on the outskirts of Old Town, and within walking distance of everything in town. It very decorated in hushed earth tones – very modern and comfortable. The hotel offers WestinWORKOUT® Fitness Studio and a heated outdoor pool with views of the city.

The Marriott Courtyard Pasadena is right in Old Town, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/laxot-courtyard-los-angeles-pasadena-old-town, so it is superbly located. The staff is friendly and welcoming and the hotel is sparkling clean, priced reasonably and offers free Wi Fi.

 

 

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Mary Jane Horton
Mary Jane Horton has been a writer/editor for 30 years. She has written
 for such magazines as Runner’s World, Fodor’s Guides, Time, Ms., Shape, Prevention, Living Fit, Woman’s Day special interest publications, to name a few, and worked as an editor for Fit Pregnancy magazine. Most recently she was editor in chief of Plum magazine, a health and lifestyle magazine for women over 35. She can be found at maryjanehorton.com.