9 Pasadena Weekend Activities You Can’t Miss
If you’re looking for all the big city bustle of L.A. without skipping out on small town charm, it’s likely you’ve already taken a look at Pasadena—and it’s almost certain that you’ve found plenty to love about the San Gabriel Valley town.
You’ve probably heard of Pasadena’s annual Rose Parade (and football fans undoubtedly covet tickets to the Rose Bowl Game). But the city boasts landmarks beyond its trademark stadium, from the oldest bookstore in Southern California to one of the best flea markets in the country. You don’t have to be a local to find some of Pasadena’s favorite ways to unwind on the weekend, either. The city offers dining and doing by way of its pedestrian-friendly downtown district, nearby hikes and nature walks, and even a few events from CalTech. If you’re planning a visit—or a move—to Pasadena, here’s my picks for Pasadena’s best.
1. Watch the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game
What’s the first thing you’ll want to do once you’ve moved to Pasadena (besides unpack)? If you’ve moved just before New Year’s Day, then you’re just in time for the annual Rose Parade, as well as the much-vaunted Rose Bowl Game. Sure, locals might mostly avoid the frenzy—but it’s worth going once to experience all the rosy glory. If you’ve only got time for the game, you can view the floats for three days after the parade along Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevard (a treasured locals-only secret). You can even volunteer to help make the floats, if you’re looking for ultimate-insider access.
2. Visit Vroman’s Bookstore
This 120-plus-year-old bookstore is a mainstay of Pasadena, and proof positive of the fact that Pasadena is chock full of book lovers. It helps, too, that Vroman’s is also one of the largest bookstores — even more reason to catch a
reading, or buy a couple (or more) books on a sleepy Saturday afternoon.
3. Take a Tour
Of what, you might ask? Well, there are several options. Tour CalTech, one of the nation’s top universities (and home to 34 Nobel Prize winners to boot), tour Doc Brown's House from popular ‘80s flick Back to the Future, take a stroll through the Los Angeles County Arboretum, go on a tour of Pasadena’s top restaurants, or make a little interesting and tour the cities numerous historic homes and districts.
4. Go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market—and go to the “Secret” Flea Market
Every month, the Rose Bowl Stadium hosts one of the biggest flea markets in SoCal. It’s well worth your time to stroll the stalls, and maybe even come back with a new pair of vintage jeans, or an antique dresser. But if you feel like you’ve seen it all, head over to Pasadena City College market for the super-secret and highly coveted finds. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to go to both, either
5. Stroll Through Old Pasadena
The pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping and dining destination includes everything from the Norton Simon Museum, an acclaimed art museum, to Castle Green, a turn-of-the-century hotel that’s been revamped into an equally gorgeous residential building (and frequent filming location). There’s plenty more in the way of wining and dining, too—our advice is to take a day and just walk around. Just make sure you plan to stop for a little nosh, and maybe a drink or two.
6. Take a Hike in the San Gabriel Mountains
Without a doubt, one of the big perks of living in Pasadena is what’s just in your backyard—the San Gabriel Mountains. Hiking and nature trails crisscross the mountains, providing scenic views, challenging running trails and climbs, waterfalls and swimming holes. If you head out to Echo Mountain, you can even explore some ruins. There’s plenty of outdoor activities in Pasadena year round, so you’ll always have an excuse to get some fresh air.
7. Eat Hearty at Pie ‘n Burger
If you’ve been determined to try a top-5 cheeseburger, now’s your chance. The Pasadena institution of Pie ‘n Burger has been open since 1963, but they’ve gone up in reputation in recent years due to national attention from the Food Network (among others). And their burger is worth the hype. Juicy, flavorful patties, soft bread and buns, crunchy pickles and top-notch milkshakes are what they’ve had since 1963, and it’s what they’ll serve you today. Oh, and don’t forget a slice of pie.
8. Explore NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab
You know that Pasadena’s home to the lauded CalTech. But it’s also home to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, the place where the rubber hits the road (or, rather, where the ships meet the stars). Grab a spot on one of their public tours, or head over for one of their monthly lectures to check out what NASA scientists are working on these days.
9. Look Out for Wild Parrots!
Those green birds fluttering around aren’t your imagination. They’re Pasadena’s wild parrot population. Though they have a somewhat mysterious origin story—most say that they probably came from local household pets—they’re unquestionably Pasadena’s pride. Every now and again you might even hear one mimicking your voice.