A Weekend in Pasadena

City to the South Offers Fun, Film, and Food

Cocktails at the Corner

Marianne Kuga

Cocktails at the Corner

It’s only 10 miles as the crow flies from downtown Los Angeles, but Pasadena has a feel all its own. With sprawling lawns, eclectic architecture, and a vibrant Old Town, the city offers an oasis from the congestion of its neighboring metropolis.

My traveling companion and I took the train from Santa Barbara rather than deal with the ever-present Southland traffic. After a leisurely three-hour journey, we arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles, the closest train stop to Pasadena. A 20-minute Uber ride got us to the Hilton on North Los Robles Avenue. Our room had a California contemporary feel with clean lines, neutral hues, and wood accents. We settled in, and then went to the on-site bar and restaurant, the Corner, for happy hour.

Refreshed and relaxed, we headed to dinner at the Parkway Grill. Opened in 1984, the Parkway is a popular upscale restaurant with brick walls and high-beam ceilings that blend together to create a rustic-elegant interior. The menu is reflective of the American cuisine movement, which mixes traditional American cooking techniques with European, Latin American, and Mediterranean elements. We ordered melt-in-your-mouth pan-seared crab cakes with lemon remoulade, avocado salad with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, and short ribs with creamy polenta, green harissa, and braising juices. While their signature black-bean soup tasted bland and underwhelming, the highlights of the meal were the rich, delicious scalloped potatoes with garlic and Gruyère cheese, and the Meyer lemon custard atop a shortbread cookie with homemade ice cream, raspberries, and raspberry puree.

Back at our hotel, we lolled on our beds, rubbing our overly stuffed bellies.

The next day, we learned more about Pasadena’s large role in the film and TV industry, based in nearby Hollywood. Two representatives from My Valley Pass picked us up for a driving tour. It turns out that Pasadena, which was incorporated in 1886, boasts cameos in innumerable films, including Legally Blonde, Pulp Fiction, The Sting, Father of the Bride, and Spinal Tap, to name a few.

Architecturally, Pasadena is a hodgepodge of styles from Craftsman to Victorian to Spanish Revival, which makes it a good go-to for finding filming locales that represent a range of cities and eras. For example, Pasadena City Hall, which was built in 1927, has starred in numerous films and TV shows, including Beverly Hills Cop II, The Net, Parks and Recreation, and The Big Bang Theory. Another recognizable domicile icon is the 1908 Gamble House, which served as Doc Brown’s abode in the Back to the Future trilogy. A My Valley Pass tour is a must for film and TV fans.

At the tour’s end, we walked around Old Town, browsing in one-off shops and boutique chains alike. Smith Alley, which was used in The Sting, now boasts shops and restaurants strung together by a walking path. Sugarfina candy store was particularly memorable for its treat samples and its clean, modern interior.

That evening brought a fantastic treat — a trip to Pasadena’s legendary Rose Bowl for an Ed Sheeran concert. The 96-year-old historic landmark is a testament to the large scale of Southern California things — the stadium can hold nearly 100,000 people. What it lacks in intimacy, however, it makes up for in grandeur and audience volume. It was impossible not to get swept up in the excitement and glory of sharing a visceral music experience with tens of thousands of people — truly an epic concertgoing experience.

For Sunday breakfast, we dined at the Raymond 1886, enchantingly housed in what was once the caretaker’s cottage for the Raymond Hotel, a 300-room grandiose structure originally built in 1886. The hotel went belly-up during the Great Depression, but the cottage has thrived as a popular eatery imbued with a historic atmosphere. The menu is innovative and delicious, and the patio is tree-ringed and peppered with fountains, an oasis from the thrum of the nearby streets.

Sated and satisfied, we returned to the Hilton, collected our things, and took an Uber to the station to catch our train home. It had been a lovely weekend — relaxing, fun, and explorative. And we only scratched the surface of what Pasadena has to offer.

For help planning your weekend getaway and information on the upcoming Tournament of Roses parade, visit visitpasadena.com.