Like many destinations in Southern California, Pasadena boasts some eccentricities, but the delights of its Old Town Historic District entertain and amuse visitors.
Old Town comes alive after dark with its fine-dining establishments and assortment of shops along Colorado Boulevard. That’s the same Colorado Boulevard that the Little Old Lady terrorized in the eponymous Beach Boys song.
Most people know Pasadena courtesy of the Tournament of Roses Parade, held annually on New Year’s Day. The tradition began in 1890 to draw attention to the city filled with roses – even on chilly Jan. 1.
But there’s more to the city than just roses.
What to do
• Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. – the end of the main drag, has sold books since original proprietor Adam Vroman opened his doors in 1894. Vroman, who hailed from LaSalle, Ill., also sold photographic supplies. His passion for photography and his shots of the Wild West and Native Americans influenced Ansel Adams’ work.
The store carries an extensive selection of fine-writing tools and stationery as well.
If you visit, stock up on magazines you won’t find elsewhere. I spent $90 on everything from French Vogue to British photography publications.
• The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road in nearby San Marino, are worth at least a day trip. Founded by Henry E. Huntington and his wife, Arabella, the grounds became a nonprofit institution in 1919.
Huntington’s backstory included an apprenticeship under his uncle in the Southern Pacific railroad business. He had four children with his first wife, and then, at the age of 60, he married his uncle’s widow, Arabella, a wealthy woman who loved collecting art. Together, they grew the collection visitors see today.
The library is currently closed for remodeling, but there’s so much else to see that you won’t miss it much. For future reference, though, the library’s rare-book collection includes a Gutenberg Bible and early editions of Shakespeare’s works. Scholars from around the world visit to do research.
The surrounding 207-acre gardens are divided into 12 themes: Children’s, Australian, Camellia, Japanese, Shakespeare, Chinese, Subtropical, Desert, Rose, Herb, Palm and Lily Pond. There’s also a conservatory with orchids and jungle flowers.
Despite the hot day, we toured the Desert gardens, full of cacti from several different lands, and the humid conservatory of flowers. An exhibit of orchids mesmerized us. The Children’s Garden, with its sparkly cacti dotting the fences and arching gates, delighted youngsters going in and out.
We also entered the museum to browse the Huntington’s art collection, which includes Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy,” Mary Cassatt’s “Breakfast in Bed” and Frederic Remington’s bronze sculpture “Bronco Buster.”
Summer hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays. Admission is $20-$23 adults, $15-$18 seniors, $12-$13 students, $8 youth and free for children under 5. Parking is free.
For more information, visit www.huntington.org.
Where to stay
Check into the Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town Marriott, 180 N. Fair Oaks Ave., downtown for a family-friendly stay. Valet parking is expensive at $22 daily, but street parking is tough to find. Rooms are comfortable – ours had a king bed and sofa, a refrigerator to store snacks, plenty of drawer and closet space and a large bathroom. Outdoor amenities include a pool and whirlpool.
Rates start at $179 for a king, not including breakfast. Groupon offers discounts.
For reservations, call (888) 236-2427.
Where to eat
• For a hearty first meal of the day, I recommend the Zagat-rated Russell’s cafe, 30 N. Fair Oaks Ave. Just take a left turn after exiting the front door of the Marriott and walk two blocks or so.
The decor is rich, with heavy crystal chandeliers and Modigliani and Van Gogh prints on the walls.
I tried the cheese omelet and my companion had corned-beef hash. Portions were large and not greasy. It’s definitely a good breakfast stop, with moderate prices.
• We enjoyed a late dinner at Louise’s Trattoria, 2 E. Colorado Blvd., serving traditional handmade Italian fare.
• We followed dinner with a nightcap at The Melting Pot fondue restaurant and bar, 88 W. Colorado Blvd. The Melting Pot serves fondue on electric plates built into the bar, or you can eat at a booth. Dessert fondues start at $7.95.
For more information, visit oldpasadena.org.