Don’t Pass Up Pasadena!

Pasadena City Hall Building

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been to Los Angeles. My best friend, as well as some family members, lives there and so I’ve probably visited 20 times. But in all those visits, no one has ever suggested a visit to Pasadena. Big mistake!

I recently spent four fun filled days exploring Pasadena, which is only nine miles north of downtown L.A. – though at peak times of the day, that nine miles can feel like 90 with L.A.’s traffic congestion. Pasadena originated as a warm weather haven for wealthy Midwesterners who wanted to escape harsh winters. Families such as the Gamble’s (as in Proctor & Gamble) and the Wrigley’s built mansions that were large and impressive, albeit less splashy than those of the movie moguls and film stars building theirs in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Pasadena can boast of architecture so unique that 10 percent of its area is historically designated to preserve its beauty and importance.

Pasadena also seems to have a lot of the culture that Los Angeles lacks…and I’m not talking Rose Bowl here! There are many theatres for live performances of symphonies, jazz, ballet, plays, concerts, etc. Also, interesting to note, there are more museums in Pasadena – more really fine museums – than in Los Angeles.

Chinese Garden at the Huntington

One of two favorites on my “don’t miss” list are the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. This magnificent property of 120 acres was built by railroad baron Henry Huntington in 1919, and today is constantly being updated and renovated. Some of the library’s most famous treasures include the paintings “Blue Boy” by Gainsborough and the enchanting “Pinkie” by Lawrence. History lovers can view the original Gutenberg Bible, as well as the original manuscript of “Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” There are art galleries with constantly changing exhibitions as well as centers for science and botany. Wander around outside and visit the new Garden of Flowing Fragrance, an authentic Chinese garden, as well as the Palm Garden, Desert Garden, Japanese Garden, Australian Garden, Shakespeare Garden and Rose Garden.

Photo courtesy of Pasadena convention and visitors bureau

The other favorite is the Norton Simon Museum of Art which is home to an incredible collection of art that spans from the Renaissance to today and has works by masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Goya. The museum also owns an incredible collection of Asian art from all parts of Asia – India, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. and devotes the entire downstairs to the collection. And don’t miss wandering around the beautifully landscaped garden which was inspired by Monet’s Giverny.

Photos courtesy of Langham Hotel and Resort

Okay, enough culture…a girls gotta sleep and eat, and this girl’s gotta to do it in style! I’m not one of those “Oh, I just need a roof over my head” types. Give me a large and gorgeous room with a breathtaking view, high thread count sheets, a spacious bathroom, and great service. And put me near the Club Lounge so I can indulge in a fancy snack should I get the urge to leave my comfy lair. So in Pasadena, that means give me the Langham Hotel and Spa!

Built in 1906, this elegant hotel and resort is situated on more than 20 beautiful acres and is the only AAA Five Diamond hotel in the area. Because the original structure was not earthquake proof, the hotel was torn down and rebuilt about 20 years ago. However, other than now being a solid earthquake proof structure, the hotel today looks as it did when it first opened, that is, elegant and beautiful, with a focus on service, but not stuffy. I loved getting to know the personnel here such as Adina and Susan in the Club Lounge who tempt the weak willed with gourmet goodies, and Brian the “service stylist” who presides over the lobby and welcomes guests as if they’re royalty coming back to the castle – mea culpa, that’s a little over the top – but it sure was nice to be greeted by name and enjoy some friendly chats. The guest rooms in the main building are beautiful and spacious, and many have balcony’s overlooking the horseshoe garden. There are private guest cottages as well as ground level rooms with French doors opening onto the garden. The two story “Tournament of Roses” suite is for those with big budgets, and perfect for the not at all desperate Marcia Cross who spent her honeymoon night there after her lavish wedding in the hotel’s very grand ballroom. There are magnificent floral arrangements throughout, a great spa, and the outside grounds boast a Japanese garden, a charming covered bridge with many original hand painted panels, ponds, fountains, a pool, tennis courts and available bicycles.

Photos courtesy of the Langham Hotel

For dining, the hotel has indoor and outdoor restaurants, an elegant bar that makes you feel as if you’re in a movie set and serves top shelf classics as well as your favorite trendy drink. Traditional afternoon tea served on precious delicate china with the most perfect scones is a hotel signature. But the jewel in the crown is their Michelin Star restaurant, the Langham Huntington Dining Room. Chef Craig Strong creates modern American dishes that will delight both your eyes as well as your taste buds. The squash blossom tempura and Muscovy duck breast certainly delighted mine! The wine pairings add even more enjoyment to a special evening.

Photo courtesy of Pasadena convention and visitors bureau

Unlike L.A., Pasadena is quite pedestrian friendly and as a New Yorker I appreciate that. I love wandering the original sections of cities and Old Town Pasadena is on the National Register of Historic Districts. It offers some beautiful architecture, along with cool restaurants and cute boutiques. Sadly, the boutiques are becoming harder to find on the main streets as the cookie-cutter chain stores take over large chunks of retail real estate and the small village-y charm erodes away. But if you wander the alleyways and side streets, you can avoid the mall stores and find some shops with personality and unique merchandise.

I love restaurants that take up residence in old buildings and Mediterranean style Café Santorini resides in a historic red brick building and has both indoor and outdoor dining. Even though it was a chilly evening, my dining pals and I were able to dine at the upstairs outdoor patio thanks to space heaters that kept us warm as toast. Even toastier was the delicious pita bread served with the all the apps. We noshed on babaghanoush, scoffed up fresh shrimp, gorged on grilled haloumi and munched on mozzarella caprese, all accompanied with a bold red wine while we perused the menu for our main courses. (you didn’t think we were done now, did you?) Café Santorini specializes in grilling to perfection and all the choices were tempting. I chose seared tuna, while my dining companions chose various styles of grilled fish, beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes. Someone at the far end of our table had a mushroom risotto she wasn’t sharing, so I gather by her hoarding that it was quite yummy. I can’t even remember the desserts other than to say we were in a state of bliss by the time we left, so I’m sure there was some baklava involved.

A visit or two, or three to Pasadena is a “don’t miss”. I’ll be back!

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