Perfect Pasadena

From its architecture to its laid back attitude,  Pasadena - a genteel LA suburb - comes up smelling of roses says Kaye Holland

The clocks have gone back, it’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock. Now is the moment to hunker down and hibernate indoors, right? Wrong! Now is the time to take a trip to Pasadena – a suburb 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles – where even in winter, it’s still t-shirts by day and jumpers by night kind of weather.

Pasadena flies under the radar, in part because it’s shadowed by its bigger, bolder and better known neighbours – Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Silver Lake and Los Feliz - with their bright lights and big hotels. However for me it’s genteel Pasadena that packs a punch, being quieter and far less developed. Indeed if you were to close your eyes and dream of the perfect neighbourhood, chances are it looks a lot like Pasadena owing to its palm lined avenues, gardens, grand mansions, mountain views, quirky shops, excellent restaurants and yes, year-round warm climate.

Yet while Pasadena is renowned for its near perpetual blue skies, it’s also known for hosting huge sporting events. The big headline grabber this year was the Breeders’ Cup – the horse racing equivalent of the World Cup – which was I lucky enough to catch earlier this month, at the stunning Santa Anita Park. Perched picturesquely against a backdrop of blue skies, palm trees and sun glinting off the gorgeous San Gabriel mountains, Santa Anita makes for a breathtaking sight - and one that I immediately wanted to photograph and post on Facebook, to irritate those left at home. Even the most talented of set designers would be hard pressed to create more stunning scenery, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that Hollywood has coveted this historic racetrack for blockbusters such as Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire, the great Hitchcock film Notorious and the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races.

It’s a true thrill to watch the world’s top horses thunder around the track from the 1934 art deco grandstand, while screaming out the names of ‘your horses’ as they (hopefully) gallop to glory. And when you’ve had enough of horsing around, the people watching at Santa Anita is among the best. California has always been full of watchable people and the super chic crowd at the 2012 Breeders’ Cup (www.breederscup.com) didn’t disappoint with their mahogany flesh, manicured nails, fascinators and fedoras: you’re guaranteed something to gawp at in between races.

But Pasadena is by no means a one horse (sorry!) town. The event that has really put Pasadena on the map, earning it the epithet ‘City of Roses’, is the annual rose parade. This New Year’s Day event – which takes place before the famed Rose Bowl college football game, at the horse shoe shaped Rose Bowl Stadium – is the glue that binds the people of Pasadena. The parade (www.tournamentofroses.com) of motorised flower filled floats and marching bands takes 80,000 hours to put together, draws over 700,000 spectators and is watched on TV by a further 40 million Americans!

Iconic events aside, it’s the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (www.huntington.org) that tops the usual tourist agenda. The Huntington is home to three permanent art galleries displaying works by the likes of Blake and Van Dyck, a library lined with rare manuscripts and books – including a Gutenberg Bible – and inviting gardens. Indeed the 120 acres of themed gardens (the Japanese and Jungle gardens get my vote) are so special, that it’s easy not to venture too far from the grounds. But venture you must – to the Gamble House (www.gamblehouse.org), reconstructed in 1908 by the architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company. Hour long tours of this masterpiece of Californian craftsman architecture – Doc Brown’s home in the Back to the Future film -will set you back US$10.

The Norton Simon Museum of Art (www.nortonsimon.org) is another must visit. You could spend days here perusing the stellar collection of paintings and sculptures, but you could also just drop in and see Van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of a Peasant’ and Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’

There are many more museums and attractions to take in – the Pacific Asia Museum and Pasadena Museum of California Art to name a few – but Pasadena is not so much about sightseeing, as exploring. The most interesting district for visitors is Old Town Pasadena – an elegant corner bursting with bijoux boutiques all housed in historic Spanish colonial buildings, and easily negotiated on foot – but the Playhouse district and South Lake Avenue district also reward a visit.

And you will not go hungry, no matter which part of Pasadena you end up in. Indulgence is one of Pasadena’s USPs and eating out is what half the suburb seems to be doing at any given moment. But when you consider that Pasadena was the birthplace of culinary queen, Julia Child, it’s little wonder that Pasadena has become a place of gastronomic opportunity and extravagance: expect to see streets and squares packed with coffee shops, ice cream and cupcake stores, cafes and restaurants.

I enjoyed many memorable meals including breakfast at The Langham (the hotel of choice for the Breeders’ Cup jockeys), a long lunch at La Grande Orange (www.lgostationcafe.com) whose pretty patio is the perfect spot from which to salute the sun, while chowing down on gourmet tacos – and a rooftop dinner at Cafe Santorini (www.cafesantorini.com). Located in the heart of old town Pasadena, the latter is a family owned business whose prices won’t cause your palms to moisten and a great place to feast on Mediterranean fare and work out a way you can stay – you’ll want to once you meet the locals.

For the heart of Pasadena, is its people. The sweetness and charm – everyone smiles and says hello – of the locals, is one of the town’s great attractions. I was shown around by Janet, Melissa and Leanne from the Pasadena Convention Centre – three Pasadeneans so bright and cheery, they deserve their own chat show.

Rich in culture, stunning scenery, good food, world class sporting events and an enviable climate – Pasadena is ready to be rediscovered.

For more information and inspiration on what to do in Pasadena, visit www.visitpasadena
 

Dates for your diary
The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game takes place on 1 January 2013, while the 2013 Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita on Friday 1 November and Saturday 2 November 2013 marking the fourth time in six years that the California track has been chosen as the site for thoroughbred racing’s version of a world championship.