Pasadena is a historical enclave of culture, education, and athletics; a beautiful city filled with the riches of generations past and present. Visitors enjoy sweeping mountain vistas, priceless art collections, and treasure Craftsman architecture, not to mention world-class education, research, and sports facilities. But here are some off-the-beaten-path Pasadena attractions that might be easy to overlook in a city with so much to offer.
Armory Center for the Arts
Bustling Old Pasadena is home to numerous local treasures, not least of all the Armory Center for the Arts. Founded in 1989 in a former National Guard armory, this interactive learning center and gallery offers innovative approaches to creating, exploring , and presenting visual arts to visitors of all ages. The Armory is a leader in thought-provoking contemporary art exhibitions. It’s also known for comprehensive community-based art education, including studio art classes and educational outreach programs.
Boston Court Performing Arts Center
Located in the Pasadena Playhouse District, the intimate Boston Court Performing Arts Center is a unique, artist-driven performing arts center dedicated to showcasing edgy, challenging, and never-before-seen theatre. Opened in 2003 as a passion project of Pasadena philanthropist Z. Clark Branson, the non-profit Boston Court is a wonderful place to witness vibrant plays, musicals, and multimedia on both a 99-seat Main Stage and a flexible 80-seat space. A wide range of repertoire is produced here – more than 100 exciting theatre and music performances each year, providing a theatre-going experience that’s both stimulating and downright entertaining.
CAL TECH ARCHITECTURE TOUR
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is world-renowned for its tenacious research and Nobel Prize-winning faculty. Less well-known is that Caltech is an architectural paradise with a history going back to 1891, including eighteen buildings that predate World War II. Docents have been leading historical tours of the 128-acre campus since 1985. You'll learn about the trenches built for military exercises and a multitude of other anomalies in the famed school's infrastructure. Note that this is a strenuous, 1½ to 2-hour walk that includes flights of steps, so not suitable for strollers, walkers, or children. Low-heeled shoes are recommended.
Eaton Canyon Nature Center
Many are familiar with the lush landscapes of Pasadena, but few know about the Eaton Canyon Nature Center. At this comprehensive nature preserve nestled into the foothills of the adjacent San Gabriel Mountains you can hike and picnic while learning all about the zoological, botanical, and geological features of the area. There are regularly scheduled tours and themed walks to satisfy your curiosity for nature and wildlife. And there really is something for all levels of energy at Eaton Canyon, from marveling at the exhibits at the Nature Center to hiking to a photogenic waterfall.
Originally commissioned as a winter retirement residence for Cincinnati residents David and Mary Gamble, of the Procter & Gamble fortune, The Gamble House is an iconic Craftsman-style masterpiece built in 1908-09. This National Historic Landmark boasts a stunning interior featuring multiple woods of eye-catching grains and textures, as well as custom furniture built for the Gamble family. There are subtle Japanese influences inside and out, including pagoda-like low-slung roofs and a small pond on the back patio influenced by Shinto concepts of integration with nature. You may also recognize it from its star turn in Back to the Future, as Doc Brown's house. This world-renowned wonder is open for one-hour, docent-guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays. Advance reservations are recommended.
Kidspace Children's Museum
Located in Brookside Park, next to the Rose Bowl, the non-profit Kidspace Children's Museum comprises a 3.5-acre campus featuring dozens of hands-on exhibits for children ages 1-10. Its 2.2 acres of outdoor learning environments are designed to encourage kids to discover the excitement of learning while engaging them emotionally, intellectually, and physically through joyful creative play. They can climb into an outsized hawk’s nest, splash and play in naturalistic water features, bring out their inner musician, and get physical with rockets and giant levers.
Palm Garden at The Huntington Library
While palm trees are almost synonymous with Southern California, the Palm Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens remains relatively unknown. Among an array of immaculate themed gardens at The Huntington, located in Pasadena-adjacent San Marino, this lush hillside collection gathers more than 200 species - one of the largest palm collections on public display in California. Some, like the Chilean Wine Palm, are endangered, but thrive in a microclimate that’s been carefully cultured at the Gardens since the early 20th century. And one of the originals, a Canary Island date palm transplanted from San Francisco in 1906 (even before the Gardens’ formal 1919 establishment), is still there today.
Theater lovers have gathered inside the 686-seat Pasadena Playhouse for over 100 years. One of the most prolific such venues in American history and the official State Theater of California, the manicured yet quietly rustic Spanish Colonial-style facility has created a legacy of profound theatrical impact and courageous new work. During its 1920-1945 “golden era,” the Playhouse earned its “Star Factory” nickname , with the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, and Dustin Hoffman being trained at its school of performing arts. True to the mission of a state theater, the Pasadena Playhouse aims to enrich lives through theater, community programs, and learning.
Resurrection by Dieric Bouts - Norton Simon Museum
There's a dizzyingly valuable gem of a painting at Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum: the Resurrection by 15th century Dutch painter Dieric Bouts. Nestled within an already impressive museum collection, it’s an exquisitely intricate and expressive work, rich in the potent spirituality typical of masters of the period. Resurrection was painted using an unusual water-based technique called Tüchlein which creates a distinctive matte effect. Bouts used no primer or ground so, over time, the linen beneath has become visible in places.
Rose Bowl Stadium
Pasadena’s Rose Bowl is anything but hidden – it’s hard to conceal a 95,000-capacity athletic stadium, even nestled into the Arroyo Seco as it is. Famed for its namesake Tournament of Roses football game, this 1922 National Historic Landmark is also the home of the UCLA Bruins football team and the site of a sprawling monthly flea market that attracts tens of thousands of buyers. Less well known are the public Rose Bowl Stadium Tours offered on the last Friday of every month. Get up-close with storied field itself, the historic Locker Room and high-tech press box, and learn about a stadium that’s hosted Super Bowls, Olympic events, and soccer World Cup finals.
USC Pacific Asia Museum
For more than half a century, the Pacific Asia Museum has been a beloved bastion of historic and modern Asian art. Built in 1926 as “The Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art” to house Nicholson’s vast collection, it’s a spectacularly designed structure in the style of a Chinese imperial palace that was donated to the City of Pasadena in 1943. After exploring the permanent and temporary exhibits, comprising around 15,000 pieces, stroll the beautiful courtyard with its contemplative koi pond. The Pacific Asia Museum offers free admission on the second Sunday of each month.