Jaak Treiman

Some people only think of Pasadena on New Year’s Day when the Tournament of Roses Parade moves along its 5-½ mile course up Orange Grove Boulevard and then east on Colorado Boulevard to Sierra Madre Boulevard. Fans of American football may associate Pasadena with its Rose Bowl football stadium and the game played there, generally on January 1 following the parade. Other people may only think of Pasadena when they hear the Beach Boys’ version of The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

Pasadena and its environs offer more than parades, football games and song lyrics. Coupled with an active “Old Town” area, Pasadena and its neighbor San Marino have world-class museums, architectural masterpieces, a space exploration hub and outstanding educational institutions.

Adjacent to the city of Pasadena, San Marino is also an incorporated city, politically distinct from the city of Los Angeles. Originally the site of a Tongva Indian village it later became part of the San Gabriel Mission’s landholdings. Today it is one of America’s more affluent cities.

Pasadena is located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. If you take the 134 Freeway to drive to Pasadena you will pass a part of Los Angeles known as Eagle Rock. So named because of a large rock outcropping that is said to resemble an eagle with its wings outstretched, Eagle Rock is the home of Occidental College – the place where President Obama spent his first two years of college.

Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

In 1872 Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin made a fortune in the Comstock, Nevada silver mines. He came to Southern California to expand his fortune through real estate development. One of his famous quotes: “Hell, we’re giving away the land. We’re selling the climate.”

Baldwin built a fanciful, still existent Queen Anne-style guesthouse near his Arcadia home. He also cultivated a vineyard and an extensive garden. These are now all part of Los Angeles County’s 127-acre botanical garden. In addition to an extensive collection of plants the arboretum holds regular workshops and offers free online or in-person responses to gardening questions.

If you’re in a botanical gardens browsing mood you can also visit one of Pasadena’s other neighbors, La Cañada-Flintridge – home to Descanso Gardens. Descanso Gardens includes North America’s largest camellia collection and a 25-acre native oak forest.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

 Commonly referred to as “the Huntington” or “the Huntington Library,” as its formal name indicates, the site contains a library, a collection of art and botanical gardens.

 The Huntington’s library includes the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible and a world-class collection of early editions of Shakespeare. It also displays original letters of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

The Huntington’s gallery includes an outstanding collection of 18th century British art including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie.

The Huntington’s gardens contain more than 14,000 different varieties of plants, showcased in more than a dozen principal garden areas including Japanese, Rose, Camellia, Jungle, Palm, Chinese and Cactus gardens. Every spring and fall the Huntington holds a plant sale when visitors can find thousands of rare and beautiful plants, including many uncommon varieties hard to find at commercial nurseries.

The Langham Huntington

Celebrating its 100th Anniversary, the Langham Huntington is perhaps the most interesting and historically best-preserved hotel in Los Angeles, if not in California. It combines history with elegance and fine dining. Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt and Prince Philip all stayed here and would, I suspect, do so again. As far as I know, in California the only hotel comparable to the Huntington is San Diego’s tourist infested Hotel Del Coronado.

California Institute of Technology

Caltech has been home to 34 Nobel Prize recipients. Discoveries made at Caltech include the discovery of anti-matter; the nature of the chemical bond; the foundations of molecular biology; the birth of modern earthquake science; quarks; and left brain/right brain.

Even if you have no business to conduct, the campus is a pleasant place to stroll. I do so periodically in the forlorn hope of capturing some of the brainpower that permeates the grounds.

Ice House Comedy Club

The original, modern comedy club, Ice House opened in 1960. Billy Crystal, Cheech & Chong, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Rosie O’Donnell, Jerry Seinfeld, Gabe Kaplan, Lily Tomlin and virtually every other well-known American standup comic has appeared here. Performers continue to range from the well-known to the unknown. Dinner is available at the adjoining restaurant prior to each performance but if you’re looking for a really good meal, consider trying one of Pasadena’s other restaurants.

If standup comedy doesn’t appeal to you, a few steps away from the Ice House is the Boston Court Performing Arts Center. The 99-seat theater at Boston Court offers a variety of stage productions in a sparkling facility.

Pasadena Playhouse

Relying more on its past fame rather than current accomplishments the Pasadena Playhouse has survived extended dark periods and a bankruptcy. It opened in 1925. During its first 25 years all 37 Shakespeare plays plus 500 productions that were either American or World premiers were staged at the Playhouse.

Vroman’s Bookstore

Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s is known not only for its expertly stocked shelves and knowledgeable service but also for its community involvement.

Old Town

The architecture of Pasadena’s Old Town is slightly more genuine than San Diego’s mostly reconstructed Old Town. Regardless, people travel to Colorado Boulevard not to admire old buildings but for the restaurants, nightlife and retail stores. If you are looking for historic buildings walk along some of Colorado Boulevard’s side streets or take a look at the nearby 1927 city hall and its massive dome.

Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals

America’s judicial system is bifurcated: the federal courts and the state courts. While each is responsible for hearing certain types of cases, neither is completely independent of the other, and the systems often interact. A more detailed, layperson’s explanation can be found at http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/court-role-and-structure/comparing-federal-state-courts.

The court in this building, the historic Vista del Arroyo Hotel, is part of the federal court structure. It houses the federal courts’ largest judicial district – the 9th Circuit, which handles appeals from all of the federal district courts (these are the trial courts) in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. This is only one of the locations in which the 9th Circuit meets. The judges actually travel the circuit, sitting at various locations in order to make it easier for attorneys and litigants.

Norton Simon Museum of Art

This museum has the most significant collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Southern California. Over one hundred works of art represents Edgar Degas alone. The museum is also a major repository for the artistic traditions of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. There is also a significant sculpture garden containing an outstanding collection of Rodin and Henry Moore sculptures.

Gamble House

Constructed in 1908 by architect brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene as the retirement home for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter and Gamble soap company family, the Gamble House is an outstanding example of American Arts and Crafts style architecture. Even if architecture is not one of your burning interests, you may well find this structure of interest.

If you saw the film Back to the Future, Doc Emmett’s home was in fact the Gamble House.

Kidspace Children’s Museum

 Located at the west end of Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl, the Kidspace Children’s Museum occupies 2.2 acres of outdoor learning environments as well as indoor exhibits. Children one and older have the opportunity to unleash an earthquake, feed giant bugs, craft art through nature, and climb raindrops.

Art Center College of Design

Founded in 1930 by an advertising man, the renowned Art Center College bills itself as the first school to teach real-world skills to artists and designers and prepare them for leadership roles in advertising, publishing and industrial design.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

JPL was established by the California Institute of Technology. America’s first satellite was developed here. It is on the cutting edge of space exploration as the nerve center of America’s robotic space program, including the Pioneer, Mariner, Voyager, Magellan and Galileo missions. Advance reservations are required for tours. The consular corps visits JPL every couple of years.


Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at jaaktreiman@gmail.com.