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Armchair Travel: Little Old Lady from Pasadena

Editor’s note: During the pandemic, with travel restrictions and lockdowns still in place in many areas, here’s some delightful armchair travel to Pasadena. 

That would be me. And wowza, am ever glad I went there. The end of February my sister and I had a family gathering in the hills of Pasadena. Honestly, I was planning how to escape Pasadena before I arrived. Of course, I knew the Tournament of Roses Parade happened there. The Rose Bowl Parade was on my bucket list. I attended the famous parade the only time it rained in the last half century, 2006. What are the odds? I was not amused.

But shame on me for pre-judging a place I only saw in the pouring rain from a soggy bleacher. Pasadena is an awesome destination vacation with everything situated around Colorado Blvd. that, just for “kicks”, is the Historic Route 66 and the parade route. Up and down Colorado Blvd. are old hotels, modern chains, and a funky place I stayed called the Saga Motor Hotel. (Looks like the set from the TV show “77 Sunset Strip”.) Pasadena has a Playhouse District with stage and movie houses. There is Old Town Pasadena (think Deco and the Golden Age of Hollywood) with 200 specialty boutiques and 100 amazing restaurants. I can personally recommend the Urth Café for brunch. The corner restaurant is covered in mosaic tiles with 2 story ceilings, outdoor and indoor seating, and a fantastic selection of homemade foods. Farther west is the Museum District just north off West Colorado Blvd. The museums surround the intersection of Route 134 and Interstate 210 if you’re trying to locate it on a map. (Does anyone actually look at maps anymore?)

The museums are first class. For starters, we toured the grounds and insides of the famous and massive Craftsman Style Gamble House. (Yes, those Gambles, mit Proctor.) A stunningly beautiful wooden home; it has period antiques and custom glass.

Pasadena Gamble Home

Next, we passed the Pasadena Museum of History, but had to keep that for “another day” as Frost says, because we were off to the Norton Simon Museum. This is one of the best laid out art museums I have ever been in. It includes a serene outdoor sculpture garden and lake.

Pasadena poses

There are old masters to modern art spanning 14th to 20th Century art and Southeast Asian sculpture as well as touring shows. The ceilings are extra high, some places even two stories to allow for massive modern art pieces. There is also a lovely theater for classes and screenings.
Pasadena Norton Simon
The next day we had the morning free from family activities so we headed about eight blocks east and south from the Saga Motel to the Huntington Gardens, Library, and Art Museum, all founded in 1919 by Henry and Arabella Huntington. We were on a tight schedule so we hit the Brody Botanical Center Conservatory. It has several ecosystems including massive amounts of orchids. Next, we toured the Camellia Groves. (Some are 20 feet high.) Halfway in the grove is an amazing fountain found at the end of the long lawns facing an old estate house which is now the European Art Collection. Pushing on, we made our way to the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden with a massive collection of bonsai trees, and then over the Rose Garden, Herb Garden, and finally the Shakespeare Garden. Next time I’ll see the Subtropical, Australian, Jungle, Palm, Desert Gardens as well as the lily ponds and the library and art museums.

But we did make time for the Huntington Store. I was so impressed with the products for sale. Something for every art lover’s budget: cards, soaps, pot holders, pottery, posters all covered in art reproductions. Also, wearable art such as aprons, scarves, socks, carry bags, and more. Loot in hand, we jumped into our Camry. I did think about renting a convertible, but topless is not a good look on me (too much sun).

To plan your Pasadena trip, whether virtual or actual: OldPasadena.org, gamblehouse.org, nortonsimon.org, huntington.org

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause

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