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Through the eyes of a local is an interview series I created to give you an insider’s point of view of many cities around the world.
Writing, as you all know, is one of my biggest passions, but I can’t share travel tips of places where I haven’t been (yet). So, this interview series is a way to continue giving you the best tips for more destinations out there. This series comes full of valuable advice to help you get the most out of your trip!
Therefore, I’m very happy to say that my very first interview is with Maggie. A working mom, traveler, and blogger who lives in the sunny Pasadena. And today, she is kindly answering some questions about this great city.
If you want to read other interviews of this series, take a look at my “Through the Eyes of a Local” archive! I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about other destinations and get inspired to visit these amazing cities.
Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains lies the tree-lined streets of Pasadena, California. Though only a few short miles from downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena somehow manages to walk the fine line of a major city as well as an affluent suburb. The weather here in Southern California is generally beautiful, there is always another day of sun, but in Pasadena, you can find respite from the heat in its many shaded parks. This city is also very family friendly and has a large international and immigrant population.
Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? Where are you from and what do you do?
I am a California transplant. I grew up on the east coast in Connecticut and Philadelphia, then we moved out here to Pasadena several years ago. I’m a working mom of one. We love to travel (obviously), but I like to spend my free time doing Zumba and reading. I’m a fiction lover, primarily, but I also like maritime histories.
What do you like about Pasadena?
Even though it is very close to Los Angeles, it feels like a whole different world. Even the trees are different. You see more oaks than palm trees. People are very friendly, the weather is always nice, and there are a ton of restaurants and kid-friendly activities within a short drive.
Which 3 places do you highly recommend paying a visit in the city?
One of the best-known sites in Pasadena is the Rose Bowl, a large stadium that is home to the annual New Year’s Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl. They also offer tours and there is a swap meet on weekends. I’d also recommend walking around the Pasadena City Hall. The architecture really is stunning, and you can get a great tour of Old Town Pasadena. Walking around the Cal Tech campus is also very enjoyable. They have orange trees, ponds with turtles, and fountains.
And which places should people avoid?
Pasadena’s Central Park on Del Mar Ave has a nice playground, but a large proportion of our homeless population resides there. Much of the city continues to undergo gentrification, so most places are fairly safe, and some of the best food can be found in strip malls.
Is there anything you don’t like about your hometown? What is it?
Parking can be expensive and difficult to find.
What are your favorite things to do in Pasadena?
I love walking around Pasadena, seeing all the new restaurants. Sitting on an outdoor patio people-watching is highly entertaining, as you really do see all sorts of people here. With so many restaurants to choose from, I think there are over 500, dining out is wonderful, too.
What is the best way to get around Pasadena? Is it easy to reach nearby cities?
Generally, people here drive (LA car culture and all), but there are several bus routes that are easy to use, and the Los Angeles Metro recently expanded, so our train system is much more accessible. It’s very easy to travel from Pasadena to downtown and western Los Angeles, and it’s very easy to travel further south to Orange County or San Diego.
How travel-friendly is the city?
Pasadena is very travel-friendly. It’s a bit of a drive from LAX airport, but close to Burbank. Once you’re here, you can either drive or walk around old town. English is the primary language, but due to our population, there are several banks and other services for people of other nationalities.
How safe is Pasadena? Is it ok to walk around with your camera or alone at night, for example?
It is very safe in the tourist part of Pasadena. I am a woman and have walked solo with my bag and camera at night. Everything is generally well-lit and people are helpful. I would advise avoiding the Del Mar train station at night alone, but otherwise no real issues.
What are the best things to do when the weather is, respectively, bad or good?
If the weather is beautiful, I love taking my daughter to Huntington Gardens. It’s a botanical garden and they have a library and art museum on site as well as a fabulous restaurant. We also love visiting the nearby splash pads, which are sort of a playground made of fountains, in the summer. A drive to the beach on a weekend morning only takes about 20-30 minutes. It can take 20-45 minutes to get to the amusement parks in Anaheim. During a rare rain, my daughter and I go to the Southern California Children’s Museum, the Pasadena library, or Vroman’s Bookstore, a local independent bookshop.
What is the most special hidden gem of Pasadena? And why?
On some summer evenings, they have outdoor festivals or show movies in some of the city parks. You just pack up your picnic tote, grab a bottle of wine and a blanket and enjoy entertainment under the stars. Pasadena also has a lot of “hidden” beautiful sculptures, mosaics, and art. You just need to wander the city to find it.
Can you tell us where we can find the best view of the city?
If you’re up for a walk, hike up the Sam Merrill Trail at the top of Lake Avenue in Pasadena. Especially if the sky is clear, you can see for miles and miles, sometimes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
What is the most traditional dish in Pasadena?
Well, Los Angeles County certainly has a knack for burgers, pastrami, and donuts. Pasadena has some great old institutions (as well as some younger and more hip and healthy options) that cater to this. Due to a large Asian population, we also have some excellent dim sum and traditional Asian restaurants. Brunch is also a major part of the Pasadena food scene.
Could you recommend a local bar and restaurant?
Where to start? Pasadena has an incredibly high concentration of restaurants. My favorite wine bar is Everson Royce–it’s really a wine store but they have tastings on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. For a fancy night out, I like Houston’s or The Royce–both excellent steakhouses that mandate the wearing of high heels. For burgers, I love the cheeseburger at Paul Martin’s American Grill or the veggie burgers at the Counter.
What is the biggest tourist trap of Pasadena?
Pie n Burger. It’s a Pasadena institution so I may get banned for saying that. Honestly, though it’s been featured on several travel shows, it is an expensive diner burger. It costs almost $15 for a burger and fries, and they only take cash. They do have delicious pie, though–I like the seasonal ones.
Can you tell us a memory that you have in this city?
When my daughter was a newborn, the only way she would sleep is swaddled in a baby carrier. So, she and I would take long walks all around Pasadena, her snoozing against my chest as I wandered around Cal Tech, Huntington Gardens, the Rose Bowl, and just our quiet neighborhood.
Could you describe the people of Pasadena?
Pasadena is fairly eclectic. Because of its proximity to Jet Propulsion Labs and Cal Tech, many residents are very well-educated. There are several families that have lived in Pasadena for decades, but also a lot of immigrants and transplants like myself. Like most of Los Angeles County, we also have a large homeless population, and Pasadena hosts Union Station Homeless Shelter, a large organization dedicated to helping this group.
Tell us a fun fact or curiosity about Pasadena.
There is a “Big Bang Theory Way,” an alley that was renamed after the CBS sitcom which takes place in Pasadena. You can take a tour of the TV show sights, like the comic book store, but the restaurant in the show looks nothing like the real thing. It is also Julia Child’s birthplace.
What piece of advice would you give to readers who want to visit your hometown?
Pasadena has a lot to offer visitors. You can get to the beach or the mountains in a reasonable amount of time (traffic willing). I would definitely say bring your appetites and walking shoes.
What is the biggest prejudice other countries have about the United States?
I think the biggest prejudice about the United States is that we are arrogant and self-centered, and this could certainly apply to Los Angeles County. I think one of the things I like best about Pasadena is that it’s more laidback and has more of a suburban feel than LA proper, though it is a major city in its own right.
Can you tell us a book based on your city?
There is a novel called Pasadena by David Ebershoff. It’s about a fisher girl and the three men who changed her life. John Ball (who wrote In the Heat of the Night) actually has several other mysteries set in Pasadena, like The Eyes of Buddha.
Big thanks to Maggie for taking time to share with us!
Read more interviews of Through the Eyes of a Local series and get inspired for your next adventure!