The decay of Old Town Pasadena followed World War II. Other retail areas and malls began to draw the more substantial businesses from the area. The retail spaces they abandon were soon occupied by bars and pawnshops. During the 1960s, the area attracted head shops, catering to the drug culture, and massage parlors. Efforts at revitalizing the area began in the 1980s and centered around education and entertainment.
During its prime, the Old Town area was called the "Athens of the West" and was known for leading educational institutions such as the California Institute of Technology, often called Caltech, and research facilities such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL. These institutions still contribute to the community by attracting young and well-educated residents to the district.
Old Town Pasadena has always been the home to an active arts community. The Norton Simon Museum, previously known as the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, has been a leading force in the modern art movement in America.
This combination of education, science and art has attracted free thinkers for decades. The area has been the home to interesting characters ranging from Albert Einstein to Gen. George Patton. Politically, the area has often served as home for progressive causes such as women's suffrage.
Urban renewal efforts have been managed by the Old Pasadena Management District under contract to the city of Pasadena. The management district handles tasks such as community promotion, maintenance of parks and a housing and transportation planner. The stated objective of the group is to provide a "safe vibrant downtown experience."
Many of the commercial structures, including prominent hotels such as the Green Hotel and The Hotel Carver, have been converted to apartment of condominium housing. Other retail spaces have been remodeled or combined with adjacent structures to produce more usable retail space. The area now offers more housing and retail opportunities than it has in decades producing a growing population and an improved reputation as a destination shopping area.
The physical restoration of the district has attempted to return the buildings of the area to a look reminiscent of the late 1920s and 1930s. This includes remodeling buildings to reflect the styles and colors of that period. Projects that meet these standards may qualify for tax breaks.
The efforts to restore the buildings to the look and feel of Old Town Pasadena at its peak, along with the continuing growth of high tech facilities like Caltech and JPL has lead to a rebirth of the area. The district strives to combine the charm of an old downtown area with the vibrant life of a young and educated population.
Old Town Things to Do
Built in 1898, Castle Green is one of the oldest buildings in Old Town Pasadena. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is one of the premier attractions for visitors. It is open for tours most days, and it is also a popular place for couples to tie the knot. It has also been used as the setting for a number of films and television shows due to its beauty and proximity to Hollywood.
Pasadena Museum of History
Located in the historic Feynes Mansion, the Pasadena Museum of History has a number of exhibits that celebrate the history of Old Town Pasadena. The largest and most popular exhibit is the Millionaire's Row of Pasadena, which celebrates the many elegant mansions that used to populate the area during the heyday of Old Town Pasadena. The Feynes Mansion is the oldest and grandest of these millionaire homes of yesterday that is still standing.
Armory Centre for the Arts
This is a great place for lovers of the arts to have a wonderful experience. Not only do visitors get the chance to tour the wonderful art exhibits on display at the Armory Centre for the Arts, but there are also a number of workshops and classes for visitors to get the chance to create some artwork of their own. They also have lots of kids' activities that are great at getting kids excited about the world of the arts.
Norton Simon Museum
This is one of the finest art museums in California. There are a number of amazing pieces in the museum's collection. Raphael's "Madonna and Child with the Book," Rodin's "St. John the Baptist Preaching," Peter Paul Rubens' "David Slaying Goliath" and Vincent Van Gogh's "Vieux Paysan: Patience Escalier" are just a few of the many highlights. There are more pieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and many more masters. Art lovers do not want to miss a trip to this amazing museum.
This is one of the oldest and most respected performance halls in California. It regularly hosts Broadway shows, operas, symphonies, and ballets. It has also hosted the Primetime Emmy Awards as well as the People's Choice Awards.
Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens
This beautiful place has 120 acres of gorgeous gardens for visitors to explore. There are also three art galleries as well as a library featuring many old and rare books.
There are a number of airports that passengers can fly into near Old Town Pasadena. The closest airport is just 16 miles away at Burbank/Bob Hope Airport. Passengers can also fly into Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ontario.
Renting a Car
Most visitors will want to avail themselves of the option of renting a car when they arrive at the airport as it is the most convenient option for getting around Old Town Pasadena. Most of the major rental car companies have offices at the nearby airports, and other companies will be happy to pick arriving passengers up at the airport if they have a rental car reserved. Drivers in California are very aggressive, so be sure to take out insurance on rental cars.
There are also plenty of shuttle services that will transport passengers between Old Town Pasadena and the nearby airports. These shuttles are one of the most economical ways to get to and from the airports, but they do take a bit of time as they make numerous stops to drop off and pick up other passengers.
There are three cab companies that service the Old Town Pasadena area. Cabs are fairly expensive in this area, so they should be avoided as much as possible by those on a budget. It is nearly impossible to flag down a taxi, so passengers will have to call one of the cab companies when they need one.
There are two bus services available in Old Town Pasadena. Pasadena ARTS runs routes all over the city of Pasadena, while Metro runs routes both in Pasadena and the rest of the county as well. Buses are an inefficient way to get around the area, but they are inexpensive.
Metro also runs a train service that has a branch that runs through Old Town Pasadena. It is the Gold Line, and passengers can use it to connect other train routes that will get them nearly anywhere they want to go both in California and beyond.
Old Town Pasadena is a beautiful area that is great to explore on foot. There is a lot of great architecture to look at, as well as many attractions that are located within walking distance of one another.
It is also quite enjoyable to rent a bike and explore the area. There are lots of bike paths and most of the roads have bike lanes. Just be sure to lock up bikes securely when they are not in use.
Local and out-of-town visitors come to Old Town Pasadena to browse the amazing array of shops. There are national retailers and smaller clothing boutiques, bookstores, hair salons and beauty supplies, antique shops, art galleries, specialty shops and many great restaurants. Here are 5 unique shops that you should not miss on your visit to Old Town Pasadena.
Since opening in 1983, Clothes Heaven has been a popular shop among design savvy shoppers looking for a bargain. Clothes Heaven is a resale boutique specializing in high fashion, high quality designer women's wear that's slightly worn. There is a great selection of apparel items, shoes, handbags, accessories, and jewelry at highly reduced prices. You can find designer labels like Prada, Chanel, Versace, Gucci, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and more. Inventory is restocked frequently for great finds.
The Folk Tree
The Folk Tree is a diverse shop specializing in art from Mexico and Latin America. The owner regularly travels to remote villages in Mexico and Latin America to gather amazing art and artifacts made by villagers. You will find hand-crafted pottery, wood carvings, paper mache, sculpture, masks and lighting. They also carry authentic folk costumes and fabrics, clothing and antiques. The selections at The Folk Tree are amazing and you won't find them anywhere else.
The Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop
Take care of your sweet tooth in this unique shop that carries over 500 kinds of bottled soda pop and thousands of candy selections. The shop is a fun whimsical experience that will take you back to being a kid at heart. They also carry some vintage signs and photos and gag gifts. Rocket Fizz is a must see shop at Old Town Pasadena, but if you have a problem making choices, be prepared.
Amara Chocolate and Coffee
This is a great little shop that carries 100% Venezuelan coffees and the best in hand-crafted Venezuelan chocolates. You can have a cup of coffee, sample the chocolates, or take both home with you. Coffees can be purchased by the pound and chocolates can purchased individually or boxed. You must try the chocolate fondue and the hand-made artisan truffles before you leave.
Tea Rose Garden
Before you leave Old Town Pasadena, be sure to visit the Tea Rose Garden. It's a quaint little tea room where you relax in the patio garden with a fine cup of tea. They have tea sandwiches, salads, pastries, and fine teas from around the world. They also have a full-service flower shop, so take a beautiful bouquet home for your table.
Special Events in Old Town
Tournament of Roses Parade
This is by far the biggest annual event in Old Town Pasadena. More than 1.5 million visitors come to see one of the oldest parades in the United States. Held annually on New Year's Day, the Tournament of Roses Parade is held to celebrate the annual Rose Bowl, a college football bowl game that is the oldest bowl game in the country. The parade has been held every year since 1890, and it is seen by millions of viewers on television in more than 200 countries around the world.
The parade is a lot of fun, but even more exciting is to be in the Rose Bowl itself at the annual bowl game. This bowl game is known as "The Granddaddy of Them All" because it is the oldest college football bowl game. It is always one of the most popular games of the year, and every four years the Rose Bowl is also the game that determines the BCS National Championship.
Old Pasadena Halloween Celebration
This four-day celebration of all things Halloween is great fun for people of all ages. The emphasis of this festival is to make Halloween a holiday that is full of family-friendly fun. There are costume contests, a pumpkin decorating contest, parades, haunted houses, horror movie festivals, and trick-or-treating. The fun begins every year on October 27th and runs through Halloween night.
Old Pasadena Cultural Dance Festival
Held every year in October, this festival is a celebration of dance traditions from around the world. Admission is free and the dancers put on an amazing show ever year. The best part is that after the dancers get done performing they take the time to teach the audience members how to do some of the moves they just saw. The sight of seeing thousands of people learning new dance moves together is very entertaining. Even wallflowers will have a hard time resisting the opportunity to get up and boogie.
Annual Camellia Show
Held since 1973, the Annual Camellia Show is a celebration of the camellia flower hosted at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Some of the best camellia growers in the world descend on Old Town Pasadena to compete for prizes in camellia growing. Visitors get to see these beautiful flowers on display. Those who like what they see can also purchase camellias at the show.