Although seemingly absorbed into the general Los Angeles sprawl, Pasadena is a separate and distinct city. It's most well known for the Tournament of Roses, or more commonly, the Rose Bowl, seen around the world every New Year's Day. But the city has sites worth seeing year-round—from gorgeous Craftsman homes to exceptional museums, particularly the Norton Simon and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Note that the Huntington and the Old Mill reside in San Marino, a wealthy, 4-square-mile residential area just over the Pasadena line.
First-time visitors to L.A. only here for a short time might find it hard to get out to Pasadena. However, if you've had your fill of city life and are looking for a nearby escape that feels much farther away than it is, with open space and fresher air, it's the perfect trip.
The Botanical Gardens is a great place to start, with or without plans to see the Huntington Library and Art Collections. For a true small-town experience, spend the afternoon strolling around Old Town Pasadena, with shops and restaurants filling its 19-century brick buildings. Art and architecture lovers shouldn't miss the city's top site, the Norton Simon Museum, most noted for its excellent collection of Degas, as well as works by Rembrandt, Goya, and Picasso. The Gamble House is an immense three-story house and one of the country's shining examples of American Arts and Crafts bungalow architecture. The thing that might surprise you the most about visiting Pasadena is that even the drive here—on the freeway, though not during rush hour—is a pleasant one, with lovely scenery. The Pasadena Freeway follows the curves of the arroyo (creek bed), lined with old sycamores. It was the main road north during the early days of Los Angeles, when horses and buggies made their way through the countryside to the small town of Pasadena. In 1939 the road became the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the first freeway in Los Angeles, later renamed the Pasadena Freeway.