PASADENA, Calif. - It's an urban legend that almost always proves true: It never rains on the Tournament of Roses Parade or the Rose Bowl game. But there's more to this city than the calendarlike scenes you see on TV.
Just 14 miles from Hollywood, Pasadena is always starring in some TV show or movie, such as ABC's Brothers & Sisters, The X-Files: Fight the Future, and Bugsy. It's because of not only the good weather, but also the wonderfully eclectic architecture, the revived historic quarter now called Old Pasadena, and the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains that anchor the city to the north.
Pasadena is an exemplary site of the arts and crafts movement, boasting works by the Greene brothers. It also houses baronial mansions, once belonging to chewing-gum tycoons and railroad barons.
The onetime commercial center, at the west end of the famous Colorado Boulevard, is now Old Pasadena, with shops and restaurants, street musicians and theaters. In California, where nobody walks, this is a promenade that would make New Yorkers jealous. All the original facades of the buildings (built in the 1880s to 1890s) have been retained, lending even Victoria's Secret an elegant past.
There are several museums, including the Norton Simon Museum at 411 W. Colorado Blvd., with its van Goghs, Rembrandts, and expansive collection of Asian art. Closed Tuesdays, the museum is open noon to 6 p.m. daily and till 9 on Fridays. 626-449-6840; www.nortonsimon.org.
Nothing quite rivals the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens with its something-for-everyone motto. Once the estate of millionaire Henry Huntington, these 120 acres of landscaped gardens also house art treasures such as Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, Thomas Lawrence's Pinkie, and a Gutenberg Bible. The Huntington is not strictly in Pasadena, but on its southern border about three miles from the city center at 1151 Oxford Rd. in San Marino. 626-405-2100; www.huntington.org. It's closed Tuesdays and open from noon to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends, but has expanded holiday hours. With an entrance fee of $15 to $20, you'll probably want to stay all day. Don't miss the elegant Japanese and Chinese Gardens and the museum's tearoom and bookstore.
There's some modern shopping at Paseo Colorado, on Colorado Boulevard in downtown Pasadena, with three city blocks of upscale retailers. But longtime residents prefer the 10 blocks of South Lake Avenue, where smaller shops have managed to survive in spite of the mushrooming commercial districts around them. Here you'll find bookstores, several nice restaurants, bargain dress shops, and Macy's.
When it comes to restaurants, Pasadena is food-possessed. There are more than 500 restaurants in the town of 134,000 people and you can find everything from Armenian wraps to jerk chicken.
Among the pricier restaurants are the Twin Palms (once owned by Kevin Costner); the Parkway Grill, featuring healthful California cuisine; the Arroyo Chop House for steaks; and Xiomara/Oye!, with its unusual combination of Latin and Pacific Rim fare.
Residents like the Crocodile Cafe, on South Lake Avenue; Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana and its bakery; Burger Continental; the Cheesecake Factory; and El Toreo, a hole-in-the-wall for great Mexican food.
There are other unique attractions. Those famous star-struck scientists are ensconced at California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the western fringe of the city. The research and flight center for NASA offers free tours by appointment. 818-354-9314; www.jpl.nasa.gov.
Pasdena's famous Colorado Street Bridge, built in 1913, spans the dry lake bed called the Arroyo Seco. It's known as "suicide bridge," because nearly 100 failed businessmen jumped off of it during the Depression.
Pasadena is the site of many classic California bungalows and homes built in the Craftsman style. The best example is the Gamble House at 4 Westmoreland Place - designed and executed by the finicky Charles and Henry Greene - where no detail was too small to consider. The house, celebrating its centennial, retains its original furnishings, and the brothers' use of natural wood, stone and lighting is breathtaking. Tours are offered noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on New Year's Eve). 626-793-3334; www.gamblehouse.org.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau provides information about 10 architectural walking or driving tours of the town's most famous quarters. 626-795-9311; www.pasadenacal.com.
When there are no football games, the world-famous Rose Bowl Flea Market attracts 20,000 shoppers from all over Southern California on the second Sunday of the month, rain or shine. Many movie stars like to amble through the 2,200 concessions. Admission is $8 for adults; hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Other than during the Tournament of Roses, accommodations are plentiful, with choices from an EconoLodge to the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa. It has been restored to its original grandeur and features an unbelievable view of the valley, massive grounds, great service, and an impressive personal history. Rates start at $199 per room per night. 626-568-3900; http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com.