Car Free Journey: Pasadena, CA

Last November (2012), Nathan Landau: a transit planner in Northern California and author of Car Free in Los Angeles and Southern California (Wilderness Press: 2011), wrote a great guest column for us about where to stay in Los Angeles if you don’t want to drive. You can read that column by going to

Today, Nathan spotlights Pasadena, California: a very walkable and delightful place to visit—offering far more than the Rose Bowl. (I highly recommend Nathan’s book: it should be required reading for anyone considering visiting or moving to the Los Angeles metropolitan area who doesn’t want to drive.)




The Los Angeles region is often derided for faceless sprawl, but Pasadena is a distinctive, historic, walkable city. Pasadena offers museums, historic buildings, theatres, and restaurants. Pasadena is an excellent city for the car-free traveler, because most of its highlights are concentrated in a small area easily navigated on foot or by bus. Yet Pasadena is also a good base to see other parts of LA, especially Downtown Los Angeles. Come spend a few car-free days in Pasadena.


By Plane—Two airports serve Pasadena well—Burbank (Bob Hope) airport and Los Angeles International airport (LAX) it takes about the same amount of time of transit from either airport.

From LAX—Take the Flyaway bus outside the LAX terminals to Union Station (a $7 fare, payable by credit card only). From Union Station take the Gold Line light rail northbound to Del Mar, Memorial Park, or Lake, depending on where you’re staying.

From Burbank Airport—Follow the signs and walk to Hollywood Way, about a 5 minute walk. Stay on the same side of the street and catch rapid bus 794 (towards Downtown LA) to Los Feliz Blvd. in Glendale, the stop after Pacific. Transfer to the rapid 780 (towards Pasadena City College) and ride to Colorado Blvd. & Fair Oaks, Los Robles, or Lake. See for weekend and evening routes.

By Amtrak, Megabus, and Bolt Bus—Amtrak trains and Megabus and Bolt Bus long distance buses stop at Union Station. Catch the Gold Line from there.

By Greyhound—Greyhound is at 1716 E. 7th St. , about a mile east of Downtown Los Angeles. From there, take Metro bus 60 to the 7th St. /Metrocenter station in Downtown Los Angeles At 7th St. station, take a red or purple line train to Union Station, and transfer to the Gold Line.


Pasadena is some 10 miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles, at the edge of LA’s central region.

While the city is 22 square miles (and 138,000 people), most of what you’re likely to visit is contained in the area bounded by Orange Grove Blvd. on the west, Hill St. on the east, Walnut Av. on the north and California Blvd. on the south. That’s an area of roughly 2 square miles. Colorado Boulevard, once part of the famed transcontinental Route 66, is Pasadena’s east-west main street, which runs the length of the central zone. In west-east order, the Norton Simon Museum, Old Pasadena, the Paseo Colorado shopping center and the rest of the downtown lie along Colorado. Most of Pasadena’s museums, civic center, and hotels are just off it. Old Pasadena is the historic core of Pasadena’s downtown—bordered roughly by Arroyo Pkwy. on the east, Pasadena Ave. on the west, Holly St. on the north and Valley St. on the south. Colorado’s importance is reflected by the fact that North and South addresses in Pasadena are numbered from Colorado.


Pasadena transit is provided by Metro (the regional and largest agency), Foothill Transit, and Pasadena ARTS. It’s frequent, reliable, and available long hours to key destinations.

4305368825_e998638f8c_zPasadena ARTS buses operate every day, except Sunday, until about 7:30 p.m. For information about routes and schedules, visit or call ((626( 795-9311 (weekday business hours only)

If you expect to use transit a lot, invest $5 in a day pass from Metro, good for unlimited rides all day. You can buy a day pass at Gold Line stations or on the bus. (Metro’s base fare is $1.50 with no transfers). Use for transit information about all agencies. The most frequent services are:

Downtown Los Angeles and Union Station via Gold Line: The Gold Line light rail runs from East LA and Union Station to Pasadena. Downtown Los Angeles, especially Union Station, is the major location for connections to other transit. Within Pasadena, it’s often quicker to use a bus on Colorado Blvd. Useful Pasadena Gold Line stations in order from southwest to northeast:

Fillmore (at Fillmore & Raymond)–Art Center of Design South Campus, Jones Coffee Roaster

Del Mar (Del Mar & Raymond)—Sheraton Hotel, Pasadena Inn, restaurants and bars

Memorial Park (Holly & Arroyo)—Old Pasadena, Westin Hotel, Courtyard by Marriott hotel, Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Civic Center, restaurants and bars

Lake (Lake & 210 freeway)—South Lake shopping district starts @1/2 mile—10 minute walk

Sierra Madre Villa (Sierra Madre Villa & Foothill)—A Noise Within Theatre

Central Pasadena via Colorado Blvd. buses–You can walk (or bike) many of your trips in central Pasadena, but you might want the bus to go a mile or more. There’s frequent service (averaging once every 7 minutes midday) along Colorado Boulevard between Lake and Orange Grove in the central area. You can take a Metro, Foothill Transit, or Pasadena ARTS bus. Foothill Transit’s fare is $1.25, and it accepts the TAP smart card issued by Metro. ARTS costs 75c. Metro’s Rapid bus 780 is fastest, making only a limited number of stops, from west to east along Colorado Blvd.:

Orange Grove—Norton Simon Museum, Lower Linda Vista & Arroyo historic View walks

Los Robles—Old Pasadena (closest), Paseo Colorado, Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Convention Center., Westin, Hilton, Sheraton, Courtyard hotels, bars and restaurants

Lake—South Lake shopping district, Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Europane, restaurants

Hill—Pasadena City College, Vagabond Inn motel, Zankou Chicken

Cycling—Pasadena is a good town for cycling, with an extensive network of bike lanes and bike routes. Bikes can go on the Gold Line and all buses. For more information see (scroll down the page for the bike map)


Westin Hotel

Westin Hotel

Pasadena has a handful of major chain hotels in the central area that are close to the Gold Line, Colorado Boulevard buses, and Pasadena attractions. The Sheraton is closest to the train. The Westin is the most elegant. The Marriott Courtyard and Hilton are two more (see the hotels’ national websites). The only independent motel —the Pasadena Inn—is a few blocks out of the downtown core just a block from Del Mar station (and across from a Whole Foods). It’s the cheapest of the group.


There are tons of things to do in central Pasadena and nearby transit accessible locations

Historic Walking Tours—Pasadena has over 100 landmark structures including the Hotel Green, Pasadena Playhouse, Bullocks (now Macy’s) on Lake, and the Colorado Boulevard bridge over the Arroyo Seco. You can take your own tour of a historic neighborhood with the self-guided tours at The most transit-accessible tours are numbers 1. Lower Linda Vista (start at the opposite end from the guide’s suggestion), 3. Arroyo View, 6. Civic Center, and 7. Old Pasadena, each of which is near Colorado Blvd. Tours 5 and 8 off California Blvd. are about ½ mile south of Colorado.

Museums/Historic Houses

Norton Simon Museum—A general art museum strong on South Asian art and Degas dancers, the “vanity” museum of industrialist Norton Simon. (411 W. Colorado Blvd. at Orange Grove Blvd. Memorial Park Gold Line, Metro 180, 181, ARTS 10 buses)

Pacific Asia Museum—Southern California’s leading museum of Asian art with a collection of 15,000 items. N. Los Robles at Walnut. Memorial Park Gold Line, all Colorado Blvd. buses at Los Robles Ave.)

Pasadena Museum of California Art

Pasadena Museum of California Art

Pasadena Museum of California Art—Quirky little museum of California art, around the corner from Pacific Asia Museum, with a 50% off deal (for the second museum in one day) with PMCA. (490 E. Union Av. e. of Los Robles. Memorial Park Gold Line, all Colorado Blvd. buses at Los Robles.)

Gamble House—Greene & Greene’s 1908 masterpiece of Arts and Crafts architecture. Open for tours (fee) Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday (4 Westmoreland Place. Metro 180, 181 to Colorado & Orange Grove–.4 miles to house, no Gold Line station within 1 mile.)


Pasadena’s largest scale shopping is at Paseo Colorado, a moderately upscale urban shopping center, built with apartments intermixed with stores. (280 E. Colorado Blvd. between Marengo and Los Robles, east of Old Pasadena. Memorial Park Gold Line, all Colorado Blvd. buses at Los Robles.) South Lake Avenue, for the six blocks between Green St. (one block south of Colorado) and California Blvd. is the historic shopping street of Pasadena’s well-heeled, and home to a recently restored 1940’s landmark Macy’s (401 S. Lake at Del Mar. ARTS 10 at Del Mar & Lake All Colorado Blvd. buses .3-.5 miles at Colorado & Lake, Gold Line is 1 mile away). I love Vroman’s Bookstore (695 E. Colorado Blvd. near Oak Knoll Ave.), founded in 1894.

Theatre—The LA region is great for live theatre. Pasadena’s best known theatre is the historic Pasadena Playhouse, which mixes crowd pleasers and premiers (39 S. El Molino Ave., just south of Colorado, .7 mi to Lake Gold Line, Colorado Blvd. ARTS 10 & Foothill 187 at Colorado & El Molino, Metro 180, 181 at Colorado & Madison, Metro 780 Rapid at Colorado & Los Robles).

A Noise Within Theater Company

A Noise Within Theater Company

A Noise Within itself to topflight productions of classics from Shakespeare to Beckett (3352 E. Foothill Blvd., next to Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station, from Colorado Blvd. take Metro 181 or Foothill Transit 187 eastbound). Check LA Weekly or Los Angeles Times listings for smaller theatres.


Pasadena has a lively but unfussy food scene. Beyond the suggestions below, look for restaurants by walking around in Old Pasadena (especially on side streets with less chains) and on South Lake Ave.

Cham Korean Bistro—A modern Korean eatery preparing Korean dishes with top California ingredients (851 E. Cordova St. near Lake Ave., .8 miles to Lake Gold Line; all Colorado Blvd. buses at Lake Ave.)

Copa Vida—Airy spot in Old Pasadena for “artisan” pourover coffees. , no website of its own (70 S. Raymond at Green St. Del Mar Gold Line station, Metro 180/181 at Colorado & Raymond, Foothill Transit 187 at Colorado & Arroyo)

Europane—Wonderful French style bakery café with sandwiches. Try their croissants, even if a critic said they’re not as good as in Paris! (950 E. Colorado Blvd. at Mentor, one block e. of Lake. Gold Line Lake, all Colorado Blvd. buses at Lake)

King Taco—Cheap Mexican eats in Old Pasadena at the well-liked Southern California chain (45 N. Arroyo Parkway at Union. Memorial Park Gold Line, Metro 180/181 at Colorado & Raymond, Foothill Transit 187 at Colorado & Arroyo)

La Grande Orange—A New American lunch/dinner eatery at Del Mar Gold Line station, in the historic station building. San Diego’s famed Stone Brewery also has a tap room in the complex. (Colorado Blvd. buses 180, 181 at Colorado & Raymond).

Marston’s—Classic breakfast spot in a converted house (151 E. Walnut Ave. between. Marengo & Raymond Memorial Park Gold Line. Foothill 187 at Walnut & Raymond, Metro 180/181 at Colorado & Raymond).

Saladang Song—Topnotch Thai in a high style modernist building (383 S. Fair Oaks near Bellevue. Del Mar Gold Line. Colorado Blvd. buses .5 mi. at Colorado & Fair Oaks).


Downtown Los Angeles: From Pasadena, it’s easy to reach LA’s more easterly main visitor areas, especially Downtown Los Angeles. It’s less than a half hour ride on the Gold Line to Union Station. El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park and Chinatown are easy walks from Union Station. For other Downtown LA destinations, switch to a Red or Purple Line train for just a few minutes’ ride. Use the following Red/Purple Line stations for the following destinations:

Civic Center—Disney Hall/REDCAT, MOCA California Plaza branch, Grand Park

Pershing Square—Angels Flight, Grand Central Market, Historic Core district

7th St. Metrocenter—7th St. restaurant row, Staples Center, Convention Center

peg1-stars-hollywood-signHollywood: Hollywood, the neighborhood, the original home of LA glitz, is also easily accessible. Take the Gold Line to Union Station, then transfer to a Red Line subway train to Hollywood. It’s about a 20 minute ride past Union Station.

Hollywood/Vine—Walk of Fame, Pantages Theatre, restaurants and bars, W Hollywood Hotel

Hollywood/Highland—Walk of Fame, Egyptian Theatre, Chinese Theatre, Kodak Theatre, bars

A more detailed table listing popular Pasadena attractions and destinations, and the closes route and bus stop will be included when this column is posted on

For more information about visiting Pasadena, go to, or call the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau at (626) 795-9311 or (toll-free) 800) 307-7977. For local ARTS buses, visit or call ((626( 795-9311 (weekday business hours only). For route and schedule information about Metro’s Gold Line, or other Metro buses or rail lines, visit, or call (213) 922-6000.

Do you have any ideas for a particular city or vacation spot that could be spotlighted in a future “Car Free Journey” column. E-mail with your suggestions. (Please also let Steve know if you would like to be a guest columnist and help write the column about the place you recommended.)


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