Things to do Around Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Marino, Burbank & Angeles National Forest

If you are planning to spend some time in the Los Angeles area, and you’ve already visited the beach areas like Santa Monica and Venice Beach, consider exploring the eastern area of Los Angeles which includes Pasadena, San Marino, Burbank and the adjacent Angeles National Forest. There are a lot of great attractions in this area, and the mountains provide great hiking and scenic views.

Let’s start with Pasadena. The city is set at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and is best known as the home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl Game. Located some 10 miles north of downtown L.A., Pasadena features world-class museums, great shopping, architectural gems and fantastic restaurants.

You can start your visit in Old Pasadena, a historic district that spans 22 blocks and more than 300 businesses. Here you can find shopping, world-class dining, and walkable streets and historic alleys that are perfect for meandering. If you’re hungry, try the intimate Union restaurant, generally acknowledged as the best restaurant in town, which features northern Italian dishes, or sample rustic Basque cuisine at Ración.

If you love art, make sure to visit the galleries of the Norton Simon Museum to see works by Degas, as well as paintings by Van Gogh and Renoir. There’s also a great collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years.

If you are vacationing with kids, they’ll love the Kidspace Children’s Museum, across from the Rose Bowl. The museum is mainly outdoors featuring more than 40 hands-on exhibits, programs, and monthly events. The exhibits feature plenty of arts and crafts supplies and other techniques to help kids learn.

Because it is positioned at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena can also offer great outdoor activities. Eaton Canyon Natural Area is a 190-acre zoological, botanical, and geological nature preserve situated at the base of the mountains. Visitors can enjoy its hiking trails, equestrian trails, picnic areas, seasonal stream, rocks and minerals, as well as various natural habitats, plants, and wildlife. The area is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

If you prefer to drive rather than hike, the Angeles Crest Highway offers a scenic, secluded getaway.   The highway winds along the San Gabriel Mountains and offers spectacular views of nearby mountains and valleys. Several vista points along the road offer the traveler expansive views of the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.

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The Angeles Crest Highway

Finish your visit in Pasadena with afternoon tea—served on signature Wedgwood tea sets—at one of California’s grand-dame hotels, The Langham Huntington Hotel.

On your second day visit the city of Arcadia just east of Pasadena. Here you’ll find the popular Los Angeles Country Arboretum and Botanic Garden.   The arboretum’s plants are grouped by geography with gardens for South American, Mediterranean, South African, Australian and Asiatic-North American plants. Other displays include the Aquatic Garden, Meadowbrook, Demonstration Home Gardens, Garden for All Seasons, Prehistoric and Jungle Garden, Native Oaks, Herb Garden, and the Palm and Bamboo collection. The gardens also serve as the home for summer concerts featuring the Pasadena POPS.

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Los Angeles County Arboretum

North of Arcadia you will find the Santa Anita Canyon. Santa Anita Canyon is one of the most beautiful areas of the San Gabriels. The area a number of great hikes in the area. As a bonus, Santa Anita Canyon offers many trails that are 70-80% shaded.  Some of the most popular trails are:

  1. Hermit Falls ~ 3 miles Return
  2. Sturtevant Falls ~ 4 miles Return
  3. Upper Falls Trail ~ 5.5 miles Return

All of these trails offer a mix of uphill/downhill but nothing extreme.  Be forewarned there is very little parking for the trails so get there early!

On your third day, drive south from Pasadena to the adjacent community of San Marino.  Here you can view the impressive collections at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.The Huntington is a research and cultural center surrounded by 120 acres of breathtaking gardens.  Huntington’s art collections feature European and American art spanning more than 500 years. In the collection you will find extraordinary examples of paintings, sculpture, prints and drawings that are displayed in the Huntington Art Gallery and in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.  The extensive grounds feature diverse botanical collections in twelve specialized gardens. These include the Australian Garden, California Garden, Camellia Garden, Children’s Garden, Conservatory, Desert Garden, Herb Garden, Japanese Garden, Jungle Garden, Lily Ponds, Palm Garden, Rach Garden, Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden, and the Subtropical Garden.

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Chinese Garden at Huntington Library

On the fourth day drive west of Pasadena (and 12 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles) to the city of Burbank.  Burbank is home to historic neighborhoods, a thriving movie business, outdoor activities, shopping and more.

One of the main attractions in Burbank is the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. You should set aside about three hours for the tour which starts in the studio’s 110-acre backlot. In the backlot you’ll see sets used in hundreds of films and TV shows, including classics such as Casablanca and Rebel Without a Causeand TV series ranging from The Dukes of Hazzardand ER to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The second part of the tour features the Prop Department and the Archive, a two-floor collection of memorabilia and antiques from Hollywood’s golden era. The tour ends with the self-guided section called Stage 48: Script to Screen, which features a look at the complete production process. The interactive soundstage offers guests the chance to try their hand at acting and to re-enact a scene from the legendary sitcom Friends.”

After a late-afternoon tour through Warner Brothers Studio, make time for a stunning display of the stars. At the Griffith Observatory visitors can look through telescopes, explore exhibits, see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, and enjoy spectacular views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign.

Griffith Observatory, Mount Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA - aerial view
Griffith Observatory

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