The Holidays in Pasadena

Every city has its holiday specials – the best place to go trick-or-treating, the best nativity scene, the best place to party it up on New Year’s Eve. Without further ado, here’s the best of the holidays according to a native Pasadenan.

Halloween

  • Watch Dia de los Muertos celebrations at Olvera Street. OK, this one’s neither strictly Pasadena, nor 1654268_10100359098675304_3680956878894285152_nstrictly Halloween… but tigerlilyroar and I checked it out recently and had a blast! Olvera Street is an open air marketplace on one of the oldest streets in LA, celebrating Mexican culture from a time when Los Angeles was Mexican. La Plaza, at the end, has fantastic Dia de los Muertos celebrations on the weekends leading up to Nov 1 (Dia de los Muertos means the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day). To get there, just take the Gold Line downtown to Union Station and walk across the street.
  • Trick-or-treat on E. Alegria in Sierra Madre. I love Sierra Madre for its small-town feel, and this activity is completely family-friendly. Every year, the houses on this block go all-out with Halloween decorations, the highlight being the house with a ton of intricate jack-o-lanterns (this started out as one guy, Bud, carving a bunch of pumpkins. Soon, his two sons started helping. Eventually, he had to slow down, but his neighbor continues the tradition). To get there, take the 210 to Baldwin Ave. Go North until you hit E. Alegria – the street itself will be blocked off, but at this point you can just park and follow the crowd. The hot spot is just this one block, going east until N. Mountain Trail.
  • The Great Annual Caltech Pumpkin Drop. At midnight of Halloween every year, Caltech students drop pumpkins frozen in liquid nitrogen off the top of Millikan library. To get there, park anywhere in the streets or lots around campus, and walk over to the tallest building on campus. While in theory a family-friendly activity, you may end up surrounded by drunk college students, so think carefully before taking the little ones.

Christmas

  • Drive around to check out Christmas decorations at Christmas Tree Lane, the Balian House, and in Hastings Ranch. Start on Woodbury, between Lake and Marengo. Driving east from Marengo you’ll see the sign, “Christmas Tree Lane” pointing left to the street actually named Santa Rosa Avenue. As you take Santa Rosa north to Altadena Drive, you’ll pass under a hundred “Christmas Trees” – towering Deodar Cedars decorated with Christmas lights. (There’s also a lighting ceremony in early December – worth checking out!). Continue east on Altadena to Allen, and turn right. As you go south, you’ll see the Balian house on your left, at Mendocino Ln. Check it out! This ice-cream magnate’s house always has some of the best decorations in town, albeit sometimes with a religious or oddly political slant. From there, take Allen south to New York Dr; take New York southeast to Sierra Madre Blvd., and head up into Hastings Ranch north of Sierra Madre. Here, each block competes for the best Christmas decorations, always with a theme.
  • Shop in Old Town Pasadena and South Lake. During the holidays, the city projects snowflakes onto the buildings in Old Town. It’s also a minor local tradition to pop into Stats, a floral arts & crafts store, to see their Christmas display. South Lake Avenue has reindeer bedecked in Christmas lights, and a Macy’s on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re looking to put the Christ back in Christmas, this city is not your place; true to its demographics, Pasadena supports inclusive non-denominational holiday decorations.
  • Speaking of Christmas decorations, Caltech’s Atheneum always puts on a fantastic show, with an enormous Christmas tree decorated by upscale Pasadena florist Jacob Maarse. You’ll need to be Caltech-or-JPL-affliated with a membership to eat at the Ath (as it’s affectionately called), but there’s nothing to stop you from popping in to look.

New Year’s Eve and Day

Pasadena is, of course, famous for its Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, followed by the Rose Bowl. If you’re in area, you should definitely check out the floats!

  • Volunteer to decorate a float. There are 2 kinds of float in the parade – those built by professional decorating companies for the big companies like airlines, and those build on a volunteer basis by the surrounding communities. These communities – Sierra Madre, South Pas, and La Canada to name a few – are always looking for volunteers; just sign up ahead of time online. This one’s a bit off the beaten trail, but it’s a unique opportunity to see how these babies come together, and how they really do follow those rules about being covered in plant material everywhere. Plus, kids for generations have padded their resumes with a few volunteer hours here, so it’s a uniquely local experience. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can also buy tickets to watch the decorators at work. All of the flowers go on at the last minute, so you’ll really want to do this around Dec. 29th and 30th.
  • Cruise the parade route. On New Years Eve, Colorado Blvd will be full of intrepid souls camping out to see the parade. Around 11pm, the city will close off the street to allow campers on. Until then, you can drive slowly down the parade route to see the sites. Just be warned – sometimes rowdy campers will target your car with silly string, marshmallows, and tortillas. So leave the Beamer at home, and maybe come armed with some silly string or super soakers of your own.
  • If you still have energy after ringing in the new year, wander over to the north-south part of Orange Grove to see the floats, around 1-2am. All of the streets nearby will be closed as the floats drive in and line up, so bring a jacket/hat/mittens and be prepared to hike it. Here you can see the floats up close enough to touch – just don’t actually touch them, it’s bad for the floats!
  • There are many ways to see the Rose Parade. If you’re willing to shell out, buying grandstand tickets is definitely the easy way – just be sure to arrive early, because traffic near the route will slow to a crawl with road closures, and you will not be able to find parking. That said, it is entirely possible to roll out of bed with no preparation the morning of, and still get a decent view. If you’re close, just walk it.  If you’re willing to stand for a couple hours, you can see over the heads of the crowd seated in front. The best seats are where Orange Grove meets Colorado – that’s where the news crews are, so that’s where the floats and bands do their tricks – but it’s almost impossibly crowded on that end. The parade moves really slowly, so you can show up late and still catch the whole thing at the far end, near Sierra Madre Blvd. You certainly can camp out overnight, as well – just make sure you know the rules, bring lots of warm gear, and find the closest bathroom! Expect to not get much sleep.
  • It just wouldn’t be New Years without the Rose Bowl game. Personally, I always spend the game parked on my couch, relaxing after a hard night of partying and an early morning of sight-seeing. But if you’re so inclined, Pasadena residents can get in on presale tickets.
  • If you spent the morning in bed recovering from the night’s festivities, don’t worry – you can still see the floats! Drive on over to Sierra Madre Blvd any time over the next few days. It used to be free, but these days you’ll have to fork over $10 for viewing tickets.
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