Just an hour from Pepperdine is a place rich in culture and entertainment, yet it remains undiscovered by most students. Old Town Pasadena is an eclectic shopping area full of classic, traditional facades and modern, commercialized stores. The paradox that is Old Town Pasadena gracefully combines mainstream practicality with old-fashioned culture, providing a sophisticated atmosphere conducive to both quiet conversation and rampant consumerism.
“I love walking around Old Town,” said Patty Ortigas, a Pepperdine graduate and Pasadena resident. “It’s not big and overwhelming like L.A., but it doesn’t have a small town feel.”
The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce calls Old Town “the city that feels like a village.” Senior Holly Sykora agreed.
“It’s something other than going to Third Street but it’s the same idea,” Sykora said. “It’s a fun area to shop and eat, but it doesn’t have to cost any money. You can just walk around and hang out.”
At night, the streets are full of shoppers and restaurant patrons. In the four-block strip on Colorado Boulevard customers will find stores like Gap, J Crew, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Urban Outfitters as well as specialty shops like Papyrus, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Shop and Illuminations.
Although at first glance the shopping area seems like a typical outdoor mall, Old Town Pasadena has independently owned stores like a travel bookstore, music stores, a Japanese novelty shop, an old costume shop and a clothing store where everything is $15 or less.
Stores are intermingled with restaurants ranging from Crocodile Café, Gaucho Grill and Cheesecake Factory to small, quiet sandwich cafés. There are numerous sushi restaurants, Italian restaurants, a few sports bars and even a Johnny Rockets. Akbar serves excellent Indian cuisine, Jake’s Billiards boasts “Pool, Pub, Grub” and others advertise everything from Thai Cuisine to traditional British fare. Although on weekends the wait may be long at restaurants, there is plenty of shopping to keep hungry customers temporarily satisfied.
The epitome of the Old Town Pasadena paradox is a Wetzel’s Pretzels/Sweet Shop. The storefront displays rich fudge, chocolate-covered strawberries and candy apples, all made in the store. Inside are packaged candies and various novelties, including “I Love Lucy” memorabilia. In the back is the Wetzel’s Pretzels shop. All this is in one store proves that Old Town is an eclectic shopping adventure.
After dinner, many people visit the various coffee shops on the strip. Mainstream Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are popular, but someone who is looking for a more unique experience may walk past Starbucks and head down Mills Alley to Equator, a coffee shop, deli, hookah bar and Internet café.
Customers can sit on plush velvet couches while drinking reasonably priced specialty coffee from gigantic ceramic mugs. Or some may order a sandwich from the deli in back or rent a hookah for $7 and smoke flavored sheesha. Or for about $5 an hour anyone can check e-mail or browse the Internet. Most nights Equator hosts live bands, and on weekends they often have karaoke. Although the dark lighting and music are not conducive to studying, it’s the perfect place to spend a chatty evening with friends.
“I love taking people to Equator,” Ortigas said. “It’s a social place, it’s big, it’s very comfortable, but at the same time it’s exciting and not mundane. It’s as a real coffee shop should be, like Central Perk from ‘Friends.’ ”
Open late, Equator draws a crowd on weekends, but as the sign at the register says, “If it’s too loud, go to Starbucks!”
For entertainment, there are AMC and United Artists Theaters that show the latest movies. In the Braley Building on Raymond Street is The Knightsbridge Theatre that is currently running Shakespeare’s “King John,” “The Seagull” and Moliere’s comedy “The School for Wives.”
Walking up and down the central strip, people wear all styles of clothing from formal wear to relaxed jeans. Although diverse, the crowd is much tamer than at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade or Universal Citywalk. More sophisticated and less commercialized than its competitors, Old Town Pasadena provides the setting for a perfect date or unique evening out with friends.
A few street performers take advantage of the meandering crowds, but they are a different style than those in Santa Monica. These performers include jazz singers, a saxophone player and a woman who alternates between playing classical violin and singing opera.
Driving is slightly treacherous, but the tight-knit cluster of stores makes it easy to park in a side street garage and stroll the few blocks and connected alleys. Another option is to take the free Pasadena Area Rapid Transit System (ARTS) bus that offers tours all over downtown Pasadena until 10 p.m. on Fridays and 8 p.m. on weekends.
During the day, Old Town has many quiet places to sit and relax. Visible from the 210 freeway, the domed building and open-air gardens of City Hall provide a beautiful and tranquil atmosphere unequaled in Los Angeles. The building is reminiscent of traditional city halls of the East Coast but surrounded by typical California gardens with colorful Birds of Paradise. City Hall is perfect for enjoying the sunshine and a quiet atmosphere for reading or thinking.
Across the street is Plaza Las Fuentes. Surrounded by stone buildings, lots of greenery and bubbling fountains, the Plaza is another great location for quiet conversation or meditation. Adjacent to the Plaza is All Saints Church. Because the church is open to the public during the day, anyone can marvel at the high, arched ceilings and stained glass or sit in prayer.
Just behind the rough stone structure of All Saints Church is a new office building with smooth, modern architecture. The two buildings complement each other as they frame Plaza Las Fuentes and surround the visitors lounging next to the fountains. Although in the midst of downtown Pasadena, this area around City Hall provides a wonderful atmosphere to be away from stressful city traffic and noise. To visit City Hall, bring quarters for parking, a camera to capture the beauty of the building and a book to enjoy.
Across from City Hall in another direction is Paseo Colorado, the recently remodeled shopping center. An open-air mall with residential housing and office spaces above the retail stores, Paseo Colorado is described as an urban village. It is another example of consumerism blended with Pasadena’s quaint architecture.
Another daytime attraction in Old Town Pasadena is the Norton Simon Museum, located on Colorado Boulevard just past the row of stores. The Norton Simon houses impressionist works by famous artists such as van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt and Degas.
“I really enjoy going to the Norton Simon,” Ortigas said. “It’s like a mini-Getty, a smaller-scale but quaint museum.”
Other sights in Pasadena include the Gamble House, the Tournament of Roses House and outdoor rose gardens, the Pacific-Asia Museum and Fuller Theological Seminary.
The city is rich with history dating back to 1875 when immigrants were attracted to Pasadena because of its mild climate. Over a century later the history is still apparent both in the building structures and façades and the traditions of the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl.
The combination of mainstream stores and quaint cafés means that Old Town Pasadena has something for everyone. The quaint vicinity surrounding Colorado Boulevard is a sure bet for a day of shopping or an evening out.
February 14, 2002