I discovered walking tours in Portugal back in 2014 when I found it to be a convenient way to learn about the city, view some awesome architecture, and eat some of the local specialties along the way. This has quickly become my favorite way to pack all of that stuff in and then set out on my own agenda.
When I came across a walking tour company in one of my favorite local cities, I thought it would be a neat way to take in a little secret history in some of my favorite areas of the city; all before lunch. The Pasadena Walking Tours event that caught my eye was the South Lake Avenue Walking Tour. With a focus on the mid-century growth of Pasadena, it sounded like a perfect morning. To see what I learned, walk this way…
The South Lake Avenue tour obviously centers around the south end of Lake, a major north-south thoroughfare that extends from the foothills, through busy Pasadena, and quietly sneaks into sleepy San Marino. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years. I attended graduate school fairly close (when classes were cancelled, we’d head to Old Town Pasadena to drink) and I completed an internship in Pasadena a few streets over. Maybe most notably, I spent a lot of money at the original Pasadena Anthropologie location on Lake Ave. But I digress…
The tour focused on a time when people wanted the ease of driving their big ol’ cars to major shopping destinations closer to home than Downtown LA. The former Bullock’s luxury department store (now a Macy’s) was the first of this kind in the area. The idea was to plant this two acre store in the middle of a residential area where it would blend in. The building was constructed to resemble a low, horizontal home with killer landscaping as viewed from the street. To continue the botanical feel (as is signature for Pasadena living), the indoor spaces were adorned with art and materials that brought the outside in. Much of this remains today, if you know where to look. It helps to have a tour guide and Julia was fantastic!
As we journeyed down Lake Ave., we checked out bungalow living, learned that both Basking Robbins and the cheeseburger started in Pasadena, and made plans to return to Magnolia House, a hip bar nestled inside the first residential home in Pasadena. Soon we found ourselves on the campus of Cal Tech, also known as my 6-year-old’s future school. Come on, she wants to be an astronomer. And it’s close to home. Done and done! The campus sprawls over several blocks off of Lake Ave. and California St. and is mostly designed in the Spanish Mission style with plenty of archways to swoon over and wisteria vines crawling over everything. But with changing times, and the desire to have the buildings reflect the leaps and bounds being made in the scientific community, there are more modern styles to see as well. It’s really a special place, saturated in history. Cal Tech holds its own comprehensive architectual tour on the last Thursday of the month.
At the end of our two hour walk, we landed at one of my favorite places in Pasadena, the colorful Burlington Arcade. I’ve featured this picturesque breezeway on my Insta many times since it’s so damn photogenic. Modeled after the famous shopping area near Piccadilly Circus in London, Pasadena’s version is sunny almost year round, really bringing that light in through the skylights. The tour included a discount at, by far the best place in the arcade, Float eatery. Float has quickly become a place at which to hang out any day of the week with their full coffee bar and tasty sandwiches. But its called Float for a reason. Pick your ice cream and soda flavors and make your own concoction to sip under the pretty pastel outdoor hallway. My picks are the Cold Brew float (or any seasonal float!) and the Caprese sandwich. Float is all about the entertainment too with summer movie nights and live music on most weekends. If you are shopping in the area, a stop at the Burlington Arcade is worth the detour. Now if they can only bring a Laudree to this location!
Although I am not one to travel with a ‘tour group,’ I see the value in setting up a shorter tour to get the most bang for your buck, especially if you want to learn about a particular theme or site. There are definitely more local walking tours in my future my mom, daughter, and I had such a good time on this one. You never know what you can discover in your own backyard.
I’d love to know where you have done a walking tour.