The home of the Tournament of Roses Parade, the Grandaddy of all football games, Big Bang Theory, Einstein’s west coast home, fabulous architecture, NASA’s JPL, wild parrots, fabulous hiking, 2 kids museums, a world famous flea market, invention of the cheeseburger, the first Trader Joe’s and home of Jackie Robinson and Julia Child has about a million and one reasons for your family to spend the day, or weekend, really exploring the fabulous city of the valley. Read on to discover the best of kids museums, family eats and places to play in Pasadena.
photo: Meghan Rose
Museums galore! Starting is easy (Kidspace, hands down) but stopping is hard. There are just too many museums to cram into one visit. And that’s without mentioning the hikes, playgrounds and parks…
This kids’ museum is the best and biggest in the city, and is your first stop with your kiddos. It features everything an inquiring little mind can imagine, from the trike tracks to climbers to the Galvin Physics Forest and Imagination Workshop, and is perfect when you have to entertain kids from 10 months to 10 years old. The newest spot is the outdoor Arroyo Adventure, with plenty of hand-on wet fun that make this hot spot lovely in summer months, too. Wherever they choose to play, your tyke will leave tuckered out!
480 N. Arroyo Blvd.
photo: Tiffany Luong Photography
Southern California Children’s Museum
This small museum for small fry is a perfect indoor stop for tiny tots. Interacting with a fire engine, getting a little dirty in a construction zone or experiencing what it’s like to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, it’s more like an artistic indoor playspace than museum. There are classes, experiences and sometimes a big exhibit (this summer, it’s Clifford, the Big Red Dog) for kids each day and it’s a perfect indoor spot to stay cool and explore with your littlest museum goers.
459 E. Colorado Blvd.
photo: Meghan Rose
The Huntington Library, Art Collection & Botanical Gardens
One of the most beautiful spots in the state is right here. It’s got a fabulous (and wet!) kids area, beautiful gardens for strolling, a tasty tea house, Chinese & Japanese gardens, a duck pond and a world class art collection: in short, it’s a perfect place to spend the day exploring with kids. The Huntington is located on the 207-acre estate of the late Henry Huntington. While kids will want to spend most of their time outdoors, do take a quick walk through the art collections (where kids can cool down in the AC) to see “Pinkie” and “The Blue Boy” and over 1,200 objects of art on rotating display. The Huntington has recently expanded and upgraded and the new research centers, exhibit halls and (yum!) food options have taken a museum that was already a favorite to a whole new level.
1151 Oxford Rd.
Pasadena Museum of California Art
The mission of this hidden gem of a museum is to explore the scope of California art and design through works that explore culture and influences that are unique to California. It’s a great place to visit for both adults and kids, and a wonderful way to revel in a little hometown pride. Wednesday Wee Read story times and Saturday workshops that are geared towards kids are our favorite days to visit.
490 East Union St.
Norton Simon Museum
While big art museums can feel overwhelming to kids, the Norton Simon is perfectly sized for first time art exploration. And the collection is stunning for a museum of this size—you and your kids will recognize Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Rivera, and Cezanne all hanging on the walls. Don’t forget to pick up a (free) pocket guide for families, packed with provoking questions and fascinating facts about the artwork here. But the biggest draw are the art workshops, introducing kids of all ages to the works of masters, which are used as inspiration for their own creations.
411 W. Colorado Blvd.
photo: Barbara Nale
This takes a little pre-planning for your visit, but scheduling a semi-private tour at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is well worth the wait. Budding astronauts will gawk over watching rocket scientists at work, viewing life-sized models of all of JPL’s spacecraft and getting a birds-eye view of the mission control room in action.
4800 Oak Grove Dr.
Neon Retro Arcade Video Games
The name kind of says it all; this neon spot is filled with retro (80s & 90s) arcade games. It’s perfect for parents who want to connect with their techno-lovin’ kids, but can’t stand the mayhem of the modern video game palaces. Or the need to constantly pump them full of quarters or loaded up cards. Here play is $10/hour or $25/day to play to your heart’s content. It’s a great bang for your buck at this blast from the past where parents and kids can share an afternoon.
28 S Raymond Ave.
photo: Jolie Loeb
Kids sing, moms and dads sip, and just like that, everyone is as “Happy” as Pharrell. At Chirp Kids Karaoke Cafe, kids can warble along with Moana or Hamilton to their hearts content, while you read, sip or chat and relax in air-conditioned comfort.
2302 East Colorado Blvd.
It was almost impossible to narrow the list to just these best places to play, so we wanted to also mention awesome indoor playgrounds like Amy’s Playground, Magical Playground & We Rock Spectrum. The annual kid tours at Fenyes Mansion and holiday tour of Castle Green are worth planning your visit around, and the USC Pacific Asia Museum is scheduled to re-open soon after an extensive renovation!
photo: Rich G. via Yelp
While Old Pasadena is a shopper’s dream, there are also tons of unique stores that cater specifically to kids. These are our can’t miss shop spots!
If you love small, personalized toy stores where the owners hand pick every item in inventory and can wax poetic on games of today, yesterday and for all ages, this is heaven. Books, toys, dinosaurs (oh, yeah!), trains and loads of toys out to play with, your kids will lose hours here, and you can sotck up on amazing and unique birthday presents for ages to come. And for bigger kids, or those that love the bling, Kidd’s Jewelry Heist is located in the back of Dinosaur Farm and is the ultimate jewelry making parlor.
1510 Mission St.
photo: LeTania Kirkland Smith
Vroman’s is a historical literary landmark; founded in 1894, this family owned business is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. The Children’s Selection is one of the best in town, Vroman’s also hosts parent/child book clubs and story times and loads of meet and greets with local and national authors. With an attached coffee shop (and Blaze Pizza next door) and amazing cards & games selection, you can spend a whole day (and a lot of dollars) here.
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Rosebuds & Rosestuds
Since you spent your bottom dollar at Vroman’s, you’ll be thrilled to save some cash on superb maternity, baby and toddler wear and gear at this wonderful resale (and new) shop. The upscale items are carefully curated, and it’s easy to find treasures you didn’t know you were looking for.
1012 B Mission St.
Ten Thousand Villages
With stores across North America, this isn’t your typical pick for a unique shopping experience. Nor is it a kid’s store. However, this fair trade store makes for a fabulous visit with kids, as each item is handmade in communities across the globe, made using local recycled or natural materials, and their purchase helps support artisans in developing nations. It’s a great learning experience, wonderful jumping off point for discussions about helping people around the world, and also a great place to discover fun new clothes, toys and goodies for the home.
567 S Lake Ave.
photo: Adriana K. via Yelp
Parks & Playgrounds
Reese’s Retreat at Brookside Park
What’s a pirate without their mighty ship? Fierce young marauding babes and their mateys will love this unique playground (that just happens to be attached to the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, in case you want to bring your swimsuit and stick around for family swim hour). With a giant mast, ship’s wheel, cannonball climbers, huge swing set and long ramps perfect for walking the plank, your Captain Hook cuties will have hours and hours of fun. Thar should be warned though, pirates may only have one response when it’s time to go home: “Arrrrgh!”
360 N. Arroyo Blvd.
The name says it all: this park is so centrally located that if you’re spending any time in Pasadena, you will drive or walk past it at some point. With a playground, bathroom and loads of shady trees, it’s a perfect place to take a timeout from whatever you happen to be doing and run around and play!
275 S Raymond Ave.
Eaton Canyon Park & Nature Center
This 200 acre nature preserve at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains is filled with hiking paths, a nature center and streams. The hikes are super easy (and kid friendly!) with a waterfall at a not-to-far point, and you’ll find tons of wildlife (loads of lizards lolling in the sun delight young herpetologists). The nature center is open every day except Monday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and the rangers there will fill your kids in on what to look for in the park and introduce them to the live animals that live at the center. If you need an escape from a day in the city, without actually leaving the city, this is it.
1750 North Altadena Dr.
photo: Meghan Rose
Here’s a fun fact: Pasadena has more restaurants per capita than NYC! What that means for you is many, many fabulous kid eateries where grownups are quite happy as well.
Pie N Burger
A Pasadena institution since 1963, the recipes, products and methods used in making the (you guessed it) burgers and pies here are the same as those used over 50 years ago. Since the cheeseburger was invented in Pasadena, it seems only fitting to eat one while you’re here. Let the kids belly up to the counter seats where they can watch their burger being fried. And do save room for pie.
13 E California Blvd.
The Luggage Room
The Luggage Room is a pizzeria that occupies the former luggage room of Pasadena’s old Santa Fe train depot. The wood burning oven bakes up pies that are topped with goodies from local farmers markets and farms, and the simple kids menu (cheese or pepperoni pies for $5-$6) are a hit with pizza lovers; but just in case they want something else, they can order from the kitchen of that attached La Grande Orange (the mac & cheese or tacos are a huge hit). The vegan and vegetarian options abound for parents, along with a fabulous wine and beer menu, and definitely order a starter of the bacon wrapped dates. On your way out, pick up a bag of their famous English muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast!
260 Raymond Ave.
photo: True Food Kitchen
True Food Kitchen
This particular outpost of the healthy eatery is honestly one of our favorite things to hit the family dining scene in the last 5 years. The fresh, beautiful food tastes so good that the whole family will look forward to eating here, and the indoor/outdoor spaces with an open kitchen are perfect for kids who can’t sit still and need to be entertained. The kid’s menu has pizza and burger options (organic and grass fed, with flax seed buns) for picky eaters who really won’t venture from the easily recognizable. But it also has a fantastic almond butter, banana and apple sandwich that is so sweet and tasty they won’t notice the seeded bread, or that you snuck fruit into them. For parents, the cocktails are fresh and delectable and be sure to try whatever is newest on the seasonal menu.
168 W Colorado Blvd.
If you’re looking for a fast eat the kids will adore right in the heart of Old Pasadena, check out Slater’s 50/50. Perfect for picky eaters, the build-your-own-burger spot that offers toppings like fried pickles and strawberry jelly, along with some ridiculously delicious shakes. They also allow kids to pick a meal (sliders, mac & cheese or chicken tenders) and 2 “snacks”, or just 4 “snacks” (think: go-gurt, cheese crackers, string cheese, apple sauce and other total kid pleasers), so even the most discerning little eater can construct their ideal meal.
61 N. Raymond Ave.
photo: Meghan Rose
LA kids become sushi connoisseurs at a very young age. But that doesn’t mean that they’re great at the behavior required for sitting at your favorite omakase bar. We are huge fans of the kids’ menu at Pasadena’s Sushi Roku. These kid bento boxes feature protein—beef, chicken, or sushi—in addition to health sides like tempura sweet potato and broccoli, edamame, and applesauce. And for parents, the Happy Hour menu is a fabulous deal (and Happy Hour is all night Sunday and Monday!).
33 Miller Alley
photo: The Langham Pasadena
Pasadena happens to be the High Tea capitol of Southern California. We mentioned the tea house at the Huntington, which is a favorite serve yourself spot. Our favorite tea with kids is the Imagine Tea at the Langham Hotel, which features a stunning service and strolling magicians, and for an everyday treat, the Tea Rose Garden makes you feel like you’re dining on Mrs. Padmore’s creations at Downton Abbey. We highly recommend taking tea while in Pasadena.
photo: Amara Chocolate & Coffee
Coffee & Sweets
From chocolate dipping churros to ice cream packed buns, there’s something sweet for everyone.
Amara Chocolate and Coffee
This sweet cafe specializes in the flavors of Venezuela, which is something you should introduce to your tots’ taste buds if you haven’t already. The sipping chocolates (hot or cold!) are a perfect place to start. You can keep it simple with their Venezuelan Chocolate, which is a rich and creamy concoction of Venezuelan cocoa and milk. It’s so rich and creamy, kids will think they’re drinking pudding! If you’re feeling like a kick, ask for the Amara and Jones with two shots of JC espresso, or the “Mexican Authority” with pasila chile and cinnamon to wake up your senses. If you’re here, you have to try the churros with dipping chocolate or ice cream. Seriously decadent, seriously delightful, and the perfect way to break up your day of exploring.
55 S. Raymond Ave.
photo: Meghan Rose
If you want a savory treat, like a freshly baked duck and Gruyere croissant or sausage fennel scone, or your little one wants chocolate cookie, a slice of Churro Cake or some sushi candy, this breakfast and lunch café & bakery (co-owned by the owner of Little Flower Candy, also in Pasadena—that’s why you can get all the Little Flower Candy here) is a perfect place to nosh for the whole family. The open air space is inviting, and you shouldn’t miss swinging by the storefront, which is filled with unique finds for kids and adults alike.
1992 Lincoln Ave.
photo: Afters Ice Cream
Afters Ice Cream
Since you can get ice cream in tacos, churros, rolled and insta-freezed, it seems like there’s nothing new in ice cream. Not so! While you can get scoops and cones of these hand crafted flavors, the milky bun is what it’s all about. Glazed (or unglazed) raised donuts are hole-free, sliced, and filled with ice creams like bright blue Cookie Monster folded with crushed cookies, jasmine milk tea and churro. Add toppings like Fruity Pebbles, chocolate syrup, or mocha. Your kids will go nuts for the crazy colorful, super sweet treat.
1265 E. Green St.
This unique pie shop doesn’t just upend traditional pie flavors with concoctions, like Mexican Chocolate and Strawberry Lavender, it also throws savory tastes, like Shepard’s Pie, into the mix, for a really original pie experience. Despite the out-of-the-ordinary recipes, the shop itself is a simple, casual café perfect for some quality pie eating time with kids. The flexibility makes it great for breakfast, snacking, dessert or even a meal, and the hand held pies are perfect for picnics (or just eating with antsy-pants tots.
59 E Colorado Blvd.
photo: Sara Burton, from the Levitt Pavilion Pasadena
Winter, spring, summer or fall… all you gotta do is call (or check online) to see what’s playing.
Levitt Pavilion in Summer
The Levitt Pavilion in Old Pasadena’s Memorial Park’s hosts free concerts all summer long in the restored band shell. Thursday nights are kids’ nights, with special kids bands and acts (like Bob Baker Marionettes and Rhythm Child), just for little concert-goers. Be sure to come early to enjoy the KidZone before the show. And check other concert listings too, as acts like Grammy winners Quetzal and the Dustbowl Revival appeal to the whole family.
Lythgoe Panto in Winter
If your family likes music and irreverent theater or has a bit of a Brit fixation, the Lythgoe Family (American) Panto is the show for you. This annual musical holiday production in Pasadena (moving this year from the Pasadena Playhouse to the larger Pasadena Civic Auditorium) is performed in the style of a classic British Panto—think encouraged audience response and singing along with the cast. Each year in December they perform a different show, and once you go, it’s sure to become a family tradition.
photo: Meghan Rose
Why fight traffic, when you can spend the night?
Old Pasadena Courtyard by Marriott
Right in the heart of Old Pasadena, a few short blocks from a Metro Gold Station, this is the easiest stay for families. The hotel was recently modernized and has a great pool and family suites that make it a wonderful and affordable place to extend your Pasadena visit.
180 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
The Langham Huntington Pasadena
The hotel that houses our favorite tea in the city is also a superb luxury staycation spot for the family. Join the Langham Huntington Kids Program and young travelers will be greeted with a “Theodore” teddy backpack loaded with a Little Junebugs craft pack, a certificate for a complimentary dinner at The Terrace and a Langham chocolate bar. The stunning setting and relaxing pool will make you feel like you’ve gone way out of town, not just up the 134.
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave.
Whew! What of your favorite Pasadena family spots have we missed? Let us know!
A special thanks to the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting our visit! Main image of Pasadena City Hall courtesy of Graham via Creative Commons.