Pasadena has some amazing places to take a date! It’s got fine restaurants, bars, shopping areas, cultural events, museums, and a lot more, making it worth visiting even if you live far away.
Here are my top date ideas in Pasadena and the surrounding area!
1. Huntington Library and Gardens
I’ve already written a lot about Huntington Library and Gardens. Suffice it to say, this is one of my top picks for best date destination in all of Los Angeles county. Not only does it feature amazing themed gardens ranging from tropical rain forest to Australian desert to Japanese and Chinese gardens, but it has an impressive art collection in Huntington’s personal mansion, as well as various exhibits in the museum. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon with someone special!
2. Old Town Pasadena
With its restaurants, bars, shops, and street performers, Old Town Pasadena is an obvious date destination. Always hoppin’ at night, there is always plenty to do and see here. Just walk up and down Colorado Avenue!
One of my favorite restaurants in Old Town is Café Santorini, tucked away on the second floor towards the back of the One Colorado courtyard. For more Old Town restaurant recommendations, check out my Top Five Favorite Restaurants in Old Town Pasadena.
A highlight of Old Town is the One Colorado courtyard, which often has special events and performances like KCRW’s concert series:
3. The Rose Bowl Flea Market
If you’re into antiques or finding cool nick-knacks, you’ll like the R.G. Canning Rose Bowl Flea Market every second Sunday at the Rose Bowl. They have furniture, clothing, and cool home décor. Last time I went, I didn’t buy anything but we had fun just browsing. General admission is $8 per person.
The Rose Bowl also hosts other special events, such as food and beer festivals, concerts, and so forth. Check their calendar for more info.
4. Urrth Caffe / Vroman’s Bookstore
Urrth Caffé is the perfect “coffee-date” place and a convenient place to grab a cup after seeing a play at the nearby Pasadena Playhouse. The Pasadena Urrth Café is one of the largest and most charming coffee houses I’ve been to, with plenty of outdoor patio seating and tall arches. The desserts are awesome. Service-wise, this place is a step above most coffee houses because waiters bring you your order after you are seated, giving you nice quality time to spend your date.
Just across the street from Urrth is the huge, newly-renovated Vroman’s Bookstore. Vroman’s totally kicks ass in an era when everyone thought book stores were dead. There is a huge collection of books is on the ground floor, with gifts, greeting cards, games, and children’s books on the second floor. Out front are a well-stocked magazine stand and a coffee shop. This is a rare and cherished find for book lovers (how many cities have a book store like this anymore?)
5. The Norton Simon Museum
The Norton Simon Museum offers world-class paintings and sculptures just west of Old Town Pasadena at 411 W. Colorado Blvd. If you’re into Rodin, Van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, Renoir, and Monet, this place is for you. Many reviewers on Yelp say this is their favorite art museum in L.A., over the Getty and LACMA! It’s well worth checking out if you are into art! Admission is $15 for adults and free for students and active-duty military personnel with valid ID!
The Norton Simon usually closes at 5 PM but is open until 7 PM on Saturdays.
If you’re really into contemporary art, you might want to also check out the very small but highly-regarded Pasadena Museum of California Art. It’s very close to Paseo Colorado and Urrth Caffe if you want something to do afterward.
6. Bistro 45
Bistro 45 is a formal, expensive traditional “date dinner” place. The food, service, and ambiance get high ratings all around. The cuisine is French/Californian and the ingredients are organic. Go here on those special occasions, or if you really want to impress!
7. The Gamble House / Pasadena Architecture
Pasadena has some surprisingly interesting and cool architecture. The Gamble House, an example of American Arts and Crafts style architecture, was built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble company. And of course, it was Doc Brown’s home in Back to the Future.
One-hour tours are available on certain days of the week (check the website for details) The ratings for this tour are four and a half stars on Yelp!
If you are into architecture, walk around the vast and beautiful Pasadena City Hall, right across Colorado Blvd. from Paseo Colorado.
On the holidays, check out the wonderful Castle Green which often has special holiday tours and events.
8. Pasadena Civic Auditorium
Located just south of the Paseo Colorado mall, the nearly 3000-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium features music and comedy acts in a surprisingly elegant setting. Check their website for shows. Reviewers say the acoustics are excellent.
Parking is $10, but I was able to find free parking on the street after 6 PM just a block away.
9. The Raymond 1886
The Raymond 1886 is an enchanting restaurant located in a historic craftsman cottage on Fair Oaks, perfect for a date. It has great reviews for excellent ambiance, service, and food, featuring “American cuisine with global influences”.
10. The Paseo
The Paseo (formerly called “Paseo Colorado”) is a shopping mall, but a very nice outdoor mall, and I would be remiss to leave it off this list. Some of the luster has faded since it first opened in 2001. A good number of shops are closed, including Macy’s and Gelson’s. But, it’s still got some solid chain restaurants like Yard House and BJ’s, and it’s still pleasant to wander through on a warm evening.
The last time I went was during the Pasadena Chalk Festival, and the parking garage was a nightmare. I exited the garage and was able to find free street parking after 6 PM just a block away on El Molino. But normally the underground parking is okay.
11. Free Outdoor Concerts at Levitt Pavilion
If you want a mini Hollywood Bowl experience and you’re on a tight budget, check out the free concerts at the Levitt Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater with a stage shaped much like its bigger cousin in the Hollywood Hills. Check online for which acts are playing, usually during summer evenings. Remember to bring a blanket or jacket, regardless of how warm it is that day, because it definitely gets cold sitting outside at night. Bring your own picnic food, or check out some of the food trucks that are there. There is parking at the Raymond lot for $5. Overall, seeing a free concert at Levitt Pavilion is a really nice date night for minimal cost.
12. The Pasadena Playhouse
A great date destination just down the street from Paseo Colorado is the Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. El Molino Avenue). Housed in a historic performing arts venue with a charming courtyard and extravagant interior, the Playhouse is an attraction in itself, but it also offers great musicals and plays without the hassles of going to downtown LA.
Right next door, there is the Redwhite+Bluezz Jazz Club. Across the street, Urrth Caffe for coffee. There are some good restaurants nearby including Roy’s and Blaze Pizza.
13. iPic Theaters
I don’t usually recommend seeing a movie on a date, but the iPic Theaters are definitely a notch above regular theaters, with plush reclining sofa seating and your personal blanket and pillow! They serve cocktails as well as food – and we’re not just talking red vines and popcorn (which is free), but stuff like truffle fries and chicken fajita quesadillas. Okay, tickets are expensive (around $28) compared to a regular theater, but if you want a first-class movie experience in the heart of Old Town, check this place out.
14. Eaton Canyon Hike (Altadena)
The Eaton Canyon Nature Area offers an easy but rewarding hike with rock formations and even a 50 ft. waterfall at the end. The first mile is a not-so-exciting dirt road, but it gets more scenic as you go further along. This trail can get crowded to try to go early and avoid peak periods. Also, remember to bring water and sun protection!
Parking for the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is located at 1750 N Altadena Dr.
15. 626 Night Market (Arcadia)
I admit I have not gone to the Asian-themed 626 Night Market yet, but it is on my bucket list. Located at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia (okay, not Pasadena, but close), this outdoor market features food, crafts, games, music, and other entertainment. People recommend going early because the food lines can get insane later in the evening. Parking is free and admission is only $3!
16. Outdoor Movies at Street Food Cinema
During the summer, Street Food Cinema sets gets a bunch of food trucks together at Victory Park in Pasadena and shows outdoor movies. Cost for the reserved area is $19. General admission is $14.
17. Swing Dancing
For some reason, Pasadena is a hotbed of Swing dancing. So, why not take a Swing dance lesson at Lindygroove, the largest weekly Swing dance event in Southern California? Every Thursday night they offer beginner and intermediate Swing dance lessons at the Masonic Lodge just south of Paseo Colorado mall. Afterward, try out what you’ve learned to a huge DJ’d dance in the main hall. Or check out blues dancing in the side room. Admission is only $7.
If Thursday night doesn’t work for you, try going to the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association’s Saturday night Swing dances. They always have a lesson followed by a live swing band and snacks. Cost is usually $15 but can be more for special events. This place has an older, but friendly, crowd.
18. Comedy Show at the Ice House
I’m not a huge fan of standup comedy as a date idea, but some of my friends like the shows at the Ice House so I looked into it. Most online reviewers found the comedians hilarious but complained about the super-expensive drinks ($19 for two beers) and two-drink minimum. Food does not count as part of the two-drink minimum, oddly enough. Admission is typically around $10 so we’re talking $30 per person, plus parking and tips. If you recognize the real cost and still want to go, the Ice House is a good bet for high-quality comedy.
19. Pasadena Ice Skating Center
If you are itching to go ice skating in the middle of summer, or if you want to re-create Rocky Balboa’s first date with Adrienne, you can go to the Pasadena Ice Skating Center, located just south of Paseo Colorado. Housed in a huge white canvas “tent”, this place is not super romantic, but it can be fun.
It might seem obvious, but it’s very cold inside so bring appropriate clothing, gloves, etc., even if it’s hot outside.
Multiple online reviewers complained that it’s crowded with lots of kids and that the ice was not smooth (needed to be Zamboni’d), just to warn you. As of this writing, admission is $10 with $4.00 skate rental. Afterward, hang out at Paseo Colorado just across the street for lunch or dinner.
20. JPL Tour / Open House
Satisfy your inner geek with a tour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In this unique experience, you’ll get to see workshops where scientists and engineers are working on actual spacecraft, as well as the mission control room.
However, patience is required for this on many levels. You’ll have to sign up possibly months in advance for the tour or wait for the once-annual open house to see the joint. Once there, it’s crowded, and there are long lines with up to a two-hour wait. The parking situation is equally bad, with long lines of cars that can back up into the freeway! Be warned and go early.
BONUS: Pasadena Tournament of Roses
Okay, this is probably not a good idea for a first date, but camping out on Colorado Boulevard on New Year’s Eve and watching the Rose Parade floats go by in the morning would definitely be a unique and probably very fun date.
If the idea of sleeping on the street seems insane to you consider this option: you can view the floats after the parade. Cost is only $10 but can get pretty crowded, so it is suggested to go in the morning.
Whew! It’s amazing that Pasadena has so many interesting date possibilities! What did I miss? Please leave a comment below. – Brian