Traditions such as the century-old Tournament of Roses and the monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market have set a reassuring pace in this postcard-perfect city. Yet a new energy is shaking up the status quo, as contemporary hotels open, and restaurants and bars offer innovative fare. This high-culture outpost with Craftsman cottages and imposing mansions is rich with world-class museums, top universities and walkable districts for shopping, dining, and antique browsing. The big parade and bowl game may dominate the season, but the city’s mellow vibe makes the usually frenzied holiday rituals wonderfully civilized.
Immerse yourself in a Victorian Christmas at Castle Green’s “Dickens in the Castle” festival on Dec. 7 to tour the landmark’s rarely seen private living areas ($30 to $35). Manet’s on-loan “The Railway” arrives at the Norton Simon Museum with a lecture, tour, and film to support its residency (free to $12). The Pasadena Playhouse presents a family-friendly musical, “Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight,” from Dec. 10 through Jan. 4 ($34 to $125). Get a different view of the New Year’s parade floats—up close. Tickets to view the pre-parade decorating, and post-parade parked fleet are available at sharpseating.com ($3 to $15).
A flight of homemade sausages, brats, and links at Picnik ($7 to $28) could ruin you forever for ordinary hot dogs. Add a craft beer and dirty fries to the Malaysian Wrap (sausage dosed with kimchee puree), rib-eye plate, or the all-beef dog with pickled watermelon-rind relish. The Green Street Restaurant’s addictive Dianne salad ($15.50) combines chicken, almonds, sesame seeds, and a special dressing that fans buy by the $8 jar. Northern Italy and California intersect at Union ($6 to $32), a small-plates resto and bar renown for its imaginative, seasonal salads, squid ink garganelli with lobster, and gianduja chocolate budino.
The luxuriously remodeled Chuan Spa and Salon ($30 to $490) at The Langham Huntington Pasadena ($269 to $990) combines Eastern and Western treatments that relax the body, clear the skin, and pamper you from head, to chakra, to toe. Built in 1926 and revived this fall as a 136-room boutique hotel, the DusitD2 Constance Pasadena ($175 to $313) offers contemporary decor, cocktails such as the vodka-based Pasadena Cooler at the lobby’s D’bar, and rooms with deep soaking tubs and iPad minis. Just outside are the city’s main attractions, many within walking distance along Colorado Boulevard.