Why Pasadena, California Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Jess Isaac/Apartment Therapy

Pasadena was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

Pasadena is widely known as home to the Rose Bowl, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Caltech, but this Los Angeles suburb nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains has even more cultural gems that make it unique.

Residents and visitors alike love to stroll through Old Pasadena for turn-of-the-century architecture; check out the Norton Simon Museum for pieces by Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso; and go on delicious food tours for Middle Eastern, South American, and Indian cuisine. And everyone’s got to make time to go wild at the Neon Retro Arcade.

The Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts is one local can’t-miss event—and one epic meeting of creative minds. Local designers and gardeners produce a showcase home, then sell tickets to benefit local nonprofit arts programs.

Overall, the city is widely known as a great place to raise a family. Many Los Angeles residents will say they want to move to Pasadena when they are “ready to settle down.”

Median rent price:

$2,547, according to Rent Café.

Median house price:

$879,000, according to Zillow.

Walkability score:

66, according to Walk Score.

Median household income:

$76,264, according to Census data.

Average commute:

90 percent commute by car, according to Trulia.


137,122, according to Census data.

Square foot price compared to city:

$590 in Pasadena vs. $525 in Los Angeles, according to Zillow.

What the suburb is known for:

Pasadena is best known for annually hosting the iconic Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game every New Year’s Day. The parade includes equestrian units, marching bands from all over the nation, and much more. A true sign to a Pasadena native that the new year has arrived is the unforgettable smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs from the street vendors littered up and down the parade route. Following the Rose Parade, The Rose Bowl Stadium fills with college football fans eager to watch one of the legendary games played there every year. Since the first game in 1902, the Rose Bowl has honored 17 Heisman Trophy winners, 29 national champions, and inducted 107 football icons into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

Hidden gem:

The Norton Simon Museum is a bit of a hidden gem in Pasadena and often overlooked for larger museums. The exhibitions are truly outstanding and you don’t need to travel to the heart of Los Angeles to see them.

Place that makes you happy to live there:

Pasadena’s rich history and heritage, including architectural landmarks, such as the iconic Craftsman home; the Gamble House, which was also the filming location for “Back to the Future;” and Castle Green, make me happy to live here.  

Favorite activity for families:

An adorable spot for families with children is Duff’s Cakemix. The Food Network’s Duff Goldman created this super fun, DIY cake-decorating spot, where adults and children can become creative cake artists, just like the ones they watch on television.

Credit: Jess Isaac/Apartment Therapy

Favorite hangout for young professionals:

Langham Tap Room. Bring a business card.

Favorite place to catch a movie:

Favorite teen hangout:

21 Choices is the best late-night (or anytime of day) spot for teens. The store is under construction right now and is moving to a new location in Old Town, but make sure to try their root beer float flavor when they open back up in a few months!

Favorite outdoor lounge spot:

True Food Kitchen is a great spot to lounge outdoors while enjoying a delicious meal with family or friends. The spacious outdoor seating is comfortable, and I always recommend that visitors order the hummus appetizer.

Credit: Jess Isaac/Apartment Therapy

Favorite date spot:

Houston’s. Hands down my favorite place to eat in Pasadena.

Average commute/traffic report:

Pasadena is a suburb of Los Angeles, so traffic isn’t wonderful. Interstate 210, which is the main freeway that leads through the city, has stop-and-go traffic during any given day. Interstate 110, which leads through the southern part of the city, is generally fast-moving and easy to navigate, but only use Interstate 110 if you are an experienced driver! It’s narrow and winding.

Favorite local bookstore:

My favorite bookstore in Pasadena is Vroman’s. It has the feel of a quaint, local bookstore, akin to “The Shop Around the Corner.” They also feature the most amazing guest speakers. I met former President Jimmy Carter and Jenny Slate during readings here. It is a must-see.

Favorite place to get coffee:

Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:

Kings Row is the best bar in Pasadena for running into locals and—fair warning—people you probably went to high school with. They also have a great patio in the back for long summer nights!

Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:

The Pasadena Chalk Festival is easily the best free cultural event in the city. In fact, in 2010, Guinness World Records named it the largest street painting festival, including more than 600 artists who utilized more than 25,000 sticks of chalk.

Signature food:

Most people would probably say Lucky Boy Drive-In, but as a Pasadena native, I personally believe you should try Tops Burgers first. They are both known for their breakfast burritos, but Tops just doesn’t get enough credit for its mouthwatering experience.

Favorite boutique:

Tuck Pasadena. The styles are eclectic, colorful, and unique.

Most walkable area:

The most walkable area for working out is probably the loop around the Rose Bowl. It’s 3.1 miles, and you will see locals walking it all day, every day! Old Town Pasadena is also a very walkable area, where you can spend money and burn calories at the same time.

Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor activities:

Eaton Canyon Natural Area is the most popular hiking area in the suburb. Every Sunday, you will see cars parked up and down the outside of the entrance, especially if it’s sunny. The main appeal of this trail is that there is a beautiful waterfall. Pack your sunscreen.

Favorite spot for an Instagram:

Dots Cafe Bakery. The colors and patterns on everything from the decor to the goods are eye-catching!

Credit: Jess Isaac/Apartment Therapy

Favorite brunch:

There are a handful of great spots for brunch, but Lincoln Pasadena is my favorite. The parmesan eggs and breakfast salad are both unreal.  

Favorite free activity:

Pasadena City College Flea Market. It’s not as big as the Rose Bowl Flea Market, but there are still some really great finds.

Favorite grocery store:

Favorite place for a workout:

My favorite workout is SoulCycle with Ross. He literally takes me to church!

Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:

I like to take out-of-towners to city hall. If you’re a fan of “Parks and Recreation,” then you have to get a photo in front of Pasadena City Hall, which you may recognize as Pawnee City Hall. Back when the show was filming, I’d see Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman shooting scenes on the front steps all the time. They are both very friendly!

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:

The worst place to find parking is Old Town Pasadena, but almost everywhere else in the city has open and super convenient parking lots. The best part about living in a suburb is the free parking lots!

Favorite annual event:

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game. Visitors come from all over and get to see what makes Pasadena so special.

What I miss about the city living in a suburb:

There’s a certain luxury in being able to walk everywhere quickly. It’s nice to be able to walk to dinner and drinks from your home. That’s not something that can easily be done in a suburb.

What I never miss about the city:

Paid parking everywhere!

Favorite local home store:

Cost Plus World Market is my favorite home store, even though it’s not exactly local—we are lucky to have one! From the trendy furniture to the amazing candles and the best sales on pillows in town—they have it all.

Favorite local diner:

Millie’s Cafe is fairly new to Pasadena and is the modern diner we didn’t know we needed. From the chilaquiles to the french toast, there’s something delicious for everyone in the family on the menu. Get there early though, there’s always a line out the door—it’s that good!

Favorite house/garden walk:

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a popular attraction in Pasadena for locals and visitors alike. There are multiple gardens to visit, including a children’s garden, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, and more.

Favorite dog park:

Pasadena Off-Leash Dog Park is a local fave.

Favorite resale and antique store:

The Rose Bowl Flea Market is the best spot to hunt for antiques. Residents from all over Southern California flock to this beloved sale the second Sunday of each month to see what new treasures are in store.

Why do you think your suburb is cool?:

The best part about living in Pasadena is that on any given day you are an hour’s drive from the snow, and an hour’s drive from the ocean. Take your pick!

Credit: Apartment Therapy