23 Things You Should Know About Life in Pasadena, CA

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Are you dreading the impending winter? Does your recent Google search activity include “how to be a snowbird” or “average temperature in Southern California in February”? If you’re considering moving to SoCal, you’re in good company—the greater Los Angeles area is historically home to more transplants than natives, and Pasadena is a popular place to settle in. But is it right for you? Below are 26 factors to consider in your quest to determine whether you (or your seasonal affective disorder) can handle another winter anywhere else.

Brain over Brawn

Pasadena also houses some of the most prestigious intellectual institutions in the country, most notably NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and The California Institute of Technology (CalTech), which is home to 33 Nobel Laureates, four beloved fictional scientists, and some of the greatest collegiate pranks in history.

The Rose Bowl

The oldest postseason football game in America has some surprising origins. The Rose Bowl was created by Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club, an organization synonymous with fox hunts, debutante balls, and dinner jackets, which are still around today. These East Coast transplants were the original organizers of the Tournament of Roses in 1890, which was a mid-winter celebration with competitions in jousting, polo, chariot races, and tug-of-war. The point, at least at first, was to invite their old friends from back east to show them what a swell town Pasadena was. It grew and changed every year, and in 1902 the first football game was added to the festivities and made permanent in 1916. The Rose Bowl stadium was erected in 1922. Here’s hoping they return to their roots and bring back ostrich racing at halftime this year.

Tailgating as an Art Form

For a city of million-dollar homes and rocket scientists, Pasadena can pop open the beer, start up the grill, and tailgate with the best of them. The clear message at the Rose Bowl is “go big or go home” and they have the bouncy houses, jumbo screens, gourmet barbecue, and alcohol to back it up. Go Bruins.

Rose Bowl Flea

When it’s not being used for various sporting events, the Rose Bowl hosts a flea market on the second Sunday of every month. One of the largest flea markets in the country, it’s also, in typical Southern California fashion, a social event, kind of like a mini-Coachella, where aspiring models and lifestyle bloggers walk around in overthought boho garb hoping to be noticed.

The Rose Parade

Always eager to boast about their year-round sunshine, Pasadena prefaced the Tournament of Roses with a parade of flower-covered carriages. The tradition has stuck around and millions tune in to watch the Rose Parade every year. If you’re wondering why you’ve never seen it on TV, it’s because it starts at 8 am on January 1, and you’re too hungover from New Year’s Eve to handle the marching bands and so much visual stimulation.

The Other Parade

If pristine floral floats and well-rehearsed drill teams sound like a snoozefest, Pasadena hosts another parade every year that’s been described as the Rose Parade’s “twisted sister.” The Doo Dah Parade is a celebration of all things weird, whimsical, and profane. It looks like it belongs more in Portland, Oregon than Pasadena. Wanna see drag queens on Harleys? How about a functional car that’s also a swimming pool, a marching grill team, or an eight-person bicycle? Yes? Then the Doo Dah is the parade for you.

The City of Roses

Speaking of things that fit better in Oregon than Pasadena, the “City of Roses” moniker is a bit misleading. While Pasadena does have its fair share of flowers, and they can grow even during the winter (if you can call it that in Southern California), it’s not actually a great place to grow roses, which need a LOT of water, something SoCal is pretty short on right now. Pasadena’s better off letting Portland claim the “Rose City” title and sticking to its original nickname, The Crown of the Valley, or Crown City.


If you’re moving to the LA area and assuming that the sun shines equally on everyone, keep in mind that the further inland you get, the hotter it becomes. You can pretty much plan on it being 5 degrees warmer every 10 miles east you drive, so a nice breezy day in Santa Monica may be a scorcher in Pasadena. But hey, some like it hot, right?

Racial Divide

Pasadena has the unfortunate distinction of being the first city outside of the South where the federal government had to step in to desegregate public schools. Once corrected, “concerned” parents pulled their kids from public schools altogether and new private schools cropped up to fit the demand. In a 2004 poll, just 16% of public school students in Pasadena were white, despite the city’s overall white population being more than 50%.

Local Hero Jackie Robinson

While Pasadena was on the wrong side of history with that, a young Pasadena resident named Jackie Robinson made history when he became the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era.

Location, Location, Location

Pasadena sits northeast of Los Angeles and is ideally situated close to the Angeles National Forest and a range of gorgeous mountains. Where Huntington Beach or Laguna attract surf bums, you’re more likely to meet hiking and cycling enthusiasts in the Dena.


But, although it’s not right on the coast, Pasadena is still only a half-hour drive from the beach…without traffic.


It may not technically be Los Angeles, but Pasadena still deals, every day, with the notoriously bad LA traffic. Whenever you ask someone here for directions, they’ll include two measurements: how long the drive is “without traffic” (is this even a real condition?) or with traffic. The difference between the two is usually an excruciating hour in your overheating car.

You Need a Car

Unlike in public transit-loving cities of the East Coast or bike-friendly metropolitan areas of the West, you can’t really get by without a car in the greater Los Angeles area. This is because “Los Angeles” itself is actually a conglomerate of a bunch of smaller-but-still-large neighborhoods and towns with nothing connecting them but open road. Pasadena has wholeheartedly taken this necessity to heart and at one point had the highest per capita car ownership of any midsize U.S. city.


Pasadenans experience terrible air quality and a weather-independent haze around the city at almost all times, quite literally paying through the nose for their car-dependent ways.


The smog makes star-gazing difficult, but Pasadena has its own version where the stars in question are of the celebrity and not celestial variety. Pasadena is a popular filming location, so follow the trail of white equipment vans and you’re bound to spot someone famous. Or, you may just get lucky and bump into a celebrity at Starbucks, or spot Jay Leno on one of his standard Sunday morning drives around town.

Celebrity Sighting

Pasadena doesn’t just watch stars—it also makes them. Julia Child, Jackie Robinson, Sally Field, Eddie Van Halen, and countless other famous names spent their early years in Pasadena.

Backdrop to the Future

Pasadena itself is also a star, having appeared in thousands of shows and movies, though only rarely as itself. It’s better recognized, for example, as Pawnee, Indiana in Parks & Rec or as Twelve Oaks in Gone With the Wind—a true character actor. The famous Gamble House, on Millionaire’s Row, also cameos as Dr. Emmett Brown’s house in the Back to the Future trilogy.

Old Pasadena

In keeping with its celebrity status, Pasadena has an excellent nightlife and high-end shopping scene, especially in Old Town. Don’t let the name fool you—it’s the trendiest part of the city and filled with a young, hip crowd.


…And has the restaurant scene to match. Pasadena has more dining options per capita than New York City, and in recent years has attracted some of the region’s top chefs, who are probably fleeing the west side in droves, sick of being forced to cater to celebrity fad diets and handbag chihuahuas.

Cost of Living

Pasadena’s median home price is $698,000 (more than 3.5x the national average) and the median rent is almost $1,000 more per month than nationally, making it a great weekend destination for many Angelenos, but often an unrealistic place to settle down. However, if it’s in your budget…

Home shopping in Pasadena

Ready to move to Pasadena? Whether you’re looking for a condo in Old Town or one of the city’s many Craftsman homes, Estately.com is the best ways to find a home in the city.

Haley Swan