The roots of Pasadena’s annual Rose Bowl Game go back 125 years to a tourism promotion organized by the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club: a parade of flower-decorated horses and buggies; as well as competitions in jousting, chariot races, polo, tug-of-war, ostrich races and other sports. They called it the Tournament of Roses, and its purpose was to draw tourists from the chilly East to “the Mediterranean of the West” for a winter holiday. About 2,000 people attended.
Today the Rose Bowl Game draws almost 100,000 people — official seating capacity of the stadium is 92,542 — and the parade draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and millions more watching on television.
This year the Rose Bowl has two big games the first week of January: the traditional Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, as Stanford meets Michigan State, and the BCS championship game on Jan. 6, in which Florida State plays Auburn. The Jan. 1 game will be the 100th Rose Bowl Game — it is the oldest of the bowl games — so you can expect more pageantry than usual.
With those two games, Pasadena holds more interest than usual for Floridians this year. So from a native Californian who got to cheer on her team in three Rose Bowl Games during her four years at USC, here are some tips about what to see and do in the City of Roses.
• Game tickets: The Tournament of Roses webpage ( tournamentofroses.com) links to sites that sell tickets (at press time, the cheapest ticket available to the BCS game cost $1,125) and travel packages that include tickets. Also, although Ticketmaster said no tickets were currently available for either game, it held out the faint hope that some tickets might become available; check the site frequently.
• Tournament of Roses Parade: There is the parade itself, and then there are the floats.
The parade kicks off at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. About 70,000 grandstand seats will be erected; tickets are available for $45 to $90 each at sharpseating.com. Or you can go for a free curbside spot along the 5 ½-mile parade route. People start claiming spots at noon the day before the parade and camp out on the sidewalk. Information: tournamentofroses.com
This year’s parade will have 42 floats (plus 20 bands and 16 equestrian units). Viewing them can be a multiday affair. Some float builders allow the public to watch as flowers, grasses, seeds, moss and other materials are applied the last few days before the parade. You can also be a volunteer decorator.
Floats are also available for close-up viewing after the parade. Typically they are parked near the parade route the afternoon of the parade and the day after, adult admission $10. Tickets: sharpseating.com. Information: tournamentofroses.com; look under Rose Parade events.
• Hotels: Deals on hotel rooms near the Rose Bowl are about as scarce as game tickets — Pasadena has only 4,000 rooms, and most were booked long ago. But don’t despair: The huge sprawl of Los Angeles County has almost 97,000 hotel rooms — approximately one room for every seat in the Rose Bowl. Closest metropolitan areas to Pasadena with large numbers of hotel rooms are downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley (Burbank, Universal City, Studio City). Bonus: From downtown Los Angeles, you can take Metro Rail’s Gold line into the heart of Pasadena.
The area around Los Angeles International Airport is not as convenient, but the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board says those hotels will have some of the best rates. The board also says that as the familiar chains sell out, you can find lesser-known boutique hotels on its website, discoverlosangeles.com, which is searchable by neighborhood.
• Airports: Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank is closer to Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale and downtown Los Angeles than LAX. If you’re staying on the West Side, LAX is closer.
Start with Old Pasadena ( oldpasadena.org), the old city business district, where revitalization has put contemporary restaurants and shops in historic architectural structures.
Here are some favorites: Green Street Tavern (69 W. Green St., (626-229-9961, greenstreettavern.net) for California cuisine; Saigon Noodle Restaurant (28 N. Raymond Ave., 626-796-9378) for Vietnamese food, especially pho; Il Fornaio (One Colorado Shopping Center, 24 W. Union St., 626- 683-9797, ilfornaio.com) for Italian; Everson Royce, a wine store with tasting bar (155 N. Raymond Ave., 626-765-9334, eversonroyce.com); Luggage Room Pizzeria (260 S. Raymond Ave., 626-356-4440, theluggageroom.com) in the luggage room of the old Del Mar Train Station; 35er Bar, a vintage sports bar (12 E. Colorado Blvd., 626-356-9315, the35er.com); and the Burke Williams spa (39 Mills Pl., 626-440-1222, burkewilliamsspa.com).
If you’re interested in history or architecture, check out Pasadena City Hall, a 1927 California Mediterranean style building, newly restored 100 N. Garfield Ave., 626-744-4000; and the Gamble House (as in Procter & Gamble), an American Arts and Crafts style house built in 1908, open for public tours (4 Westmoreland Pl., 626-793-3334, gamblehouse.org).
Pasadena Heritage, an organization that advocates for historical preservation, conducts walking tours of Old Pasadena. 626-441-6333; pasadenaheritage.org.
• California’s first freeway: The Arroyo Seco Parkway, also known as the Pasadena Freeway, opened in 1940. The 8.2-mile road between Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles was the first piece of what is now Southern California’s massive freeway network. The road was designed for traffic moving at 45 mph and doesn’t meet today’s freeway standards but is still well used. Its lanes are narrow, its curves surprisingly tight, and some entrances and exits have no acceleration or deceleration lanes — you run the gears from a dead stop to 55 mph as fast as you can. The Legislature has designated it a “California Historic Parkway.”
• Huntington Gardens: The Huntington was founded 94 years ago by Henry E. Huntington, one of California’s business barons. The property is a complex of three attractions, each of which could stand alone: a research library with six million items, including a standout collection of rare books and manuscripts in the fields of British and American history; a fine art collection, including a comprehensive collection of 18th and 19th century British and French art, on display in what used to be the Huntington residence; and 120 acres of botanical gardens — half again as large as Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens — with several specialty gardens. 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino; 626-405-2100; huntington.org.
• Seabiscuit raced here: Ten miles west of the Rose Bowl in the town of Arcadia is Santa Anita Park, California’s oldest — and some say prettiest — racetrack, set against the San Gabriel Mountains. Built in 1934, the track has hosted some of racing’s most prestigious events, including equestrian events during the 1984 Olympic Games and a number of Breeder’s Cups. The season opens Dec. 26. The track, where parts of the movie Seabiscuit were filmed, also offers a free behind-the-scenes “Seabiscuit Tour.” 285 W. Huntington Dr., Arcadia; 626-574-7223; santaanita.com.
• Norton Simon Museum: The former Pasadena Art Museum, which had its own notable collection, now also showcases the enormous collection of the late industrialist Norton Simon, which includes Asian and European art. The museum also has a sculpture garden and an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art. 411 W. Colorado Blvd., 626-449-6840, nortonsimon.org.
• Griffith Park: This rugged 4,300-acre park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, is crowned by the Griffith Observatory, which gives the public free access to the study of the skies. The park and the observatory have played roles in many films and TV shows, most notably Rebel Without a Cause. There’s a monument to James Dean at the Observatory. Also in the park: the Los Angeles Zoo, Travel Town Museum (which celebrates the railroad) and many picnic sites, playgrounds and hiking trails. laparks.org/dos/parks/griffithpk/
• Not just cowboys: The Autry National Center of the American West was established by Gene Autry in 1988 to explore the history of the American West, its people and cultures. To illustrate how wide and diverse the museum’s interests are, some of the exhibits at the main museum on the edge of Griffith Park include Art of the West, the Cowboy Gallery, the Firearms Gallery, and Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic. 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles; 323-667-2000; theautry.org. A second campus, about eight miles away, is the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. 234 Museum Dr., Los Angeles; 323-221-2164.
• A taste of Hollywood: The closest movie studios are Warner Bros. in Burbank ( vipstudiotour.warnerbros.com, 877-4WB-TOUR), Monday-Saturday, tour $52); and Universal Studios, where it is an attraction at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park in Universal City (800-UNIVERSAL, universalstudioshollywood.com, daily, admission $84).
• Information: pasadenacal.com