Small Town Adventures: South Pasadena

Driveability: 8.7 miles from downtown Parking: metered, or try the free structure on Meridian Avenue

Photograph by Lisa Romerein

The first thing to know about South Pasadena is that it’s not Pasadena. The 3.5-square-mile town was founded in 1888 right below the Rose City and has been suffering an identity crisis ever since. Red Cars used to clatter down Fair Oaks Avenue, but their fate was sealed with the arrival of the 110 freeway. The 95-year-old Fair Oaks Pharmacy, on the corner of Mission Street, has witnessed it all; it’s worth a peek inside to see the classic soda fountain. A few storefronts away you’ll find elegant one-off dresses, gowns, and blouses at Camille DePedrini. You may lose track of time next door at Marz., a smart gift shop where you can pick up a book on Banksy and floral salad tongs along with a vintage reading lamp. Right past Dinosaur Farm, a classic toy store mercifully low on electronics, is the child-friendly arts center Space, one of several craft-related businesses on Mission (there’s also Zinnia, Common Thread, Abuelita’s, and Sew Joe). A bit west, Mission Wines complements its stock with regular tastings (make a note of it for the afternoon), and farther on you can down a lemon bar and an espresso at Buster’s, the colorful coffee shop by the Gold Line tracks. The train station is catercorner from here. Beside it,  the clapboard Meridian Iron Works Building houses a small museum devoted to the area, which is known for its early-20th-century homes as well as its 50-year battle to keep the 710 freeway from being extended through town. The stone structure across the way is a trough built in 1907 for horses, and beside the museum is Barristers Nursery & Garden Center. Follow the path through the leafy plot and you’ll emerge on El Centro by Nicole’s Gourmet Foods, where you can pack a lunch before heading to Garfield Park, with its oaks and sycamores. Or walk back up to Heirloom Bakery; there’s almost always a line for the sandwiches, salads, and sweets. Less than a mile west is Arroyo Seco Park. Past the batting cages and tennis courts is a nine-hole miniature golf course, its timeworn structures rising between a driving range and a par 3 course. If you can get your ball into the all-but-impossible “Ant Hill” hole, it’s your day. Better buy a Lotto ticket, too.

Where to Go



  • » Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain:
    1526 Mission St. 
  • » »Camille DePedrini:
    1516 Mission St. 
  • » Marz.:
    1512 Mission St. 
  • » Dinosaur Farm: 
    1510 Mission St. 
  • » Space:
    1506 Mission St.
  • »Zinnia:
    1024 Mission St.
  • » Common Thread Studio
    1011A Mission St. 
  • » Abuelita’s Knitting & Needlepoint:
    1012B Mission St. 
  • » Sew Joe Stitch Lounge:
    634 Mission St. 
  • » Mission Wines:
    1114 Mission St. 
  • » Buster’s Ice Cream & Coffee Shop:
    1006 Mission St. 
  • » Nicole’s Gourmet Foods:
    921 Meridian Ave., Ste. B 
  • » Fins Creekside:
    23504 Calabasas Rd. 
  • » Garfield Park:
    Mission St. and Park Ave. 
  • » Heirloom Bakery:
    807 Meridian Ave. 
  • » Arroyo Seco Golf Course:
    1055 Lohman Ln. 

Off The Path


Track Star
At Mission and Meridian, you can hop on the Gold Line north to Old Pasadena. For
a longer trek, roll in the other direction through the low hills of Highland Park (the grand bell tower belongs to Mount Washington’s Southwest Museum) to Chinatown and East L.A.

Mild Wilds
For an easy hike, start at nearby Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park. Follow the trail closest to the hillside along a small creek toward the Rose Bowl. Near the stately Colorado Street Bridge, the water-course widens and the shade grows dense. 

The Scoop
The small Fosselman’s Ice Cream Co. in Alhambra is about all that’s left of what had been a major dairy concern for decades. The rich and almost chewy ice cream is remarkable and comes in Asian-inflected flavors like lychee and red bean.

The Rose Garden Tea Room, the Children’s Garden, the new Chinese Garden: Just when you think your head will combust from taking in the Huntington’s permanent collection, you remember there’s another universe to explore.