Walk and shop along the tree-lined streets at this pedestrian-friendly historical city with small town appeal


theessentials_masa_tThe Dollmakers’ Kattywompus

A welcoming sign arches across tree-lined Myrtle Avenue marking Old Town Monrovia, while the San Gabriel Mountains create a dramatic backdrop just beyond. Railroad tycoon William N. Monroe founded the Gem City in 1886, giving its streets tree, flower, and women’s names. Generations of Monrovians shop and dine in one-story brick buildings with cheerful awnings. Just eight miles east of Pasadena, this is a place built for meandering, so park the car and walk.

Once a doll hospital, Kattywompus has reinvented itself and now sells toys— nostalgic (wooden dollhouses) and modern (Uglydolls). Lessons in fiddle, dulcimer, and other folksy instruments are also offered. » 412 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-357-1091 or

Background Check

Local Landmark
The (supposedly haunted) Aztec Hotel, designed in 1925 by Robert Stacy-Judd, draws ghost hunters to rooms 120 and 129.

Oldest Business
Monrovia Bakery has been making its beloved German springerle cookies for 98 years.

Local Tradition
The Family Festival, Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. on Myrtle Avenue, draws residents with food and live music. why i love it here


theessentials_masa_tCreative Woman—The Wizard of Bras

With 18,000 bras from 49 brands, owner Bonnie Kaufman promises a perfect fit for sizes from 28AA to 58N. On weekends, expect to wait in line. » 1530 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-358-6216 or


theessentials_masa_tT. Phillip’s Alehouse and Grill

This local favorite offers a wide selection of Belgian beers and hearty entrées like chicken potpie and rib eye. The crowd gets lively during happy hour—ask for a $3 Irish car bomb of Bailey’s, Guinness, and Jameson and you won’t know what hit you. » 601 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-256-4253 or


theessentials_masa_tThe Peach Café 

Table-hopping is the norm at this breakfast spot, as diners catch up over cups of house-blended coffee. Proprietor Nita Millstein is famous for her hickory maple waffles (premium bacon and maple syrup are in the batter) and her fresh corn breads. » 141 E. Colorado Blvd., 626-599-9092 or



Owner Marvin Dieguez is obsessed with owls, and you’ll find them gracing many of the soft leather bags and belts he makes. Young, flirty clothes and costume jewelry draw fashionistas from 16 to 60. » 417 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-358-6945 or allure


theessentials_masa_tCharlie’s House

Stocked with quaint “upscale rustic” home accessories like apothecary bottles and hooks made from vintage kitchen spoons, this shop evokes Anthropologie- at one-fourth of the price. » 430 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-359-3963 or


theessentials_masa_tCafe Massilia

Don’t be distracted by the wall-to-wall carpeting or the cheap bistro chairs. The simple but popular restaurant—named for the Roman port that is now Marseilles—serves Gallic classics like cuisses de grenouille (frog’s legs) and escargots au beurre d’ail (snails in garlic butter). » 110 E. Lemon Ave., 626-471-3588 or


theessentials_masa_tThe Comic Cellar

Known for carrying hard-to-find Japanese artwork from Darkstalkers, Mega Man, and Fullmetal Alchemist, this decade-old store is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Enthusiasts will find Walking Dead graphic novels and paraphernalia along with a selection of older comics for $1 each. » 628 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-358-1808.


theessentials_masa_tStix Ride Shop

This skate shop carries the most coveted streetwear clothing lines—Obey, The Hundreds, Volcom, Loser Machine—as well as fixed-gear Micargi bicycles (a hipster staple) and Brixton apparel for “garage rats” (mustachioed dudes who like to fix cars). » 421 S. Myrtle Ave., 626-301-9059 or


theessentials_masa_t10 Sew What’s New? Golly, an apron shop? Yes, you can browse an entire store (they also do alterations) of the prettiest aprons since I Love Lucy, most of them around $35, or have one of the garments custom made. The mommy-and-daughter versions are especially in demand. » 107 N. Myrtle Ave., 626-303-0444.


Richard Lukasiewicz
Owner, Restaurant Devon 

“I like the way the city has been revitalized, but not in a way that has ever robbed it of its old-timey feel. It fell into decline in the ’60s and ’70s, then the city started sprucing things, and that really gave the old town its ‘back East’ feel.  Notice how there are few, if any, palm trees? That adds to the New England look, and many buildings have original brick facades from the late 1800s and early 1900s. We’re years behind the times in the way we live, too. I don’t have an e-mail address, a Web site, or even a cell phone—and you’ll find a lot of business owners are the same. We like to keep things simple.” 109 E. Lemon Ave. 626-305-0013

illustration: Andy Friedman