Sierra Madre

At the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, novel shops and restaurants update a throwback town

Don’t be surprised if you recognize the shady intersection that anchors this century-old community; it has appeared in dozens of films as a stand-in for Smalltown, USA. With its massive elm trees and mix of Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman, and midcentury homes dotting hilly streets, Sierra Madre has been attracting wealthy retirees as well as artists for decades. These days a crop of younger families is patronizing the new cafés and upscale shops that occupy the original brick-and-wood storefronts lining the downtown strip.

1 Provisions
The bed and bath boutique carries gifts for every girly occasion. Stylish wood shelves showcase monogrammed napkins and plush bathrobes along with red leather recipe organizers, floral place mats, and all the scented soaps your olfactory glands can handle. » 52 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., 626-836-6950.


Photograph by Mindee Choi

Bean Town
Laptop addicts and casual readers occupy the old couches at this brick-walled café, where a worn wooden game cupboard holds oldies, from Life to Candyland. A small menu of sandwiches, salads, and Fosselman’s ice cream feeds the crowds, and San Dimas-roasted Klatch coffee keeps them there late to catch the evening’s musical acts. » 45 N. Baldwin Ave., 626-355-1596.

3 Attitude!
While the name didn’t draw us in (one too many exclamation points), we’d be remiss if we ignored this spot, which sells clothing from local designers, most of it for less than $50. Look for trendy sweaters by Bizz and dresses by Sugar Lips as well as jeans by Plastic (the cheaper and, some argue, better line from True Religion). Owner Marvin Dieguez makes the eclectic patchwork purses and belts by hand. » 90 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., 626-355-3929.


Photograph by Mindee Choi

Four Seasons Tea Room
Lace curtains and doilies decorate this old-fashioned teahouse, which serves house blends of Darjeeling and Assam alongside finger sandwiches worthy of the Queen Mum. Don’t skip the scones, fresh baked to order. » 75 N. Baldwin Ave., 626-355-0045.

5 Charcuterie
On a warm night the patio here is ideal for lingering: Order a glass of wine or one of the rotating beers of the month, pair it with an Italian chopped salad, a black pepper-crusted burger, or a caprese sandwich, and take in the live music that often drifts over from neighboring businesses. Cheeses and other goodies are sold at the counter. » 120 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., 626-355-3908.

Creative Arts Group
Since 1960, the spunky nonprofit has bolstered the area’s artsy reputation, offering classes in ceramics, life drawing, watercolor painting, and puppetry. Throw a birthday party or explore the gallery, where works by students and local professionals are displayed. Proceeds fund the center, which supplements arts education in schools. » 108 N. Baldwin Ave., 626-355-8350.


Photograph by Mindee Choi

The closet-size shop is crammed with clever gift items such as fabric coffee sleeves and owl paperweights. A selection of retro greeting cards includes proprietor Deb Doumitt’s line made of vintage papers. » 24 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., 626-355-2906.

Ugo’s Gourmet Italian
Owner Cesare Grossi’s Roman roots show up in the Italian sandwiches and panini on house-baked ciabatta, the specials like pesto gnocchi and frutti di mare, and his wife Sherry’s decadent tiramisu. » 74 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., 626-836-5700.


Photograph by Mindee Choi

E. Waldo Ward
More than a century ago, E. Waldo Ward began turning the oranges from his ten-acre Sierra Madre farm into marmalade. Today his family’s successful preserves company, which operates out of the original 1902 barn, sells everything from stuffed Spanish olives, pickled watermelon, and beef jerky to cocktail sauce, apple butter, and boysenberry syrup. The Seville orange marmalade still uses fruit grown on the small ranch. » 273 E. Highland Ave., 626-355-1218.

Just the facts: Date incorporated: 1907. Local landmark: A 250-ton, 114-year-old wisteria vine that blooms every spring. Onscreen cameo: Aliens landed in 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Pool party: In summer, catch a flick from an innner tube at the Sierra Madre public pool. Green space: The steep Mount Wilson hiking trail, spanning 5.6 miles, begins here. Parade happy: The city hosts parades every Fourth of July and Halloween as well as a “Dickens Village” holiday celebration with real snow (this year’s begins November 29).