Heading out of downtown Los Angeles, the historic Pasadena Freeway (Hwy-110) drops you off unceremoniously short of Pasadena, but following Figueroa Street brings you in with a bang on the soaring Colorado Boulevard Bridge, an elegantly arching, circa-1913 concrete bridge at the western edge of Pasadena, which long marked the symbolic entrance to Los Angeles from the east.
Recently restored, the bridge spans Arroyo Seco along the south side of the Ventura Freeway (Hwy-134). Arroyo Seco itself is full of significant sights, including college football’s Rose Bowl and some of the most important architecture in Southern California, notably the Gamble House (4 Westmoreland Pl., 626/793-3334, Thurs.-Sun. afternoons, $14), a 100-year-old arts-and-crafts gem. Above the arroyo, on old Route 66, the Norton Simon Museum (411 W. Colorado Blvd., 626/449-6840, closed Tues., $10) has a medium-sized but impeccably chosen collection of western and southeast Asian art, ranging from Hindu sculpture to one of the “world’s foremost collections of Degas paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
Just a few blocks east of Arroyo Seco and the Norton Simon Museum down old Route 66, Old Pasadena is the name for the old center of town, where locals congregate for evening fun and daytime shopping. Start your morning with breakfast at Marston’s (151 E. Walnut St., 626/796-2459), just north of Old Pasadena, or detour two blocks south of old Route 66 to enjoy the fine neon sign and classic soda-fountain milk shakes at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain (1526 Mission St., 626/799-1414). There are quite a few old motels along this stretch of Route 66; one good bet is the Saga Motor Hotel (1633 E. Colorado Blvd., 626/795-0431, $85 and up).