4. Old bricks, new tunes
Colorado Boulevard (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
In Old Pasadena, scads of national chains occupy the historic facades along Colorado Boulevard, and sidewalks are filled with pedestrians day and night. To find homegrown merchants and eateries, check the old brick alleys and side streets or sign on to a Melting Pot Food Tour (www.meltingpottours.com). Don't miss the kid-friendly public art in alleys and the courtyard of the One Colorado complex (24 E. Union St., Pasadena; www.onecolorado.com).
For more art, see the Armory Center for the Arts (145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; www.armoryarts.org). For a sophisticated lunch or dinner, try Green Street Tavern (69 W. Green St., Pasadena; www.greenstreettavern.net). For live jazz, Red White + Bluezz Jazz Club (70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; www.redwhitebluezz.com). For a lively meal in a wonderfully transformed train station, duck into La Grande Orange (a.k.a. the LGO Station Cafe, 260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; www.lgostationcafe.com), which neighbors a Metro Gold Line train stop.
Distant Lands (20 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; www.distantlands.com) will sell you travel books, and farther east on Colorado Boulevard, Vroman's (695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena), which dates to the 1890s, will sell you "Hometown Pasadena" (an excellent guidebook) or just about any other book. The nearby Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; www.pasadenaplayhouse.org) stands in an atmospheric 1920s building, having been revived by a 2010 bankruptcy reorganization. For caffeine and Mexico-boho atmosphere, there's its neighbor, the Zona Rosa Caffe (15 S. El Molino Ave.).
5. The Rose Bowl
Rose Bowl (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Now nearing 90, the Rose Bowl (1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena; www.rosebowlstadium.com) is in the middle of a renovation, but the sports continue. Besides hosting the Rose Bowl football game every January, the stadium is home field for UCLA football. On the second Sunday of each month, the Rose Bowl Flea Market (www.rgcshows.com) materializes with its antler lamps, dial telephones, vintage fishing poles, and daunting entrance fee. It'll cost you at least $8 to get in (they said flea, not free), but it is epic.
Meanwhile, the surrounding Brookside Park (360 N. Arroyo Ave., Pasadena; www.cityofpasadena.net/PublicWorks/Brookside_Park1) draws legions of runners, walkers and cyclists, who circle a path of three-plus miles. Nearby you'll find Kidspace (480 N. Arroyo Blvd.), a hands-on museum for children.
6. South Lake Avenue
Langham Hotel (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Shopping South Lake Avenue is like surfing: Someone is going to tell you how much better it was before you came. And life was good in the '90s, when retailers thrived and the Huntington hotel was run by Ritz-Carlton. But now is not bad. The former Ritz, now known as the Langham Huntington Pasadena (1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave.), stands on 23 acres and specializes in spa indulgences and twinkling holiday decorations. Its fancy restaurant, reborn as Royce in late 2010, has garnered strong reviews, and overnight rates sometimes drop near $200.
Your shopping starts with the old Bullock's building (401 S. Lake Ave.), a 1947 Streamline Moderne landmark that now holds Macy's. The neighbors include Orvis (345 S. Lake Ave., No. 102) for fly-fishers, Anthropologie (340 S. Lake Ave.) for teens and Ten Thousand Villages (567 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena; www.pasadena.tenthousandvillages.com) for buyers of fair-trade art and crafts. Leave time for zucchini bread at Green Street Restaurant (146 S. Shopper's Lane) or the nouveau cafeteria cuisine of Lemonade (146 S. Lake Ave.).
Then walk off the calories amid the fountains and arches of the Caltech campus (1200 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; www.caltech.edu), workplace of the Richter scale’s creator and scads of other scientific heavyweights.
7. A day at the races
Santa Anita Park (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
There's a gambler or a horse lover in every family, right? If it's racing season (late December-late April), take him, her or them to Santa Anita Park (285 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia; www.santaanita.com), where Seabiscuit once galloped to glory and the view of the San Gabriels is reliably gorgeous. Horses usually run Thursdays-Sundays. You can watch early workouts for free from 5-10 a.m. from Clocker's Corner at the west end of the track. (You can also buy breakfast there.) In the afternoon, for $5 adult admission, you can watch the races or linger near the paddock and gardens.
If it isn't racing season, head north to cozy Sierra Madre, park on East Miramonte Avenue near North Mountain Trail Avenue, and hike the first 1.3 miles of the Mt. Wilson Trail, which will jump-start your heart and give you a big view. Then turn around at First Water, come down and spoon some homemade ice cream at Mother Moo Creamery (17 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre; www.mothermoo.com), or flop on a couch with some java at Bean Town coffeehouse (45 N. Baldwin Ave., Sierra Madre; www.beantowncoffeebar.com).