It’s a Long, Long Way to Pasadena: Fun Facts About My Hometown

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It seems that the more time I spend abroad, the more I appreciate home: the United States, the state of California, and my hometown, Pasadena.

On one of my recent late-night perusals of Wikipedia, I found myself reading up on the history of Pasadena, the suburb of Los Angeles where I grew up. I normally rave about the exotic travel destinations I’ve explored, but the places we hail from can often be just as intriguing. Here are some fun facts about Pasadena.


  • First, a bit of personal history: my paternal grandma, Gammy, moved from Ohio to Pasadena at age nine in 1944. My dad was born in and spent his first few years in Pasadena. The family then moved to Orange County, but a few years after my mom and dad got married, they bought a home in Pasadena, and I was born about a year later!
  • Pasadena was originally inhabited by the Hahamog-na Native American tribe. It then formed part of a Mexican land grant, before the U.S. annexed California and the land was sold to American settlers who began to develop the city.
A map of Pasadena and some of its prominent buildings in 1886 (photo credit)

A map of Pasadena and some of its prominent buildings in 1886 (photo credit)

  • One of the primary reasons Pasadena was incorporated in 1886 was to ban saloons and alcohol sales in the area. Who knew we had such teatotalist origins?
  • In the 1890s, the city’s name was chosen by vote. Also on the ballot? Granada, for the first city in Spain I fell madly in love with on my first trip there in high school. (You can still find many references to Spain – and Andalucía in particular – in and around Pasadena, including the neighboring town of Alhambra.)
  • “Pasadena,” which, of course, was ultimately chosen, translates roughly to “of the valley” in Chippewa, the language of a Native American tribe based not in Southern California but in Michigan.
  • In 1940, Pasadena was California’s 8th largest city and considered a twin city of Los Angeles. It has since dropped to #41, with a current population of almost 140,000.
Old Town Pasadena, California, 1940

Old Town Pasadena, 1940 (photo credit)

Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses

  • Pasadena is home to the annual Tournament of Roses each New Year’s Day, which includes the internationally televised Rose Parade and Rose Bowl football game. The tradition was started as a way to showcase Southern California’s beautiful weather to the rest of the country. One of the founding members said, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” Amen!


Post-Rose Parade float viewing

A photo posted by Kirstie Jeffries (@kirstietravels) on

  • I had always figured the name “Tournament” of Roses used some antiquated meaning of the word “tournament,” but, nope, it actually began in 1890 as a tournament of foot races, tug of war, polo, and other silly games.
  • The Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena hosts the “Grandaddy of Them All” college football bowl game, UCLA home football games (go Bruins!), and tons of other sporting events, concerts, etc. Did you know the Rose Bowl game has been played since 1902?
  • Hundreds of thousands of Rose Parade-goers camp out overnight to ensure great seats for the parade. One of my all-time favorite New Year’s Eve traditions is driving up and down the route the night before the parade and battling it out with campers, using silly string, squirt guns, and marshmallows for ammunition. Sadly, the police seem to be cutting down on this tradition in recent years.
Rose Parade, Pasadena, California

The aftermath of one year’s Rose Parade route battles

Looking stylish at the Rose Parade when I was 12

Looking stylish at the Rose Parade when I was 12

Film, TV, and Music

  • If you’re watching a movie or TV show that features a traditional home on a tree-lined street, odds are it was filmed in Pasadena (or South Pasadena, a separate, neighboring city). It’s pretty fun to be thousands of miles away from home and walk into my living room to a shot of my hometown on TV.
  • When I’m abroad, I usually simplify by telling people I’m from California, although if they ask, I’ll tell them I’m from the Los Angeles area. I used to be shocked when non-Americans, clarifying further where I was from, actually knew of Pasadena…until I realized The Big Bang Theory, which has no shortage of fans worldwide, takes place there.
  • The exterior shots of Pawnee City Hall on one of my TV favorites, Parks & Recreation, are filmed at Pasadena City Hall. Pasadena is also home to the Walker family on another of my favorites, Brothers & Sisters. (I’ll take Sally Field over Jim Parsons any day).
Pasadena City Hall (photo credit)

Pasadena City Hall (photo credit)

  • You may also know us from the Jan and Dean (and later Beach Boys) song “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” (perhaps, one day, I’ll be the terror of Colorado Boulevard). I’ve also learned of an Australian hit from the 1970s in which John Paul Young croons, “It’s a long, long way to Pasadena” (hence this post’s title).
  • The Emmys were hosted at the Pasadena Civic Center from 1977 to 2001, and many other award shows have been hosted there as well.

Other Claims to Fame

  • Supposedly, the world’s first cheeseburger was invented in Pasadena in 1926 when a 16-year-old fry cook working in a sandwich shop added cheese to a hamburger. Er, can we really boast about that one?
  • The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is located in Pasadena, which means the city can claim 32 Nobel Prizes. Not bad. In other science news, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a Pasadena address but is technically located in neighboring La Cañada (where my elementary school, high school, and dad’s house also are). To add to that, Albert Einstein spent three winters in Pasadena.
Einstein in Pasadena in 1931 (photo credit)

Einstein in Pasadena in 1931 (photo credit)

  • The Pasadena Freeway, connecting Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles, was the first ever freeway in the Western United States, built in 1940.
  • The first Trader Joe’s (for non-Americans, a hugely popular grocery store chain) was founded in Pasadena, just about a three minute walk from the house I lived in ages eight to sixteen, in 1967.
  • The Ice House in Pasadena is the oldest continuously running comedy club in the world.
  • Pasadena is a fantastic spot for Christmas lights viewing, offering the festive neighborhood of Hastings Ranch, the light-bedazzled street of Christmas Tree Lane, and the spectacularly decorated Balian House.
Balian House, Christmas Eve, Pasadena

Pasadena’s Balian House on Christmas Eve

  • Famous Pasadenans include baseball great Jackie Robinson, astronomer Edwin Hubble, Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, musicians Eddie and Alex Van Halen, chef Julia Child, and lots more.

Tell all your friends: you’re a Pasadena expert now. Can’t wait to be back in September!

Over to you now. What’s a fun fact about your hometown we wouldn’t know?

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