Pasadena, California

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POPULATION: 146,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 34.5 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $509,200 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 25.9 min.

Los Angeles County's unholy trinity of smog, sprawl, and gridlock long ago earned it the stamp of America's paradise lost. But some eye-opening changes are unfolding, many of them in this revitalized urban village at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. A satellite on the northeast side of L.A., Pasadena is an experiment in downtown revitalization, smart planning, and life beyond car addiction. Since the Metro Gold Line light-rail train opened in 2003, linking the suburb with downtown L.A., Pasadena has become a hub for innovative mixed-use development, with 800 new residential units. This isn't pop-up suburbia, though. The city's pedestrian-welcoming streets—shaded by an exotic canopy of 286,000 California oaks, jacarandas, and palms—are famously home to a mother lode of Craftsman architecture, as well as a gallery of races and languages (a third of Pasadenans are foreign-born; more than half are Hispanic, black, or Asian). Once blighted Old Pasadena, a 21-square-block historic district, is now one of the Southland's hottest nightlife magnets.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // The city is removing hundreds of tons of concrete debris and planting native sycamores and oaks to restore streamside habitat in Arroyo Seco, a 132-acre gulch harboring a web of trails and the Rose Bowl Stadium—along with a small population of coyotes and bobcats. Human habitat is getting attention as well: The nonprofit Heritage Housing Partners helps first-time home buyers, provided that they protect their house's architectural character. The city offers substantial rebates for solar-power installations, and Pasadena Water & Power recently inked a long-term deal to buy electricity from California's largest wind farm.
LIVABILITY // Take your pick: highbrow visuals at the Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum, and Pasadena Museum of California Art; edgy performances from the Furious Theatre Company; readings at Vroman's Bookstore; or an alphabet's worth of dining options (Afghan, Brazilian, Cuban . . . ). You can surf in nearby Malibu, fly-fish in Angeles National Forest, and hoof it down the Pacific Crest Trail—all without leaving metro L.A. Within a few hours, you can climb in Joshua Tree, snowboard in the San Gabriels, or paddle the Kern River—which raged this spring with the torrential runoff of the biggest Sierra snowpack in years.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // You'd like a little bit of Paris on the 210 Freeway and don't mind the sensation of property values inflating beneath your feet.

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