From gardens to architecture, this scenic California town has it all.

By Travel + Leisure
August 31, 2012
Courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Pasadena, California, has gorgeous botanical gardens, classic architecture, art museums, and a stunning hotel. It’s enough to keep you busy for an entire weekend, but be sure to set aside some time to explore the very walkable downtown, where independent boutiques share the sidewalk with big-brand stores. In spite of the city’s ongoing development—or perhaps as a result—it remains an escape that’s as peaceful or as lively as you make it.

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

The former estate of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington is one of southern California’s most magnificent. Spread over 120 impeccably manicured acres just outside Pasadena, the grand compound has been converted into four art galleries and a renowned library (which contains, among other treasures, a Gutenberg Bible from the 1450’s and an illuminated manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). Much of the art collection, including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie, is housed in Huntington’s splendid Beaux-Arts mansion. The most popular sights, however, are found outdoors in a series of botanical gardens showcasing more than 15,000 species. Among the disparate habitats presented are a Desert Garden, Jungle Garden, Shakespeare Garden evoking the English garden style, and serene Japanese Garden with koi-filled pond and Zen court.

Norton Simon Museum

Visit industrialist Norton Simon’s huge collection of fine art, including works by Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, and Cézanne.

Rose Garden Tea Room

This reservations-only tea room overlooks the landscaped rose gardens of the Huntington, a cultural center that includes an art collection, library, and botanical gardens. A fixed fee, which is reduced for children, includes unlimited tea and scones at each table, as well as a buffet with items like tea sandwiches, cheeses, fruit, salads, and miniature desserts, (mousse cups and fruit tarts among them). The room, which shares its space with a flower shop, is decorated in classic tea room style with patterned tablecloths, gilt-edged fixtures, and walls painted with images of rooftops and clouds.