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A City of Intellect

Pasadena thrives with rich history and innovative institutions that will keep attendees learning and connecting

By Amanda Christensen

Pasadena City Hall || Courtesy of Visit Pasadena

Located just northeast of Los Angeles, Pasadena is a city that shines with a long-standing history in science and culture. Home to landmarks like the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the city has played a pivotal role in U.S. space exploration and scientific research. Perhaps the most well-known cultural event is its hosting of the Rose Bowl Game at Rose Bowl Stadium alongside the beloved Rose Parade where millions around the world (via in-person attendance and TV viewership) watch floral-decorated floats roll down Colorado Boulevard through the
heart of Old Pasadena.

“Beyond these landmarks, Pasadena’s community spirit and pride in its heritage shine through in various festivals, local events, and grassroots initiatives,” says Kristin McGrath, executive director at Visit Pasadena. “Whether it’s strolling through historic neighborhoods, attending a concert at the Pasadena Symphony, or simply enjoying the picturesque landscapes, there’s an undeniable charm that sets Pasadena apart and makes it a truly special place.”

Attendees gathering in the City of Roses will see an eye-catching blend of Craftsman, Victorian, and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture dotting the streetscapes while having access to an abundance of downtown activities to experience before, after, or in between meetings. Read on to see why the city was crowned one of The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2024.”

Top-Notch Venues

Whether planners are arranging a multiday conference or an intimate cocktail hour for colleagues, Pasadena has just about every kind of venue under the Golden State sun. “Nestled in the Civic Center District, the Pasadena Convention Center is a premier meeting venue that can host both large and small events,” says McGrath. “This 130,000-square-foot complex offers multiple meeting spaces, which are a short distance from lodging, shopping, dining, and more.” To add a feeling of illustriousness, consider the legendary Rose Bowl Stadium and its 15 available gathering spaces ranging from right on the field to the Court of Champions and the 1922 Locker Room. Experience the spirit of Albert Einstein at Caltech by hosting an event at The Athenaeum, which hosted the physicist and his wife for a formal dinner gala in 1931 during their first visit to the campus. Its main lounge can host up to 150 theater-style, and additional spaces are also available.

Norton Simon Museum || Courtesy of Visit Pasadena

The Pasadena Civic Auditorium is one of the most revered performance halls in the country, having hosted acclaimed events like the NAACP Image Awards, Daytime Emmy Awards, NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” and other cultural and musical shows. The historic venue can seat up to 3,000 in its auditorium and will add a healthy dose of elegant ambience to any event. The University of Southern California’s USC Pacific Asia Museum brings attendees up close with the art, history, and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands to explore diversity and promote discourse. The Grace Nicholson Building that houses the museum is a California Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features an on-site conservatory/auditorium and a meeting space adorned with traditional Chinese furniture and decor, both available for private events.

“Business meetings and events in Pasadena are tapping into the city’s rich history and its connections to the arts, sciences, and innovative culture,” shares McGrath. “Meeting planners are drawing from Pasadena’s brightest institutions and intellectual capital to create unique moments and experiences for their attendees.”

The Athenaeum at the California Institute of Technology
The Athenaeum at the California Institute of Technology || Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

Elegant Stays

Pasadena is home to 24 lodging properties spanning major chain brands, modern boutique hotels, and historic landmarks; McGrath notes that most are within walking distance of the Pasadena Convention Center and other city attractions. The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, has been welcoming guests and eventgoers for more than 100 years and features 379 guest rooms, suites, and cottages on 23 acres of land. Planners can choose from its 20 meeting rooms that feature 50,000 square feet of function space.

“We have had the pleasure of orchestrating numerous weddings, corporate events, photo shoots, and other social events at various venues in Pasadena,” says Debbie Liaw, owner, founder, and creative director of Aquafuzion, an event-planning company based in Monrovia just east of Pasadena. “One of our favorite venues to host events at in Pasadena is The Langham—its rich history and stunning architecture make it a standout choice. The hotel is decorated with elegant decor, including breathtaking chandeliers that add a touch of grandeur to any occasion.”

Lobby at Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town
Lobby at Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town || Courtesy of Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town

Hotel Dena, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel by Marriott, debuted last year and sits adjacent to the convention center. Here, meeting-goers will find two on-site restaurant and bar concepts and signature works by LA street artist WRDSMTH, and murals by Ian Schuler and Leah Tumerman, dotting the interior walls. The hotel’s largest meeting space, Justine’s Ballroom, offers 5,037 square feet of space for up to 300 attendees.

“The Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town completed a full renovation [earlier this year] inspired by the idyllic roots of Pasadena’s rich history,” describes McGrath. “The design fuses an art deco style of the past era with the modern and industrial style of today’s Old Pasadena.” It features seven on-site rooms totaling 5,548 square feet of event space. The Pasadena Hotel & Pool dates back to 1926 and is located on the Rose Parade route at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Mentor Avenue. Planners will find 161 uniquely appointed guest rooms alongside 11 indoor and outdoor meeting spaces for groups of 10 to 250. The spacious 1,100-square-foot Presidential Suite provides unobstructed views of Colorado Boulevard and features two terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows, well suited for board meetings and brainstorming sessions.

A Taste of the City of Roses

Across Pasadena, more than 650 restaurants feature award-winning global cuisine and memorable private dining and event spaces. “Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery is inspired by the timeless tradition of gathering around a table with loved ones to share good food, good drinks, and, of course, excellent cheese,” says McGrath. On-site indoor and outdoor event spaces are available. “The Arbour is an upscale farm-to-table restaurant located on South Lake Avenue perfect for private group dining and events,” she continues. “Another great location for group dining and events is at La Grande Orange Pasadena, housed in a historic train depot.” La Grande Orange’s patio allows for groups of 30 to 75 to gather and sip on its famous Cafe White Sangria and enjoy a custom buffet or plated dinner under the sunny LA skies.

Group fare at Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery
Group fare at Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery || Courtesy of Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery

“One of the joys of working in Pasadena is the opportunity to host events in new parts of the city,” adds Liaw. “What truly sets Pasadena apart as an event destination is the venues it has to offer—from grand ballrooms to intimate spaces, Pasadena provides a diverse selection of venues to suit every event size and style.”

For a fine-dining experience, groups of six or more can gather and dine at Fishwives, a Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated restaurant serving fresh-caught, New England comfort seafood—most of which is flown from dock to table within 24 hours. Union Pasadena is also Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated and sits in the heart of Old Pasadena serving upscale, California-inspired Italian fare. Private dining is available on-site and the restaurant offers various table layout options, two lounge areas, bar-top seating, and dance floor space. Additional upscale options include longtime local favorite Parkway Grill and Perle Restaurant, which serves classic French dishes and wines.

Pasadena Pastimes

“Pasadena boasts an array of distinctive opportunities for team building,” says McGrath. “Go behind the scenes of ‘America’s Stadium,’ the renowned Rose Bowl Stadium, famed for hosting the Rose Bowl Game and serving as the home field of the UCLA Bruins football team.” Planners can add a walking tour to explore the city’s architecturally notable neighborhoods, or through Old Pasadena to sample culinary delights from local cafes, boutiques, and restaurants. Consider ending the day with a visit to The Ice House Comedy Club, the nation’s oldest still-standing comedy venue.

USC Pacific Asia Museum
USC Pacific Asia Museum || Courtesy of Visit Pasadena

“Whether you’re a foodie, art enthusiast, or history buff, Pasadena offers endless opportunities for exploration,” adds McGrath. “Experience the cultural richness at the Norton Simon Museum or the Pasadena Playhouse.” The former was first founded in 1922 as the Pasadena Art Institute, later placed under management by Norton Simon in 1974. His activity as an art collector spanned 30 years and encompassed the purchasing of more than 8,000 works. Today, the museum displays nearly 12,000 objects and works, including the only painting by Italian painter Raphael on the West Coast, three portraits by Dutch artist Rembrandt, six works by Van Gogh, a notable collection of Indian and Southeast Asian sculptures, and more. Groups up to 60 can arrange private tours of the museum ranging in themes and topics.

“Aside from Pasadena’s stunning beauty and fantastic weather, Pasadena is such an exciting destination for visitors and meeting attendees,” says McGrath. “Attractions like the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium, an excellent convention center, and a vibrant downtown scene make it the perfect destination for meeting planners—offering endless opportunities for memorable events and experiences.”