In the early 20th century, Pasadena was an idyllic resort town where wealthy Easterners flocked in winter. Today, the allure remains, and that era’s rich legacy offers a wealth of gorgeous meeting spaces. Beneath a picture-perfect mountain-view setting, with sunny, year-round temps of 75 degrees, even the busiest meeting planners can stop to smell the roses at events in this charming city.
The intimate metropolitan vibe here seems far from the urban bustle—even though it’s only 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, 20 minutes from Burbank airport and 37 miles from Ontario airport. Pasadena’s posh venues are undeniably dazzling, with historic backdrops framed in Victorian, Beaux Arts, and California Arts and Crafts architecture. Hotels and world-class gardens are nearby a revamped convention center, which itself is adjacent to the walkable and vibrant Old Town Pasadena, where shops, restaurants and a lively arts scene buzz.
Make Your Meeting Historic
The Pasadena Convention Center, set in the historic Pasadena Beaux Arts Civic Center District, has been modernized with state-of-the art technology and underwent a $150 million expansion in 2009. It’s adjacent to the upscale Paseo Colorado outdoor mall; large hotels, hip restaurants and nearby cultural attractions are mere blocks away. The 55,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall is divisible into two sections, along with a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 29 meeting rooms. The center’s Exhibit Hall C recently underwent a $900,000 renovation and reopened in February 2015. The conference center, built in the 1970s, has 18 meeting rooms on two levels. The convention center has recently hosted the IMATS (International Make-Up Artist Trade Show) and the Seismological Society of America Annual Meeting.
The adjacent Pasadena Civic Auditorium, that seats nearly 3,000, dates back to 1932 with an Italian Renaissance-style design by Edwin Bergstrom. This historic gem has a stunning interior, and is well-suited for benefits, events, speakers and awards; its Gold Room can hold up to 300 guests for banquets, receptions or meetings; the 2015 NAACP Image Awards were held here.
Coming Up Roses
Rose Bowl Stadium, built in 1922, is an enduring icon and is also home of the Tournament of Roses football game and the UCLA Bruins. Hosting here adds a special kind of energy to meetings, and Rose Bowl Stadium recently spent $181 million in renovations amping up its event venues.
In October 2013, the Terry Donahue Pavilion unveiled its sparkling new spaces. The new Blue Moon Club (32,000 square feet) offers views of the Arroyo, golf club and thrilling sunsets; it accommodates up to 1,200 guests and features exclusive bars, lounges and restrooms. Other private spaces include the Club Lounge (capacity 300), with state-of-the-art technology and floor-to-ceiling windows, and the elegant Loge Lounge (capacity 192), with indoor and outdoor views of the field. Press boxes offer classroom-style seating and a connected indoor lounge for buffets and cocktails, as well as an outdoor terrace.
Private field events can be held in a redesigned Locker Room, trimmed in wood and football images, with customizable cubbies, available for sit-down dinners (capacity 350) or receptions of up to 500. The iconic Court of Champions is a popular location for presentations, picnics, cocktail receptions and product launches. The Rose Gardens, exclusive hedged areas on the east and west sides of the field, are the ideal location for a cocktail reception on field level. Finally, on the field itself (seated capacity is 3,500, standing 7,500), guests can get a unique thrill stepping onto the grass for a dinner, reception or team-building football game.
“The field is still the star of the venue,” says Rose Bowl Events Sales Manager Monique Rodriguez. “However, the new spaces in the Terry Donahue Pavilion are by far becoming our most popular event spaces, with breath-taking views of the stadium field, Arroyo and San Gabriel mountains.” Among the new upgrades are improved wireless connections throughout the stadium and a brand-new catering contract with Wolfgang Puck. Recent events have included a 350-person field banquet for LASEC (Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission) and the L.A. Vegan Beer Festival.
Close by, The Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark, is Southern California’s premier example of Arts and Crafts architecture. Built by Greene & Greene in 1908, it offers a unique setting for events, and each rental comes with a docent-led tour. Spaces can accommodate 70 seated or 125 standing in the rear terrace and garden, 300 if the lawn is included. The dramatic third-floor attic was originally designed as a billiard room; it fits 25 for meetings and seminars. The gallery is ideal for luncheons, dinners, lectures and meetings, with round tables seating 48, or up to 60 buffet-style.
Another eye-popping setting is Castle Green, a stately venue in Old Town Pasadena. This Mediterranean/Moorish Revival seven-story “castle” was built in 1898 as a resort for wealthy patrons, and is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The event spaces have been restored in detail and are replete with dramatic marble stairway, elaborate mosaic tile, original Victorian antiques and plush velvet drapes. It also boasts the oldest open-cage 24-hour man-operated elevator on the West Coast. The lush private gated grounds—perfect for parties or receptions for 200 seated—boast an abundance of trees, lawns and a koi pond, as well as verandas to relax on. The Palm Terrace Ballroom can seat 200 or hold 300 standing. Other rooms include the Main Salon, Moorish and Turkish rooms and the Sun Room.
Grand, Glamorous Gardens If you want to go even grander, The Huntington Library is one of Southern California’s most spectacular gems. Established in 1919 by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, the 200 acres of idyllic gardens, terraces, lawns and courtyards comprise a unique botanical adventure, while the art museum’s collection boasts world-famous paintings like Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Thomas’ Lawrence’s Pinkie. The magnificent library also displays an original Gutenberg Bible and rare Shakespeare folios. The Huntington offers more than 35 indoor and outdoor venues for groups as small as 10 and as large as 1,000. Elegant conference rooms nicely suit board meetings, festive receptions are lively in the Chinese gardens, and galas are glamorous on the North Vista Lawn. But receptions on the Huntington Art Gallery’s South Terrace undoubtedly steal the show with their Gilded Age fairy-tale backdrop; gallery tours to see Pinkie and Blue Boy can even be combined with events. The Beaux Arts mansion, with exquisite architectural detail, sets the scene with tall white columns, romantic balustrades and antique sculpture. It holds 300 for banquet seating or theater-style, and 400 guests for cocktails.
Pasadena-adjacent La Canada is home to Descanso Gardens, another lush botanical venue with 160 acres of flowers, trees and North America’s largest collection of camellias. The Rose Pavilion features a Craftsman-style open-air pavilion amid 4,000 rose bushes. It can accommodate 200 for table seating and 225 for lecture-style seating. The Boddy House has flexible indoor/outdoor spaces suited to large or small groups.
Indoor venues for daytime or evenings include Van de Camp Hall, a Craftsman-style building that holds 180 with table seating and 225 lecture seats. The Craftsman-style Maple and Birch rooms are popular for meetings, and the intimate Minka, with a capacity of 20, is reached by a stroll through the camellia-fringed Japanese Garden.
Hotels Historic and Hip Pasadena hotels run the gamut from sublime romance to boutique chic. If you like garden grandeur, consider The Langham Huntington Pasadena, another Pasadena icon of the Gilded Age, tucked away in a quiet upscale neighborhood. This luxury venue dates back to 1907. Built in Spanish Mission Revival style, it was bought by Henry Huntington in 1911 and became a winter resort destination. (It was a Ritz-Carlton property starting in 1991 before it was acquired by Langham in 2008.) The Langham is expansive, with more than 50,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor meeting and event space. Twenty-three acres of gardens, including the Japanese garden, the Horseshoe Garden and the courtyard offer verdant sites for receptions. Choose from three ballrooms for formal functions, or 15 private meeting rooms and two boardrooms, some with airy, vaulted ceilings and chandeliers. On-site restaurants include the Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse; casual bistro dining on The Terrace; and the clubby Tap Room for cocktails, wine and refined bar bites. The Langham Huntington has 380 elegantly furnished rooms, including eight cottages with views of the gardens and mountains.
A new, more intimate, property is the Hotel Constance dusitD2 Pasadena. The boutique hotel overlooks the Rose Parade route and is walking distance to the convention center. Formerly the Constance Hotel, which dates back to the 1926, the venue has been transformed by Thai-owned Dusit International with a hip Asian vibe.
The 130 guest rooms pop with edgy, mod design and offer tech-savvy amenities with an iPad virtual concierge. The Constance Suite is well suited to cozy cocktail receptions, and the bluRoom cocktail lounge and Cal-Asian Constance Restaurant are available for buyouts. A $35 million expansion, scheduled for completion in 2016, will add 25 additional guest rooms, a sleek boardroom for meetings, private dinners and receptions for up to 40, and a pool deck for larger gatherings. (For now, meeting space is available in a high-end office tower adjacent to the hotel.)
Larger hotel venues adjacent to the convention center include the Sheraton Pasadena, with 311 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space; and the Hilton Pasadena, coming in at 296 rooms, with 28,000 square feet of meeting space on one floor. The Hilton’s International Ballroom accommodates 800 guests, offering on-site A/V assistance alongside a dedicated event and catering team.
There’s a lot to explore in Pasadena. Groups will want to take in the Norton Simon Museum, located just off the main drag of Colorado Boulevard, with one of the top art collections in the country; highlights include a host of Degas, Cezannes and an impressive Southeast Asia wing. Its garden, with a water lily pond, stands of iris and sculpture masterworks, is a lovely place to grab a coffee or quick bite. The always lively Old Town Pasadena is delightful for strolling day or night. Shopping ranges from national chains to small, artsy boutiques. Dining in Pasadena is equally dynamic, with fine-dining restaurants, casual wine bars and gastropubs. Given its proximity to the San Gabriel Valley, Asian eateries are particularly outstanding, from artful sushi at chic Sushi Roku to Himalayan dumplings and Tibetan music at the enchantingly decorated Tibet Nepal House or kebabs and sambosas amid the exotic murals of Azeen’s Afghani.
And while Pasadena celebrates its historic past, it also loves being the center of tech innovation, as home to Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Lab, which recently showed off NASA’s newest Mars Rover to visiting groups of schoolchildren. Whether meetings are traditional or modern, classic or hip, this City of Roses keeps us looking to the stars, reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future.