Worth a Second Glance: Pasadena's Hidden Gems

welcome to Pasadena, just leave before 2.

welcome to Pasadena, just leave before 2.

We’re not the sort for generalizations, but we’ll make an exception in this case: everyone loves a good, juicy secret. There’s something exhilarating about gaining access to a piece of information that only a select few individuals are privy to, and it’s a nice feeling knowing that someone thinks highly enough of your judgment to entrust you with it. Of course, since nothing is or ever was free, the price you end up paying for this little thrill is your silence. Nobody likes a gossip, and a reputation of loose lips is nearly impossible to ditch, and may even sink a few ships.

Some secrets just aren’t worth divulging. Luckily, there are some that can be shared without fear of harm to your good name.

In the city of Pasadena, which fails to get as much hype as it truly deserves (making it kind-of-secret in its own right), there is a surprising amount of diversity with a lot to offer: fine dining and shopping in Old Town, hiking and natural scenery (including waterfalls!) at Eaton Canyon, and a vibrant arts scene revolving around cultural institutions like the world-famous Pasadena Playhouse. And it’s all only ten minutes away from Downtown LA!

While we like to think we know this city as well as the back of our hands, it’s not the case. LA is just too big and behind many a nondescript facade are amazing spots often only found at the recommendations of others. So, take advantage of our dirt dishing, and read up on some of Pasadena’s hidden gems:

Jones Coffee Roasters, 693 South Raymond Avenue

Even if you’ve driven down this part of Raymond Avenue a hundred times, most likely it’s to catch the 110-S on the way to Downtown. On your left you have the Metro tracks, and on your right you have industrial warehouses and loading zones. Nothing to draw the attention at all. Imagine our surprise when we discovered a coffeehouse lover’s paradise masquerading as a warehouse. Its high ceilings, fluorescent lighting and exposed brick hearken to when it was probably used as a factory, but the overstuffed couches, abundance of space and interesting art pieces adorning the walls give it a comfortable and welcoming vibe. There are also a few adjoining rooms available with comfortable seating that offer privacy and a more intimate experience. Awesome space notwithstanding, this is some of the best coffee in Pasadena. Jones’ offer a variety of roasts and beans, which they roast in-house. The dark roast is especially full and the aroma alone is enough to jolt anyone awake. One small caveat: Jones doesn’t provide Wi-Fi access at all, so if you’re planning on checking it out, ditch your laptop and grab a friend to enjoy some great coffee and some even better conversation.

 Café Santorini, 64 West Union Street

This gem, although a bit difficult to find for the first time, is the kind that’s hiding in plain sight. While it’s located in the heart of bustling Old Town, it’s tucked away in an alley behind a large brick building and across the street from a daunting two-story Forever 21. The only clue you have is a small neon sign directly above the entrance that says “Cafe Santorini.” Enter the door and climb the set of stairs to reach the actual restaurant. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a room with richly-hued wooden floors, a large circular bar and square tables. The restaurant’s best feature, however, is its outdoor patio, where patrons can dine al fresco under the the twinkling golden lights management has strung throughout and enjoy the view overlooking Union Street. The overall ambiance is warm, with an understated and very inviting elegance. Cafe Santorini offers a menu inspired by Greek and Mediterranean cuisine; you can’t go wrong with the cioppino, a seafood stew featuring crab, shrimp and other tasty denizens of the deep (think paella’s Italian cousin), or the mezze platter, which presents a number of traditional Mediterranean specialties like stuffed grape leaves and tabouleh. The outdoor patio is pretty small, however, so make a reservation on the weekends to enjoy the best this restaurant has to offer.

Buster’s Coffee, 1006 Mission Street

Okay, so Buster’s isn’t actually located in Pasadena proper. It’s in South Pasadena. However, we’re still going to include it because it’s just that awesome, and because Pasadena is still technically in the name of the city. Housed in an absolutely gorgeous two-story brick building, family-owned Buster’s serves traditional café products like coffees, teas and pastries, and also serves tasty and unique ice cream like banana walnut. It offers complimentary Wi-Fi and has plenty of seating, both outside on the patio and inside on both floors. The really cool thing about Buster’s, though, is its location. If you stand outside and squint just a little, you’d swear you were somewhere like Stars-Hollow-meets-Long-Island-City. Small boutiques, antique shops, a railroad track and residential streets with tall, beautiful trees give this little area a palpable East-Coast vibe. Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena’s main commercial street and the road that intersects with Mission Street, seems like a million miles away. If you feel like leaving LA for a few hours but want to save on airfare to NYC, Buster’s is definitely the place for you.

Check back to review updated list of hidden gems as we stumble upon more of them. What places do you know of that are well-kept secrets in Los Angeles? Let us know here at Lady Clever, and make sure you share those juicy tidbits with your friends!

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