What to do for New Year’s in Pasadena

When New Year’s Eve approaches, Pasadena both grinds to a halt and spins into a frenzy. People working on the Tournament of Roses Parade floats are usually feverishly putting on fresh flowers until the early hours of the morning. The parade horse people are camping out and pulling an all-nighter on the freeway braiding the manes and tails of their horses and trying to keep warm.

Yet for those who aren’t involved in the actual parade or football game, things slow down. Offices close because no one can get into Old Pas or other areas on the parade route. And many streets are blocked off. Some people just leave Pasadena. I used to take the Gold Line to Downtown Los Angeles and then the Amtrak to San Diego  or drive up and off to Orange County’s South Coast Plaza.

Because many employees can’t get to their place of work, many attractions are closed on New Year’s Day including the Huntington Library, Pacific Asia Museum, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Norton Simon. If you can (or plan ahead and see these attractions on Monday, 31 December 2012), stick around and see these beautiful institutions that make Pasadena unique.

If you’re new to the area or just visiting, you’ll want to be sure to see other sights in Pasadena. Want to get away from the madding crowd? Try the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanic Gardens. This might not be spring, but there’s plenty blooming there. Some of the trails (such as the Australian Garden or the Desert Garden) are rarely traveled and you can get some solitude. The Rose Garden isn’t in its prime, but there are still flowers blooming. In the Desert Garden, the succulents are blooming, especially the aloes.

There are also the Chinese Garden and the nearby Japanese Garden. When I was there last week, the gingko trees had turned yellow and the leaves were just beginning to fall. The camellia bushes are close to blooming. Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. you can get something to eat at the Chinese Garden Tea House.  We tried the garlic shrimp spring roll for $6.95 and the Cantonese short ribs soup with rice noodles for $11.95.

If you can think ahead, make reservations for the Tea Room. For $27.99 per person (plus tax) you get unlimited tea and visits to the buffet of savory finger sandwiches, cheeses, fresh fruit, seasonal salads, deserts and scones.

Highlights of the Art Collections are “The Blue Boy” by Thomas Gainsborough (circa 1770), but the Huntington also has one of the major Lincoln collections in the nation and two exhibits explore that time era: “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, Memories and the American Civil War” which ends 14 January 2013 and “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War” which ends 7 January 2013.

If you like variety, you can hit the Pacific Asia Museum and the Pasadena Museum of California Art which are just one-building away from each other off of Union. That’s just north of Colorado and East of Los Robles.  Garden lovers stop by and see “The Garden in Asia” exhibit which looks at objects that illustrates the importance of the garden in Asia. Asian cultures revere their elders and this is explored in “The Art of Continuity: Revering our Elders.”  There’s also an exhibit on ceremonial art in Indonesia and the “Kimono in the 20th Century.”

The Pasadena Museum of California Art has exhibit on various artists such as Greta Magnusson Grossman (“A Car and Some Shorts”), Paul Landacre (“White on Black: The Modernist Prints of Paul Landacre”), and textile artist Guillermo Bert.

The Norton Simon Museum is at the very beginning of the Tournament of Roses Parade  and is open New Year’s Eve from 12 noon until 4 p.m., but close on New Year’s Day. The museum is deceptively small and has a lovely little garden. What you’ll really want to see if Van Gogh’s 1889 “Self-Portrait” which is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Other current exhibits include the still lifes (“Significant Objects: The Spell of Still Life”) and Connor Evert lithographs (“Studies in Desperation: A Suite by Connor Evert”).

In nearby Arcadia, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is open on New Year’s Day. You’ve probably seen the Queen Anne Cottage on TV. Built in 1885 and now considered on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was used for the opening sequence of the TV show “Fantasy Island” and the lagoon near it was used for a sequence in one of the Tarzan movies.

The Descanso Gardens in Flintridge La Cañada, is just down the 210 from Pasadena and is open every day except Christmas Day. The camellia forest should be about ready to bloom.  If you’re lucky the Boddy House, home of E. Manchester Boddy, the founder of Descanso Gardens, will be open. Call ahead to check.

Other things to do include a visit to one of the area Chinatowns–Downtown Los Angeles, Alhambra, Monterey Park and Arcadia. Check on Yelp for recommendations. The San Gabriel Valley has excellent Chinese food available.

January 1, is just the beginning of New Year’s celebrations because there’s still the Chinese New Year’s (in February) and the Persian New Year’s (in March).  Happy New Year!

For information about the parade route, street closures or the football game, visit the Tournament of Roses website.

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