My mom bought me a food walking tour through Old Town Pasadena for my birthday. Okay, so my birthday was back in August. I sure know how to stretch out a celebration, right? But to be fair, Kevin and I have been gone a lot of weekends… And there was that whole 2 week trip to Japan.
Melting Pot Food Tours offers excursions through East LA, the original farmers market, Orange County and Thai Town. I love Old Town Pasadena — and would even consider it as a place to live. But then I snap back to reality when I remember just how LONG my weekday commute would be.
Honestly, Kevin and I didn’t think we’d learn much on the tour (if anything!). I mean, we’ve spent so much time in Pasadena. But there is a lot more to Pasadena than you might ever expect. Here are some of the highlights —
Starting Point: Everson Royce Wine Shop
I’m a new fan of Everson Royce — and never even noticed this wine shop before. Everson Royce is just North of the main shopping district and has wines from all over the world (even a label from Mexico’s Valle De Guadalupe, which has become a personal favorite destination from LA). We learned that on Saturdays, they even offer a wine tasting from 2-5 PM. Something I’ll be sure to come back to try out. We met our tour guide Barbara just outside the shop and learned we’d be visiting 9 different places on the tour. And would not finish hungry (that’s for sure!).
History of Pasadena
Pasadena — known today for the Rose Parade, the Rose Bowl, Jet Propulsion Lab and bio-nerd fave Caltech — was once occupied by the Hahamogna tribe of Native Americans. But it wasn’t long before a group of Indiana residents settled in the area and decided to call the area (the not-so-very-original name) of Indiana Colony. Our guide Barbara explained that it was actually the US Postal Service that forced the name change when the Indiana Colony wanted a post office (rather than hauling all the way to downtown LA). That’s when they picked the distinctive-sounding Native American name of Pasadena (roughly translating to “valley”).
Colorful Alleys and Ethnic Eateries
It’s hard to believe that Old Town Pasadena was once pretty rough. I’ve only ever known it as the high-end part of the LA area with old rich people! It wasn’t until the 1970’s that residents began fighting to save the quaint alleyways, rustic brick facades and historic architectural landmarks. The city became a shining example of a successful downtown revitalization for others. There are more than 100 restaurants. But the tour would focus on businesses that met a few basic requirements: First, they have to be independent; second, they need to have great food; and third, they need to understand the concept of the company and what it’s trying to promote.
Here are some of the major food highlights along the way —
It was at this point, we hit a food wall. So were thrilled with the next stop, which didn’t involve any eating! It was to The Soap Kitchen, which is another shop I’ve walked past countless times and never went in. Upon walking in the shop, you’ll smell the fresh aromas of their soap (all made in the tiny space that looks no larger than a closet). The soaps are all natural and handmade from scratch. You’ll want to check out their specialty bars (which I bought) called California Gold… a nod to the late, Southern California TV personality Huell Howser. And be sure to check out the photos of his visit a few years back where he got a lesson in soap making.
Finally, we made it to the last stop for some chocolate at Mignon Chocolate Boutique. The owner, who was once exiled to Siberia, later found himself in Tehran, Iran. With Armenian roots, he had deep ties to the Armenian community found in nearby Glendale. And soon had shops in Glendale, Iran and Pasadena (listed on their sign and made me want to sing… one of these places don’t belong with the other!).
The Old Town Pasadena tour runs most weekends from 10:30 AM to 2 PM (though, in our case went a little longer with all of Kevin’s questions!). We were fascinated by the info on the Rose Bowl Parade, too (and never even noticed the pink line that is permanently on Colorado Blvd, which helps guide all the floats in the middle of the road).
I’d recommend the tour for locals and visitors alike. And especially if you have family nearby – it would be a great activity you could all do together. Plus, you’re walking most of the day so you won’t have to feel TOO guilty about all that food you just ate. Well, maybe just the desserts!
Cost: $75 per person (includes all food and drinks. Tip is extra)
Here are the stops –
Everson Royce – Wine Shop
155 N. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103
36 E. Holly Street,Pasadena, CA 91103
Specializes in agua fresca (juices) and tamales
Spinfish Poke House
36 W. Colorado Blvd #7, Pasadena, CA 91103
Aloha 808 is their specialty
All India Cafe
39 S. Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103
Indian food from all over the country; the garlic nan was aaamazing!
Amara Chocolate and Coffee
55 S. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103
Venezuelan specialities include churros, dipping chocolate and empanadas
59 E. Colorado, Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91103
Recommended flavor – balsamic fig, vinegar and mascarpone
The Soap Kitchen
26 N. Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103
The “Black Gold” soap is made with charcoal to extract impurities, a very unique gift
Mignon Chocolate Boutique
6 E. Holly Street, Pasadena, CA 91103
Specialize in dark chocolates