East of Pasadena, at the west end of the San Gabriel Valley, old Route 66 runs along Huntington Drive, which takes its name from one of the most important figures in early Los Angeles, Henry Huntington. Nephew of Southern Pacific Railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, from whom Henry inherited a huge fortune (as well as a wife, Arabella), Henry Huntington controlled most of Southern California’s once extensive public transit system. He is now most remembered for creating and endowing one of the world’s great museums, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Rd., 626/405-2100, Wed.-Mon., $23 and up), located in the upscale community of San Marino.
The Huntington Library contains all sorts of unique books and documents and preserves thousands more for the benefit of scholars, but the real draw is the art gallery, which displays an excellent collection of British and European painting and sculpture, with major works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and others. There are also fine assemblages of American art, including Gilbert Stuart’s familiar portrait of George Washington. Perhaps the best part of the Huntington is its splendid gardens, which cover 120 acres in a series of mini ecosystems, distilling the essence of Australia, Japan, South America, and, in one of the country’s largest cactus gardens, the American Southwest.
Heading out of downtown Los Angeles, the historic Pasadena Freeway (Hwy-110) drops you off unceremoniously short of Pasadena, but following Figueroa Street brings you in with a bang on the soaring Colorado Boulevard Bridge, an elegantly arching circa-1913 concrete bridge at the western edge of Pasadena, which long marked the symbolic entrance to Los Angeles from the east.
Recently restored, the bridge spans the Arroyo Seco along the south side of the Ventura Freeway (Hwy-134). The Arroyo Seco itself is full of significant sights, including college football’s Rose Bowl Stadium and some of the most important architecture in Southern California, notably the Gamble House (4 Westmoreland Pl., 626/793-3334, Thurs.-Sun. afternoons, $15), a 100-year-old arts-and-crafts gem. Above the arroyo, on old Route 66, the Norton Simon Museum (411 W. Colorado Blvd., 626/449-6840, Wed.-Mon., $12) has a medium-sized but impeccably chosen collection of Western and Southeast Asian art, ranging from Hindu sculpture to one of the world’s foremost collections of Edgar Degas paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
Just a few blocks east of the Arroyo Seco and the Norton Simon Museum, down old Route 66, Old Pasadena is the name for the old center of town, where locals congregate for evening fun and daytime shopping. Start your morning with breakfast at Marston’s (151 E. Walnut St., 626/796-2459), just north of Old Pasadena, or detour two blocks south of old Route 66 to enjoy the fine neon sign and classic soda-fountain milk shakes at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain (1526 Mission St., 626/799-1414). There are quite a few old motels along this stretch of Route 66; one good bet is the Saga Motor Hotel (1633 E. Colorado Blvd., 626/795-0431, $89 and up).