Old Town Pasadena has changed a lot since I was in high school, when it was a glorious dump that felt a little dangerous. I wrote in my book Just a Geek:
Thanks to the efforts of the Pasadena preservationists, the historical building facades haven’t changed, but they are the only thing which remain the same. The empty doorway where a punk rocker once sneered at passing businessmen is now a Pottery Barn, occupied by a San Marino yuppie who screams into her cell phone. The eclectic record store where we’d buy imported Smiths singles is now a Sam Goody, its windows plastered with posters announcing the latest release from Justin Timberlake. Tourists stand uncomfortably at crosswalks, trying to ignore the homeless who have come to enjoy the trickle down economics of a prospering shopping thoroughfare.
All of this progress is not without its benefits, though. Old Town is safe, if sanitized, and several good restaurants have moved into the area.
Yeah, it’s been gentrified all to hell, and the only real risk to anyone who goes there for Pinkberry, H&M, or the Apple Store, is not finding a good parking place — or, at this time of year, any parking place at all.
Hi. I’m Wil, and I’m here to help you park your car when you come to spend money in my city.
First, where not to park: The deLacey garage. It seems like a good idea, right? I mean, it’s pretty centralized and makes for easy walking to a lot of stores. Well, pretty much everything in Old Town is walking distance from everything else, and the DeLacey garage has two main problems: it doesn’t have that many spaces, so it fills up quickly, and the light at Colorado doesn’t stay green very long, so you end up waiting up to ten minutes to get to the driveway . . . where you find out the garage is full. So you get to crawl all the way down to Green street while you think about what you did.
Parking on Colorado is an option, but keep in mind that the Pasadena police are hardcore about nailing cars with meters that are expired for four seconds. If you must park on the streets, you can usually find ample street parking down deLacey (after you didn’t listen to me and tried to park in the garage) but be prepared to walk a few blocks.
The best garage in the city is the Schoolhouse garage, with entrances on Raymond and Green. If you park in this garage, go into the lower levels. I don’t know why, but even on the busiest days of the year, people waste all sorts of time going into the upper levels, while we laugh at them with the Morlocks.
There’s also a garage on Union between Fair Oaks and Raymond, but it’s a last resort for me. All garages in Pasadena are 90 minutes free, and two bucks for each hour or portion of an hour after that. Some garages go flat rate after 5 on weekends.
If you’re into valet parking, Old Town has one of the better systems: drop your car off at one of several spots on Colorado, Union, Fair Oaks or Raymond, and then pick it up from any other valet in town. This is quite convenient when you’re loaded with holiday packages.
Of course, Old Town Pasadena is one of the very few places in the city that is easily accessible by the Metro, with two Gold Line stops (Memorial Park and Del Mar) putting you within simple and convenient walking distance of everywhere you want to go.
Bonus tip: If you want to get a sense of what Old Town was like in the pre-Pottery Barn days, head East toward Lake, and pay a visit to the porn shop, the tattoo parlor, or the pawn shop. They’ve been there forever, and thanks to new zoning laws, they wouldn’t be able to get permits today.
Extra bonus tip: If you’re going to the Paseo shopping mall, park in the garage on Marengo and walk across the bridge into the mall. The garage underneath the mall is always an epic clusterfuck and it’s designed to frighten and confuse drivers.
Update: Here, have a nifty map (Thanks, Travis and David!)