Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and often called merely "Old Town", this graceful valley swath beside the San Gabriel Mountains was first developed in the 1880s by railroad barons and hoteliers intent on luring winter-weary, cultured Easterners out west. Their efforts were ultimately successful, and Old Town Pasadena remains full of museums, scholarly institutions and well-manicured public spaces created by wealthy tourists who simply never left.
Old Town Pasadena today includes a popular mixed-use commercial district known for a largely upscale mix of restaurants and chain stores, as well as inexpensive and plentiful public parking. Along the main shopping streets, Orange Grove and Fair Oaks Boulevards, the buildings are largely examples of Art Deco architecture from the 1920s, carefully restored during the district's urban revival in the 1980s.
Fanning out from the commercial center, area attractions include the Norton Simon Museum, home to the eclectic and fabulously expensive art collection of millionaire industrialist Norton Simon; the Pasadena Museum of California Art, a modern, spare and expertly-curated museum where each exhibition provides an in-depth history of a single facet of the state; the Pasadena Playhouse, a Spanish Colonial Revival-style theater with a mosaic-inlaid dome, perfect acoustics and a rotating stage; the Gamble House, a 1908 Arts & Crafts mansion that was joinery-built without a single traditional nail, designed for the co-founder of Procter & Gamble by famed architecture firm Greene & Greene and Vroman's, the largest and oldest independently-run bookstore in Southern California.