Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Unofficial BotCon 2009 Pasadena Survival Guide

For most Transformers fans, BotCon is a travel experience. As the convention is in different places every year, fans travel to places they likely have never been before. Although BotCon is the reason for this travel, one cannot live on Transformers alone. Fans need to eat. Some will want to explore the area, taking in the sights. Some may need help in finding cheaper accommodations than what the "official" hotel can provide. Now that BotCon 2009 has been officially announced to be at the Pasadena Convention Center, people are already starting to ask questions about the surrounding area.

I can't predict every need. But insofar as I do know the Pasadena area pretty well now (having lived in and around it for over 11 years), I hope that this list will be helpful. Of course, the greater Los Angeles area has lots of stuff to see. For everything but the hotels, I'll only list here places that I've actually been to and would recommend (I don't spend much time in hotels that are close to where I already live!). You can find other attractions just by using your Google-Fu, of course!

  • The Sheraton and the Hilton are, of course, the official hotels. Indeed, the Sheraton's actually connected to the Convention Center. But there are others nearby, and some folks have actually made sites to make finding one easy. Here you go! Here's another! Naturally, services like Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire can also be helpful, and you might even be able to get a deal by booking the room at the same time as your flight and/or rental car.
  • This list is written mostly with the assumption that people will either walk wherever they want to go, or will rent a car. There are buses and trains in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area, though. You can map out trips to and from wherever you'd want to go using this link. If you use this option very much, though, I'd recommend either getting a weekly pass, or reconsider the car rental.
  • If you just need to get to/from an LA-area airport, the folks behind BotCon have provided this link which apparently gets you a discount on a shuttle.
  • Directly across the street from the Convention Center is an open-air mall called the Paseo Colorado. This will be the most obvious place to look for food. Here are a list of restaurants at the Paseo. Most of the restaurants there have their own links, so you can get an idea of costs. Personally, I'd go to Rubio's for some comparatively cheap food. If you don't mind spending a little more, Islands is good for hamburgers, and P.F. Chang's is great for Chinese food.
  • If you're willing to walk a few blocks east (turn right if you're exiting the convention center on Green, facing the Paseo), Lake Avenue is also a major shopping district with lots of restaurants, both upscale and less expensive. Again, if just going inexpensive is your goal, I'd suggest Del Taco, which is a bit cheaper than Rubio's. For the healthier mind-set, Souplantation is quite good.
  • If Italian's your thing, try Buca Di Beppo, which is excellent food, close to the convention, but kind of pricey.
  • McCormick & Schmicks is the only local bar that I (being a teetotaler) have any real familiarity with. I recommend going during Happy Hour (around 5-6 pm), when you can get really cheap food if you buy a beverage (doesn't even have to be alcoholic, or at least didn't when I lived about a block away a few years ago). If you want some excellent seafood, you can go to the main restaurant portion, but be warned that the prices are fairly high.
  • If you've got a friend to dine with, love Mexican food, and don't mind the roughly 1/2-hour drive to go about 8 miles east during rush hour, I also highly recommend Los G├╝eros in Monrovia. If you print out the coupon from the web page, you can bring the cost for two down to roughly $25 (you can make it even less if you don't order the fresh guacamole as an appetizer, but you really need to order the fresh guacamole!).
  • Obviously, if you're willing to drive, much more can be found than I can list conveniently. However, the Pasadena Visitors and Convention Bureau has a very helpful website that can fill in the blanks (this link goes directly to the dining section).
  • Because a few folks have mentioned it, and because it really is pretty good food, I've done a special write-up for In-N-Out Burger in Alhambra (there is one in Pasadena, but you can't sit down there, and so I've never bothered with it myself. It's too far to walk, and if you have to drive, you want to be able to sit down to eat, right?).
  • If you're thinking more on the order of groceries (who cooks for themselves at BotCon?), Gelson's is just across the street from the convention center, but is a bit overpriced. If you don't mind walking a few blocks east, I recommend Ralph's instead.
Mail and Shipping:
  • If you need to send a package, I'm sure that BotCon will provide certain shipping services, but you should be aware that the main Pasadena Post Office is just across the street from the Paseo (which, as I said, is itself just across the street from the Convention Center). You might find this to be a viable option for your shipping needs. There is also a Fed Ex Kinko's on Los Robles a bit to the Northeast at the Westin (which may well become one of the "other" official hotels, for all I know). Finally, there is a UPS Store a short distance to the Southwest, but it's rather far for walking (indeed, this one's an exception to my "don't post if I haven't used it" rule. I've used both of the others.).
Local Attractions:
  • The Pasadena Playhouse is a historic theater that has given more than a few big-name celebrities their start. It's just a few blocks east of the Convention Center. Easy walking distance. It looks like a play called "The Little Foxes" will be playing there during the BotCon season. Tickets can be fairly expensive, but they do have a few options (especially for those who are students) that are less expensive if you're willing to take your chances on a seat.
  • Huntington Library and the Huntington Gardens are at the estate of Henry E. Huntington: railroad magnate (and nephew of "Big Four" member C. P. Huntington), business leader, and all-around-rich-guy. The Library has a wonderful collection of art, including both year-round and rotating displays. It also has a collection including original writings of Abraham Lincoln, a Gutenberg Bible, and other bits of Americana and European fare. If the Library doesn't appeal, just go for the Gardens, which are both expansive and exotic. You can easily spend an afternoon just walking along the beautiful paths alone. There is a nominal fee to enter, but especially if you're bringing kids, I definitely recommend spending some time there.
  • I've never actually been inside the Gamble House, but have driven by it often enough that I need to include it. If you have a car, I recommend doing at least that much, just so you can say you've driven by Doc Brown's place! (Of course, this house has been used in lots of other films, too.)
  • The Pacific Asia Museum is even closer to where I work than the Convention Center is, and is thus an easy walk for those who manage to avoid renting a car. Admission is quite reasonable.
  • And, while you're there, you may as well head next door (Even closer to the seminary! Right across the street!) and visit the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Admission is essentially the same price as the Pacific Asia Museum.
  • There's a movie theater at the Paseo Colorado. If BotCon 2009 features a screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I'd bet they do it here. (Of course, if they're willing to shuttle folks to Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, I'm fine with that....)
Outside of Pasadena Itself:
  • By the way, if you do want to go to Hollywood, do not do so at nighttime unless you've got a fairly large group with you. It's really pretty run-down outside of the immediate attractions.
  • That said, if you want to take a break from BotCon stuff, or otherwise stay an extra day, there are lots of show tapings that you might enjoy. Most of these will take several hours to complete, so plan accordingly. There are tons of sites that offer tickets. Here's just a sample. (Some shows may not be taping in May, of course.)
  • If you're into astronomy, you might want to check out the Griffith Observatory, recently reopened after an extensive renovation. (And, hey, Transformers fans will be interested in the fact that parts of the movie were filmed here.)
  • The Museum of Tolerance is not a place I'd recommend for young children, but is definitely worth going to for those mature enough to handle it. The main topic of the museum is the World War II Holocaust, educating people about those atrocities in hopes that nothing like that ever happens again. There are other historical periods featured, as well.
  • And, of course, there's always Disneyland, but you knew that without my mentioning it! ;)
If there's some other dimension of your BotCon experience you think I should address on this list, but feel that I've missed, just leave a comment. I'll update as necessary. Even so, you should read the comments left by others here, as they offer some ideas that are worth investigating, even if I don't have direct experience with them myself.


  1. Thanks for the comment! (that goes to you, too, Ruth) Sadly, the Getty falls through that crack of "I've never been there, so I couldn't add it to the list," but all that means is that I need to get out there, too! It's a good suggestion.

    As to Santa Monica, I have been out that way a few times, and if you've got the wherewithal to drive out there, I echo Jimtron's suggestion. If you're there, you should spend some time on the Pier.

  2. I'm going to include this suggestion from an ATTer, since I've not actually been to the restaurant myself (I might have been once, but it left no impression), and have never been to the museum mentioned:

    As a Pasadena resident, how can you put together that awesome list and leave off Pie 'n Burger? Anyone who comes to town has to check this joint out and have a slice of Strawberry Cake. Sounds weird until you've tried it, then you can't wait for more.

    Great list, though!

    Also, if bringing kids, I highly recommend the Kidspace Children's
    Museum. Awesome place and enjoyable for all ages.

    I will attest that a lot of folks around here rave about Pie N Burger. It just didn't especially impact me.

  3. An interesting question. There are certainly buffets in the area, but I don't have a lot of experience with them. You'll have your best luck if you drive south to the area of Alhambra, Temple City, Rosemead etc. Those areas are currently predominantly Asian, and thus have a higher concentration of such buffets. There's one a little east of where I live in Duarte (I live in Monrovia) on Huntington that I've been meaning to check out for a while, but still have never done.

    When I want Chinese, I usually go to a Panda Express or Pei Wei, and more rarely to P.F. Chang's (which I mentioned because it's close to BotCon), rather than to a buffet, so I'm sorry that I can't give better advice there.


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