The Unofficial BotCon Pasadena Survival Guide

OK, so let's name the elephant in the room right up front. BotCon keeps coming to Pasadena again and again. I'm not unsympathetic to the concerns of those who wish the convention would move around more, but can hardly complain about my own good fortune, as the convention takes place just a few blocks away from where I work whenever it's in town. So, I try to do my bit to "give back."  The "Survival Guide" I've done in past years has been pretty well received, and now that Blogger allows stand-alone pages, I've been able to set it up so that anyone interested can just link here, as the Guide now has a permanent home that can be updated as necessary.

Of course, I can't predict every need. But I do know the Pasadena area pretty well (having lived in and around it for more than 15 years now), and hope that this list will be helpful. Of course, the greater Los Angeles area has lots of stuff to see. With a few exceptions, I'm only listing places that I've actually been to and would recommend. You can find other attractions just by using your Google-Fu, of course!

First thing's first — Please consider signing up for an account with Big Crumbs using this link, especially before booking your travel arrangements. They link to all sorts of online services like Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire in their "Travel" section (If you don't see the link, look under the "Shop" tab and click "Online Retailers" — after signing up, of course!) and if you visit those sites through Big Crumbs, you can earn a percentage of your purchases back (and also help to support this site)! They also connect to Restaurants.com, which can get you discounts on food, both in Pasadena, and wherever you happen to live.

Hotels:
  • The Sheraton, Hilton, and Courtyard by Marriott have tended to be the official hotels of Pasadena BotCons (but note that the Sheraton and the Hilton are the only ones announced so far for BotCon 2014), and the Sheraton's actually connected to the Convention Center. But even with the BotCon room rate, those are really nice hotels with price tags to match. I'm told that the Sheraton has in-room refrigerators, which may help you with food planning (perhaps the other hotels do, too. It's not uncommon for hotels to supply that kind of thing).  
  • But perhaps you want to stay at a cheaper hotel. For this, I suggest that you consult the Pasadena Convention Center Hotel Guide. I'd also recommend using one of the many online travel sites (Big Crumbs has a convenient link to several!) to look for deals, as you might even be able to get a lower overall price by booking the room at the same time as your flight and/or rental car.  (Complete aside: I'd love to know how these negotiations work. The Westin hasn't been one of the official hotels, but is a lot closer to the convention center than the Courtyard!)
Airports:
  • Los Angeles International (LAX) — This is generally the cheapest airport to use, but it's a zoo. It even made a recent list of "America's Worst Airports." None of the other airports I'm going to mention below are on that list. If you can afford to use one of these others, I highly recommend it.
  • Bob Hope Airport (BUR) — In Burbank, this airport is the closest to Pasadena, and is generally a very pleasant experience, but it's small enough that you'll almost certainly have to come in via a connecting flight.  
  • Ontario International (ONT) — A bit further away (but yes, I'm talking about California and not Canada!). Also a very nice airport, with more capacity than BUR.
  • John Wayne Airport (SNA) — SNA stands for "Santa Ana," which is in Orange County. Another nice airport, which might work especially well if you plan on working a trip to either Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm (see below) into your arrival or departure plans.
  • Long Beach Airport (LGB) — Much smaller, so finding a flight that works through here will probably depend on your particular location. It's great for JetBlue, if you like to fly with them.
Transportation:
  • Metro — Our mass-transit system, including both buses and trains in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area. If you intend to use this option very much, I'd recommend either getting a weekly pass, or consider a rental car (which can be done through the Big Crumbs Travel section!).
  • SuperShuttle — If you just need to get to/from an LA-area airport, the folks behind BotCon usually provide a code to use for a discount when you make your reservation. For BotCon 2014, use this link.
  • Shuttle2LAX — An alternative option for transportation to/from LAX. They offer a flat rate of $20 (plus $14 per additional person) regardless of destination. A similar service for Burbank airport is now available: Shuttle2BUR.
If you plan on shopping in Pasadena — You should be aware that, due to a local city ordinance, you cannot get free plastic bags when you shop anywhere within Pasadena city limits. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags (some places even offer you a small discount for doing so!), or you may buy a paper bag, usually for about 10 cents.

Food:
  • Paseo Colorado — Directly across the street from the Convention Center. An open-air mall, which will be the most obvious place to look for food. You can search through all the Paseo merchants here. 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 inexpensive 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.
  • Gelson's — The grocery store that was part of the Paseo, but has since closed down. Honestly, I think it was a bit overpriced, anyway. If you don't mind walking a few blocks east, I recommend Ralph's instead.
  • Old Town Pasadena — Keep going west from the Paseo. There are a ton of shops and places to eat here, but it's almost always extremely crowded. In fact, I avoid it whenever possible. But if you can handle the crowds, you're almost sure to find something here. As shops change from year-to-year, it's safer for me to just refer you to the link rather than list a bunch of places that may not be there by the next BotCon.
  • The Playhouse District - Much quieter, but with perhaps fewer options. Just to the east of the Convention Center. Besides the possible food options, you'll also find a Target in this area on Colorado Blvd. (This is also where Fuller Theological Seminary, where I work, can be found)
  • South Lake Avenue — A few blocks east of the convention center, with both upscale and less expensive options. If keeping to a budget 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.
  • McCormick and Schmick's — 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 cheap food if you buy a beverage. If you want some excellent seafood, you can go to the main restaurant portion, but be warned that the prices there are fairly high.
  • Pie 'n Burger — This is something of a local legend which recently celebrated 50th anniversary in the Fall of 2013, and certainly retains the feel of a bygone era. Despite living here for so many years, I only first got to this place, myself, on the Thursday of BotCon 2014 pre-registration pick-up, in part due to the "cash or check only" policy (I almost never carry cash anymore, so a planned trip many months earlier ended up in failure). Honestly, I think the prices are a bit high for what you get. I paid almost $20 (after tax and tip) for a hamburger, Sprite, and a strawberry pie (fries would have been extra). It was good food (especially that pie), but I can't see myself making the effort to go back anytime soon. If you still want to give it a shot, be warned that table seating is limited, although visitors coming on their own can almost certainly find a space available along the counter except during the busiest hours.
  • Los G├╝eros — Admittedly, this one's a personal indulgence, as it's roughly a 1/2-hour drive during Rush Hour (only about 8 miles east, in Monrovia). Highly recommended if you love Mexican food, and if you're bringing a group, I really recommend you get a coupon from Restaurant.com (which besides saving you a bunch of money, works with the above-mentioned Big Crumbs account. You really should get one!) or through Entertainment.com if you have one of their coupon books (and remember, you really need to order the fresh guacamole!).
  • In-N-Out Burger in Alhambra — Note: There is one in Pasadena, but you can't sit down there, and so I've never bothered with it myself. This one allows you to sit down with your food, and is a straight drive south from the convention center. Just take Los Robles until you get to Alhambra, and you should see it on the left. There's also a very nice In-N-Out at the Glendale Galleria, where you can get some extra shopping in if you get tired of Transformers.
  • Obviously, if you're willing to drive, much more can be found than I can list conveniently. However, the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau has a very helpful website that can fill in the blanks (this link goes directly to the dining section).
Mail and Shipping (BotCon will, of course, have shipping available right in the dealer room itself. The following are alternative options):
  • The main Pasadena Post Office — Just across the street from the Paseo (which, as I said, is itself just across the street from the Convention Center). 
  • FedEx Office (the establishment formerly known as Kinko's) — On Los Robles a bit to the Northeast at the Westin (which may as well be one of the "other" official hotels, given its location and comparatively high price). 
  • The UPS Store  — A short distance to the Southwest, but it's rather far for walking (indeed, this one's another 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 — An 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. This is usually top-notch entertainment with well-known celebrities. 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.
  • The Huntington Library and the Huntington Gardens — 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.
  • Norton Simon Museum — Just a few blocks west (and a block north) of the convention center. I'll get around to visiting this, myself, someday....
  • The Gamble House — I've never actually been inside, but I've 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.) Actually, the Gamble House was just the exterior. The interior was filmed at the Blacker House, but that's a private residence, so you'd only be able to see the outside of it, anyway.
  • The Pacific Asia Museum — Even closer to the seminary 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.
  • The Pasadena Museum of California Art — Right next door (Even closer to the seminary! Right across the street!) and admission is essentially the same price as the Pacific Asia Museum. In fact, the two museums offer a discount on admission to the second museum if you go to see both on the same day.
  • And, at the risk of sounding anti-climactic, there's a movie theater at the Paseo Colorado.
Outside of Pasadena Itself:
  • Giant Roadside G1 Bumblebee statue — A bit too far away to go see while at Botcon, but if you're driving in from the north (not far from Fresno), you might want to take the side trip to see this work of art made from an actual Volkswagen Beetle.
  • The Griffith Observatory — In Los Angeles, especially if you're into astronomy, or just want to see where parts of the first live-action Transformers movie were filmed.)
  • The Museum of Tolerance — Also in Los Angeles. Not a place I'd recommend for young children, but it's 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.
  • The Tillman Water Reclamation Plant (especially the Japanese Garden) — A bit of a drive away (in Van Nuys), but it's been used as the setting for Starfleet Academy, as well as a few planets on Star Trek: The Next Generation, so there are probably a few fans who would have an interest in checking it out (Thanks to Orson Christian of Captured Prey for the suggestion!)
  • Hollywood — A word to the wise: do not go at nighttime unless you've got a fairly large group with you. It's really pretty run-down outside of the immediate attractions. Besides the famous sites themselves, there are lots of show tapings (both in Hollywood and in the surrounding area) 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 during the convention, of course.)
  • Amusement parks 
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, and 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.

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