Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Updated 2011 BotCon Pasadena Survival Guide

I'm really pretty fortunate.  Most Transformers fans have to travel far and wide to get to BotCon, yet I've had the privilege of having it take place just a few blocks away from where I work three times now!  I can certainly understand why some folks feel like it's "always" here (despite the fact that, with one other exception--in another nearby city in California--these three times are the only times BotCon has been west of Texas!).  So, I try to do my bit to "give back."  The "Survival Guide" I did in 2009 was pretty well received, so it's worth doing that again, updating as necessary and providing new information as I can. 

As I said last time, I can't predict every need. But I do know the Pasadena area pretty well now (having lived in and around it for about 13 years now), and hope that this list will be helpful. Of course, the greater Los Angeles area has lots of stuff to see. For the most part, 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!

Travel and Hotels:
  • The Sheraton, Hilton, and Courtyard by Marriott are, of course, the official hotels, 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 want to stay at a cheaper hotel. For this, I suggest that you consult the Pasadena Convention Center Hotel Guide. 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 isn't one of the official hotels, but is a lot closer to the convention center than the Courtyard!)
  • I won't weigh in on which airlines you should use, but I do have some comments on which airports you might use to get here.  There are several airports in the Pasadena area.  Los Angeles International, commonly called "LAX," is generally the cheapest, but it's a zoo, and if you don't mind spending a little bit more to connect elsewhere, I really do recommend it.  Burbank (BUR) is the closest to Pasadena, and is generally a very pleasant experience.  A bit further away is the Ontario airport (ONT, and yes, I'm talking about California and not Canada!), but that's also a nice airport, as is John Wayne airport (SNA, in Santa Ana), 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.
  • 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. That said, if you use this option very much, 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 a code to get you a discount on SuperShuttle service.  Just enter code "RB3FY" when you make your reservation.
  • If you're coming from LAX, there's a newer alternative option called "Shuttle2LAX" which offers a flat rate of $20 (plus $11 per additional person) regardless of destination.  A little less guesswork, perhaps, but I always suggest checking your options.
  • 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. 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 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 Güeros in Monrovia (now with two locations!  The original, on Huntington, and now one on Myrtle in Old Town Monrovia). If you're bringing a group, I really recommend you get a coupon from or through if you have one of their coupon books (and remember, 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 Convention and Visitors 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?).  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.
  • 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 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). 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. I can't yet tell what play will be playing there during the BotCon season, but 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.
  • 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.
  • And, at the risk of sounding anti-climactic, there's a movie theater at the Paseo Colorado.
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 June, 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 first live-action 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 are always amusement parks. I'm sure you knew about Disneyland without my mentioning it, but Knott's Berry Farm is a cheaper amusement park in the same area (Buena Park, very near Anaheim, actually), and there's also the Universal Studios park in the LA area, and Magic Mountain if you don't mind about an hour's drive north and really enjoy roller coasters.
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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  1. In 09 I was at the Sheraton. I did order room service a fair amount of times but ultimately, the value of the meal wasn't worth the price.

    It was good food but not GREAT food. I'd recommend anyone staying there to get snacks or quick microwavable stuff from the grocery store over at the Paseo Colorado to curb late night munchie cravings and skip room service.

    See you there Mark! ;)

  2. I don't know enough about them to add them to the list proper (not being a coffee guy), but a fellow Fuller student made up this list of coffee shops near Fuller (and, by extension, near the Convention Center).

    He's also put together this list of places for "Burgers and Sandwiches".

  3. Nice guide. I have a home about 20 min from Pasadena so of course I was there in 09. Totally plan on going again this year!

    Lining up to get in is a pain tho. I think it took us about 2 hours on Sat morning. But other than that its a great con.

  4. Thanks for some good info. I've never been in CA before, and this helped me immensely.
    Do you know anything about going to the Ellen show? If someone is lucky enough to get the callback that they scored tickets (crosses fingers), how early should you show up? I hear they tape the show around 5pm, but you have to show around noon.


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