The San Gabriel Valley is rich in history, abundant with creativity and teeming with cultural attractions. Whether you’re looking for a museum, a festival or a historical tour, the San Gabriel Valley has something for everyone.
This beautiful facility is home to the historic annual L. A. County Fair and more than 300 other quality year-round educational, multi-cultural and entertainment events tailored for business and industry and for the enrichment and enjoyment of Southern California’s adults, youth and families. More than three million guests visit the FAIRPLEX annually as guests of special events and the County Fair. Please visit their website at www.fairplex.com for a current calendar.
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, San Gabriel
Located in the heart of the historic Mission District, the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse has played host to a variety of musical events and programs: beautiful ballets, enchanting symphonies, captivating concerts, classic film screenings, spectacular dance performances, and amazing Broadway shows since its opening in 1927. Replicas of Spanish lanterns used aboard galleons in the 1800s hang from the intricately carved and painted ceiling. Colorful woven tapestries that were a gift from King Alfonso XIII of Spain adorn the sides of the theater. The 1,387 seat venue is also the proud home to a fully restored 1924 Wurlitzer pipe organ. Please visit their website at www.missionplayhouse.org for a current calendar.
Homestead Museum, City of Industry
This six-acre site dates from the era when California was still part of Mexico through the decade of the 1920s when Los Angeles had become a major American city. Its historical significance, park-like landscaping, meticulous restoration, and educational programs have received numerous awards at the regional, state, and national level, making it one of California’s true historic treasures.
Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens, San Marino
Developed by Henry Huntington in 1903, the botanical gardens now span nearly 150 acres and feature over 14,000 different species of plants. Three art galleries and a library showcase a collection of magnificent paintings, sculpture, rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts. Highlights of the collection include the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Gainsborough’s masterpiece, The Blue Boy, and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s, Pinkie.
There are several towns in the San Gabriel Valley that have reoccurring Art Walks that feature fine art, music, and a good time. The Village in Claremont hosts an Art Walk the first Friday of every month. The Arts Crawl in South Pasadena takes place every Saturday evening with live music, food trucks and merchant open houses. In downtown Pomona there are over three dozen galleries for viewing every second and last Saturday of the month. Pasadena also hosts several Art events throughout the year.
Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge
A natural “bowl” in the San Rafael hills provides a secluded setting for Descanso Gardens. The first inhabitants of the area were the Los Angeles basin’s Gabrielino Indians. Descanso now includes a world-class rosarium, lilac garden, bird sanctuary, and xeriscape, as well as a Japanese teahouse and a gift shop.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia
Occupying the heart of the historic Rancho Santa Anita, The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a unique 127 acre botanical garden and historical site jointly operated by the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and located in the city of Arcadia. Home to plant collections from all over the world, including many rare and endangered species, The Arboretum also houses outdoor historical landmarks representative of the major phases of California history.
The Pasadena Symphony and POPS, Pasadena
The Pasadena Symphony Association was founded in 1928 by Conductor Reginald Bland. Originally named the Pasadena Civic Orchestra, its first members were mostly volunteer musicians, many of whom were students of Bland. The annual operating budget was a mere $3,500, which was funded entirely by the City of Pasadena. Over the past 80 years, the Pasadena Symphony has artistically matured into one of the top performing symphonic ensembles in southern California, comprised of the most gifted and sought after musicians from the motion picture film industry.
El Monte Historical Museum, El Monte*
Among the impressive works of art and history in the museum is a 40-year run of the town’s newspaper, the El Monte Herald, rescued from near destruction by museum historian Fred Love. The original museum buildings came in the form of land donations from the Bodger Seed Co., later developed by the Works Progress Administration. Artisans for the Spanish-style buildings were hired from all the construction trades and created space for 15,000 volumes, reading rooms for adults and children and a municipal center that hosted festive balls and vaudeville acts.
Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights
The Temple has the traditional architecture of ancient Chinese monasteries. This $30 million Temple, on 15 acres of land, was financed by donations from Buddhist devotees from around the world. Its purpose is to serve as a spiritual and cultural center for those interested in learning more about Buddhism and the Chinese culture. It is the idea of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of this Temple, to propagate “Humanistic Buddhism” and to create a pure land here on earth.
Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena
Pacific Asia Museum was founded in 1971 as a center for the arts and cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The only museum in Southern California devoted solely to Asia and the Pacific, Pacific Asia Museum fosters cultural understanding through the arts.
Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena
The Pasadena Playhouse was established in 1917 and is the official State Theatre of California. In recent years, The Playhouse has become instrumental in launching new works and landmark revivals for the American Theatre. The Playhouse has displayed a commitment to cultural and theatrical diversity, which is reflected in seasons featuring Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.
Tournament of Roses, Pasadena
Each New Year’s Day, the world focuses its attention on Pasadena, California, U.S.A., home of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game. It’s a celebration more than a century old–a festival of flowers, music and sports unequaled anywhere in the world. Interviews may be with the past Rose Queen, the head of the Tournament, and the last winner of the Rose Bowl (football coach).
Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena
Located in Pasadena, Vroman’s is Southern California’s oldest independent bookstore. In addition to its well attended author reading series, they also offer writing workshops and art classes. Through their “Give Back” campaign, Vroman’s supports National Public Radio (NPR), the Los Angeles Zoo, the Pasadena Museum of History, and the Pasadena Public Library.
Alhambra Historical Museum, Alhambra*
Presented as a gift to the Alhambra Historical Society from a local physician, this museum was originally Dr. Willard Gayle Thompson’s medical office building. Today, it is full of photograph’s of Alhambra dating back to the city’s origin, including remnants of the Alhambra Art colony, where NOrman Rockwell stayed for a time and married and Alhambra girl.
Church of the Angels, Pasadena*
Completed in 1889, this church is on land once belonging to Jose Maria Verdugo’s Rancho San Rafael. It was purchased by by an Englishman of Scottish descent, Alexander Campbell-Johnston, who left the property it to his three sons when he returned to England with his wife. When Campbell-Johnston died, his wife built a church there in his honor. An angel sculpture graces the church’s garden, while indoors, angels adorn the large stained glass window and carved lectern and a porcelain and glass mosaic shows the Archangel Gabriel.
El Encanto, Monterey Park*
In 1928, Peter Snyder opened his Midwick View Estates development in Monterey Park. The entrepreneur loved a show who had seen great success in California development and originally dreamed the area would be a place of enchantment, a rival to Beverly Hills. He built a Spanish-style sales office with a neon sign announcing its name: El Encanto, short for The Enchanted Garden. Complete with a re-circulating fountain with a 240-foot long series of shallow pools cascading down a hillside, the building welcomed visitors to the builder’s vision of luxury. When the stock market crashed, the development fell apart, but what stands today is a reminder of Snyder’s vision that serves as the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce.
Holy Trinity Church, Covina*
In 1891, Covina’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church was built, and promptly blown down by fierce winds within weeks. The congregation inhabited a larger wooden church until in 1910, their stone and shingle Eastlake-style church was completed, designed by Arthur B. Benton. More recently in 1990, an earthquake caused major damage to the bell tower that cost $100,000 in damages. The church welcomes visitors and a call ahead will ensure that it will be open for you to see.
Olmec Head, Covina*
This nearly seven-foot tall head weighing seven and a half tons was given as a gift to the city of Covina by its sister city Xalapa in Mexico. It was discovered in 1940, when the Smithsonian Institute and the National Geographic Society were jointly exploring the ancient Olmec Civilization on the southern shore of the Gulf of Mexico. They discovered sixteen colossal stone heads carved between 1200 and 900 B.C. and numbered them in the order of discovery. Covina’s is a replica of number 5.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, Irwindale*
Built in 1917 by the inhabitants and settlers of the area, the mission was constructed using rocks and and from the nearby river, using horses and mules. Damaged by the Whittier earthquake of 1987, local volunteers came forward to repair the mission. One construction company reinforced the church walls, while others donated materials. What you will see today is so close to the original construction, even the original builders would likely not notice the difference.
Pacific Electric Substation No. 8., Altadena*
With origins dating back Professor Thaddeus Lowe’s famed Mount Lowe Railway, which once climbed to Echo Mountain and the Alpine Tavern in the San Gabriel Mountains, this rail line rose a total of 3,130 feet above Altadena in about six miles. Much of the abandoned tracks and trestles were washed away in in 1938 during huge floods, but the building still stands, occupied by a firm of architects which handles, among other things, creative re-uses for old buildings.
Ramona Museum of California History, San Gabriel*
The home of Ramona Parlor #109, (chartered 1887), the Native Sons of the Golden West, this museum is maintained by members who are native-born Californians dedicated to preserving and marking historic places throughout the state. While these members always loved collecting relics and artifacts from California history, they lacked their own museum until 1966 when a bequest from member Edwin Fletcher made possible the construction of Fletcher Hall, in Highland Park. Some of the original items never made it to the new location, but over 1000 pieces did. The current building resides on Mission Drive in San Gabriel where the Native Sons opened their new Ramona Museum in 1998.
Rowland Dibble Museum, City of Industry
Operated by the La Puente Valley Historical Society, this museum will introduce you to John Rowland and William Workman, two of the area’s earliest settlers. Easterners who became business partners in Taos, N.M., they led a group of forty settlers along the Old Spanish Trail into Southern California in 1841. Together, they obtained title to Rancho La Puente, one of the largest ranches owned by the San Gabriel Mission. In the museum, you can trace generations of these historic families.
* This information was gathered from Lost and Found: Historic and Natural Landmarks of the San Gabriel Valley by Elizabeth Pomeroy.