Experience old-school Christmas charms in this friendly town near Pasadena
Why go now: The throwback town makes an art of the old-fashioned folksy Christmas like nowhere else. Discover this (sunnier) North Pole—snowman included—while you can.
Where is it again? 7 miles east of downtown Pasadena in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
What you’ll find: A village that looks like it hasn’t changed since the early 1900s, and a small-town scene that makes you feel as if everyone knows your name.
What you won’t find: A stoplight. There’s never been one and, if the 11,000 residents have their way, there never will be.
Take a walk: Past 100-year-old Craftsman homes and antique lampposts decked with garlands and red bows.
Lay of the land: Sierra Madre has two intersecting and walkable main drags: Baldwin Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard.
Look familiar? Parts of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers were shot here.
Don’t even think of leaving without: Treats from the Wildflour Baking Co. (closed Sun; 328 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.; 626/355-9000): decorated Santa sugar cookies for Christmas, addictive pumpkin spice bread, and authentic bûche de Noël ($29; order a week ahead).
It’s beginning to look a lot like ... Holiday charm is this town’s forte. Every year just before Christmas, three Sierra Madreans drive up the mountainside and truck snow to Kersting Court, the town’s main hub, then build a snowman decked out in a hat, scarf, and carrot nose. Catch him while you can—in the SoCal sun, Frosty doesn’t last long. Check out the square’s life-size manger scene and baubled Christmas tree. Sierra Madre Blvd. at Baldwin Ave.; call the chamber of commerce for details: 626/355-5111.
A winter hike to a waterfall: Drive 15 minutes east to the Adams’ Pack Station, where mules get loaded up with food and supplies for guests of the rustic Sturtevant’s Camp, 4 miles away. Stock up at the store before heading out on the trails. We like the easy 2-mile hike to Sturtevant Falls (usually gushing in early winter).
Hit the shops: Mounds of chocolates, cookies, and jams line the shelves of Savor the Flavor (11 Kersting Ct.; 626/355-5153). Pop in to florist Leonora Moss (closed Sun; 9 Kersting; 626/355-1180) for made-to-order wreaths of manzanita branches, pomegranates, and winter berries. Pick up ornaments and design advice for your tree at Browns Classic Interiors (closed Sun; 64 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.; 626/355-2712).
Lunch with a view: Gaze out the French windows at the San Gabriel Mountains while sipping a Barolo and feasting on risotto cakes or apple-and-brie panini at Ugo’s Café, a tiny eatery that feels as if it were airlifted from the streets of Tuscany and plunked into downtown Sierra Madre. Don’t miss the housemade tiramisu. A charming spot for dinner too. $; 74 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.; 626/836-5700.
Top it off with a holiday brew: Find Belgian Christmas ales on tap and a festive crowd of regulars at Lucky Baldwins Delirium Pub. The classic English fare—bangers and mash, fish and chips—instantly transports you to a Notting Hill high street. $; 21 Kersting Ct.; 626/355-1140.
More over-the-top holiday fun on your way home
In Altadena: Stroll underneath 154 majestic cedars trussed up with lights along Christmas Tree Lane. The dazzling display is the oldest large-scale light show in America. Dec 11–Jan 2, Jan 6–7; Santa Rosa Ave. between Woodbury Rd. and Altadena Dr.
In Pasadena: The 1907 Langham Huntington Hotel has a display of handcrafted Christmas tableaux (Nov 29–Jan 3); an all-chocolate Sunday tea (Nov 28–Dec 26; $59) with a fountain for dipping fruit and cookies; and a Teddy Bear Tea (Dec 10–18; $50) for families, with a holiday-themed marionette show.