Amanda Friedman
Kresting Court’s sparkling Christmas tree

Experience old-school Christmas charms in this friendly town near Pasadena

Alison Singh Gee  – November 29, 2010

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.