Talk about having the odds stacked against you: Altadena was founded on land that nobody wanted. Shaved off of a 14,000-acre Mexican land grant (the lion’s share went to the formation of Pasadena and South Pasadena), the land was considered too hard to reach – and too close to the mountains – to cultivate citrus crops.
But this unincorporated community of roughly 42,000 today has managed to thrive anyways in the shadow of Mount Wilson, one of the San Gabriel Mountain’s most well-known peaks and home to a famous observatory.
Altadena takes its name from a former business in the foothills there, the Altadena Nursery. The owner coined the term by joining the Spanish word “alta” for upper with “dena” as in Pasadena to the south: The two cities share a border, a school district and other cultural resources.
Ethnic representation in the city changed a great deal, especially during the 1960s (you can get an idea about the city’s demographics by looking at www.city-data.com); and vestiges of the past remain in the old mansions you’ll see on Mariposa Street near Santa Rosa Avenue—a location that became known as “Millionaire's Row” when various tycoons from the East settled there in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Santa Rosa Avenue is also the place of another popular event: Pasadena might lay claim to the Tournament of Roses Parade, but Altadena has “Christmas Tree Lane”—one of the oldest, large-scale outdoor Christmas tree lighting events in the U.S.
What was long ago considered a problem for citrus growers—that Altadena was too close to the mountains—is now an advantage.
Today lovers of the outdoors will find plenty to do in Altadena, including hiking trails in Las Flores Canyon to the north and a botanical garden open to the public. The Sam Merrill Trail, which starts just north of Altadena, takes hikers up to the ruins of the historic Mount Lower Railway, which once shuttled passengers to several resorts built in the foothills.
That trail not only provides hikers with a good workout: It acts like a time machine, giving them a glimpse into the area’s not-so-distant past.
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