Caltech is located in Pasadena, California. This is about 11 miles from Los Angeles, and it is within walking distance to Old Town Pasadena. The campus itself is about 124 acres in area.
Stop #1: The Athenaeum
A common place for alumni events and even for a few weddings throughout the year, the athenaeum is one of the most beautiful buildings on the Caltech campus. This building is located near the main residential area of the campus, and it contains rooms that people can stay in, an inside and outside dining area, and an underground bar. In order to eat here, it does require a membership to the athenaeum, but professors will often bring students to this building for lunch or dinner. Visiting professors are often housed in the upstairs rooms where Albert Einstein once stayed for a visit.
Stop #2: North & South Houses
Separated by the olive walk (creatively named for the olive trees that line it), seven of the eight Caltech houses are in this area. The south houses are made up of Fleming, Ricketts, Dabney, and Blacker. While the north houses include Page, Lloyd, and Ruddock. Each of these houses can accommodate between 60 and 90 students in a combination of single, double, and triple rooms. It’s the unique housing situation that makes up a large part of undergraduate culture on campus. Each house has its own traditions, government, and rivalries between themselves. For incoming students, they will have the opportunity to attend dinner and events at each house in a two week schedule that we call rotation. At the end of rotation, freshmen have the chance to rank the house that they would like to live in and an algorithm places each student based on these rankings. This is commonly compared to the sorting hat in Harry Potter movies, and students are always able to change houses or apply to be members of multiple houses if they want. All houses have their own dining hall, lounges, and courtyard for students to hang out or study in.
Stop #3: The Fleming Cannon
In front of Fleming house sits a large red cannon. This cannon was gifted to Caltech from the Southwestern Academy, and was restored to working condition. It is a function cannon, and it is fired (with blanks) three times a year: after rotation, after ditch day, and during graduation. It also has been the target of a few pranks that houses pull on each other throughout the year and a larger prank pulled off by MIT. While construction was occurring near the south houses in 2006, a group of MIT students disguised as contractors moved the cannon across the country to their campus. Originally thought to be taken by the much closer Harvey Mudd College, students and alumni that were members of Fleming house set out to return the cannon to its rightful place and ended up having to make the trip to the East Coast to retrieve it. This iconic prank has been added to the list of pranks that has occurred between these two rival institutes.
Stop #4: Hameetman Center
Finished in 2019, the Hameetman center replaced the previous student center at Caltech. Quickly, it has grown as one of the most popular places on campus to do work, get a coffee, shop at the school store, or practice music in the upstairs orchestra room. This building does contain the red door cafe that serves sandwiches, coffee, and a number of packaged snacks. Otherwise, the school store sells lab notebooks, Caltech merchandise, and books. The second floor of the building houses a music library containing a large range of sheet music and an orchestra room that the Caltech musicians practice in a few nights a week.
Stop #5: Braun Athletic Center
Across California Boulevard (one of the few streets that splits Caltech campus, is the school’s athletic center. This gym is open to all students, professors, and alumni affiliated with Caltech. It contains two courts for basketball, several racquetball or squash courts, a bouldering and rock climbing wall, three separate weight rooms, and a cardiovascular center. Outside of the building, there are six tennis courts, a baseball field, a soccer field, a 400-meter track, two swimming pools, and a spa. This is the location for all home athletic events for the 23 NCAA division 3 teams that Caltech has. The coaches of these teams also offer a dozen physical education classes for Caltech students.
Stop #6: Throop Memorial Garden
In the early 1900s, Caltech was originally called Throop University. At the time, Throop hall was located in the heart of campus as an admissions building and popular location for students to work. The building was demolished in the 1970s after the Sylmar earthquake caused structural damage to the building. Today, the Throop Memorial Gardens sits in its place. The geologists of Caltech helped select dozens of rocks from the San Gabriel Mountains that surround Pasadena to decorate this garden, and the plaque at the front of the garden gives information of the location and age of these rocks. In the pools of the garden, it is common to find ducks, fish, and turtles (earning the nickname for this place “the turtle pond”). It is one of the most popular places on campus both for the history of it as well as the very popular turtles within it.
Stop #7: Millikan Pond & Library
Caltech campus is also home to one of the tallest buildings in Pasadena, Millikan library. Especially freshmen end up spending a lot of their first year in this building because the ninth floor is a study area where many tutors and teaching assistants hold office hours to help students on their homework sets. Luckily, the view of the mountains at the top of the library is hard to beat. The building itself is also the site of a few house traditions, which include dropping pumpkins from its roof or stringing lights down it that can be seen from anywhere on campus. At the base of this library is Millikan pond, which is known for hosting “boat rides” around the pond and has been used for robotics competition the mechanical engineering class puts on every year.
Stop #8: Beckman Auditorium
Commonly referred to as “the wedding cake” for its white circular architecture, Beckman auditorium is the largest auditorium on Caltech campus. This also makes it the location for seminars from visiting speakers and for the acapella concerts that students put on throughout the year. The lawn in front of this building is also the location of graduation every year, and it does fit all the graduating undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students for a given year. Otherwise, the lawn is commonly used to throw frisbees, watch outdoor movies, or even be used for obstacle courses during ditch day.
Stop #9: The Gene Pool
The gene pool is located in front of Beckman institute and next to Beckman auditorium. It earns its name from the double helix pattern made from tiles at the bottom of the pool as well as the fountains that make appear to be nucleotide bridges connecting the helices. Other than just a funny name, the fountain has been used for surfboard races during ditch day, and it has been the location of a few chemical experiments for the freshman chemistry courses.
Stop #10: Bechtel & Avery
On the north side of campus, there are the rest of the undergraduate residential buildings. Avery is a part of the house system and completes rotation every year, but it has enough rooms to house almost three times the amount of students as the other houses. Bechtel is not considered a house, but it accommodates students who decide to either not take place in rotation or students who choose to live there instead of in their house. The rooms in Bechtel are suite style living, which are almost like apartments that accommodate 4 to 12 students in each complex. Avery and Bechtel each have rooms for faculty-in-residents. These are professors of Caltech that decide to move into one of these buildings with their family. This gives faculty the opportunity to interact with students through house events and at house dinners.
Stop #11: Chandler Dining Hall
There are a few different cafeterias on Caltech campus that are open for lunch and dinner. The most popular of these is Chandler dining hall. It is attached to the same building as the north houses, across from the Hameetman center. This cafeteria contains eight different stations that offer food ranging from sushi to brick oven pizza.
Caltech is a small school both in popular and campus size, but this creates a unique environment both for student life and academic endeavors.
If you are interested in learning more about Caltech campus or student life, then here are some YouTube videos with more information: