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I’m biased about The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California…
You see, the Huntington is my mother’s favorite spot in California, so I can’t help but love it. And my mother — as she so often is — is right. The Huntington is an oasis in the middle of a metropolis.
Yet, I am amazed at the number of people who live in LA who have never visited. So, if you live in the Los Angeles area (or if you are visiting our fair city), here are 11 reasons you should visit this oasis soon:
1: Admission is FREE (on the first Thursday of every month).
I had to start with this because I think it’s a little-known tip. You have to order advance tickets, but the grounds are open from 10:30 – 4:30 PM on the Free Day. Oh and parking is free, too (regardless of which day you go). Okay, now that the price of admission is no longer an issue, let’s go inside…
2: Botanical Gardens
For many, the gardens are THE reason to visit the Huntington. This cornucopia of beauty spreads over 120 acres and boasts more than a dozen unique garden areas. Do you like luscious green lawns and towering trees? Or do you prefer Chinese architecture clustered around ponds or a collection of Bonsai tress in a Japanese Garden? What about terraced flower beds, jungle foliage, or indigenous desert plants? Regardless of what kind of garden you love, you will find it at the Huntington.
3: Rose Garden
Okay, okay, the Rose Garden is part of the Botanical Gardens, so technically, I should have included it above, but this area deserves its own mention; it’s one of my favorite spots of any garden, anywhere in the world. More than 3,000 rose plants (of more than 1200 different varieties) bloom in this three-acre garden beginning in late March and continuing through Thanksgiving (thanks to our sunny California weather). A walk through the rose garden is worth a trip all on its own.
4: Water Conservation Efforts
But isn’t California in the middle of a crippling drought, you ask? How can I visit a garden in good conscious knowing how much water is being wasted? Do not fear; the Huntington has been working on an aggressive water conservation program for years. They’ve redesigned their old irrigation system for more efficiency, cut back on groundwater rights, and reduced the acreage of green lawn. In addition, major priorities for the garden are highlighting drought-tolerant plants and educating the public on sustainable, local gardening. So, go, enjoy the garden — guilt-free.
5: Tea Room
Overlooking the Rose Garden is the Tea Room where you can enjoy a buffet of scones, sandwiches, cheeses, salads, and deserts. It buzzes with all kinds of garden goers — from families with kids to anniversary couples. I have to admit I’m biased for this, too — again, it’s one of my mom’s favorite spots, but be warned, if you want to make a reservation on Mother’s Day call WAY in advance!
6: Art Collection
Of course, one of my favorite things about the Huntington is the collection of art. When you need a break from the sun out in the gardens, step into the Huntington Art Gallery to view everything from Renaissance paintings to an expansive collection of British works, including Gainsborough’s famed Blue Boy… And when you’re tired of being inside an art gallery, step back into the surrounding gardens… and then, stroll over to the American Art Gallery, covering art from colonial times through Warhol…. Head back out into a sculpture garden, and then into the Boone Gallery for rotating art exhibits. You get the picture. Garden, art, garden, art… a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
7. The original residence of Huntington
While you’re in the Huntington Art Gallery, don’t just look at the art. Also notice the building — it is the original residence of Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927) and his second wife, Arabella (1850–1924). This Beaux-Arts mansions — a mixture of Italian, Spanish and French architecture — was one of the great Gilded Age residences of America and you can still feel the life of the Huntington couple in these walls.
8. Smart People. Sometimes Los Angeles feels like it is drowning in mindless celebrity and entertainment — but I feel smarter just being at the Huntington. A central part of the complex is the Library which, according to the website, is “one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States in its fields of specialization” with 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts. To use the library, you have to be a qualified scholar (called a “Huntington Reader”) — so, you, general visitor, cannot stop in for a bit of casual research — but the air of scholarship permeates the air.
9. Botanical Conservatory
The Huntington is dedicated to education and the Rose Hill Foundation Conservatory is a central part of this mission. Inside, there’s a 16,000 square-foot greenhouse containing three different habitats — a tropical rain forest, cloud forest, and carnivorous plant bog (cloud forest AND carnivorous plant bog? Seems like a habitat straight from Star Wars to me) — and fifty different interactive exhibits for families, including a plant petting zoo! C’mon. It’s like Disneyland for science.
10. Museum Store
I’m not a big shopper, but this museum store entices even me. It’s filled with garden tools, books, and decorative pieces all inspired by the library, art and botanical collections. There are EIGHT thematic areas in the store and curated gifts to fit every season. It’s like a separate museum all on its own. Plus, who doesn’t need a little memento to remember the trip?
I end where I began. I love the Huntington because it’s a great place for families. Well, for my family, at least. My mom loves the flowers. My dad likes the buffet. Daughters like me, anyway, love the art. Kids of all ages love the Children’s Garden and Botanical Center. It’s an eclectic mix — not just a garden or art museum or library… it’s all of those things and more.
What on earth are you waiting for? YES, I’m biased toward the Huntington (thanks mom), but still… You should make a day of it.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections,
and Botanical Gardens
Open Wednesday – Monday
Children under 4 are free