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Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

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Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Review

If you have time for only one stop in the Pasadena area, it should be the Huntington, built in the early 1900s as the home of railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington. Wandering the ground's 150 acres, just over the Pasadena line in San Marino, you can truly forget you're in a city. Henry and his wife, Arabella (who was his aunt by marriage), voraciously collected rare books and manuscripts, botanical specimens, and 18th-century British art. The institution they established became one of the most extraordinary cultural complexes in the world. Ongoing gallery renovations occasionally require some works from the permanent collection to be shifted to other buildings for display.

Among the highlights are John Constable's intimate View on the Stour near Dedham and the monumental Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse, by Joshua Reynolds. In the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art, you can see paintings by Mary Cassatt, Frederic Remington, and more.

The library contains more than 700,000 books and 4 million manuscripts, including such treasures as a Gutenberg Bible, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, George Washington's genealogy in his own handwriting, scores of works by William Blake, and a world-class collection of early editions of Shakespeare. You'll find some of these items in the Library Hall with more than 200 important works on display. In 2006 the library acquired more than 60,000 rare books and reference volumes from the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based Bundy Library, making the Huntington the source of one of the biggest history of science collections in the world.

Although the art collections are increasingly impressive here, don't resist being lured outside into the stunning Botanical Gardens. From the main buildings, lawns and towering trees stretch out toward specialty areas. The 10-acre Desert Garden, for instance, has one of the world's largest groups of mature cacti and other succulents, arranged by continent. Visit this garden on a cool morning or in the late afternoon, or a hot midday walk may be a little too authentic.

In the remodeled Japanese Garden, an arched bridge curves over a pond; the area also has stone ornaments, a ceremonial Japanese tea house, a bonsai court, and a Zen rock garden. There are collections of azaleas and 1,500 varieties of camellias. The 3-acre rose garden is displayed chronologically, so the development leading to modern varieties of roses can be observed; on the grounds is the charming Rose Garden Tea Room, where traditional afternoon tea is served. (Reservations required for English tea.) There are also herb, palm, and jungle gardens, plus the Shakespeare Garden, which blooms with plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works.

The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, a massive greenhouse–style center with dozens of kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits illustrate plant diversity in various environments. (These rooms are quite warm and humid, especially the central rotunda, which displays rain-forest plants.)

The Bing Children's Garden is a tiny tot's wonderland filled with opportunities for children to explore the ancient elements of water, fire, air, and earth. A classical Chinese Garden "Liu Fang Yuan" (or Garden of Flowing Fragrance) opened in spring 2008, the largest of its kind outside China. The quaint Chinese Garden Tea House overlooks the small lagoon and serves dim sum. A 1¼-hour guided tour of the botanical gardens is led by docents at posted times, and a free brochure with map and highlights is available in the entrance pavilion.

    Contact Information

  • Address: 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, CA 91108 | Map It
  • Phone: 626/405–2100
  • Cost: $15 Mon.–Fri., $20 Sat.–Sun., free 1st Thurs. of month (reservations required)
  • Hours: Mon. and Wed.–Fri. noon–4:30, Sat.–Sun. 10:30–4:30; call for summer hours
  • Website:
  • Location: Pasadena and Environs
Updated: 05-20-2013

Fodorite Reviews

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    Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Review

    The-Huntington-Library-A-most-breathtaking-experience

    by Kevin_Michele, 6/5/11
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    Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Review

    The library and galleries are decent but the draw for me is the gardens. Awsome - walks through the other-worldly cacti, the ponds with turtles and fish, the perfectly groomed Japanese garden, the abundant roses, the herbs, camelia "trees" - I can spend an entire day in the gardens alone. The Chinese garden is new and not yet grown in but I'm sure it will catch up in a year or two. The only downfall is that the cafe just adequate and seating can be tight during lunch hour. You can reserve a table in the Tea Room for English Tea but it's more casual than most and buffet style - not that great really.

    by jahlie, 3/16/11

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