If you have time for just one stop in the Pasadena area, be sure to see this sprawling estate built for railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington in the early 1900s. Henry and his wife, Arabella (who was also 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. 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.
The Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art, added in 2014, includes paintings by Mary Cassatt, Frederic Remington, and others from colonial times to the 20th century. The library contains more than 700,000 books and 4 million manuscripts, including one of the world's biggest history of science collections. The recently renovated Library Main Hall combines early-20th-century opulence with
digital-age panache. The thoughtful permanent exhibit is organized around 12 focal points, among them a Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare's early editions, illuminating connections between events, images and texts from the 14th into the 20th century.
Don't resist being lured outside into the Botanical Gardens, which extend out from the main building. The 10-acre Desert Garden has one of the world's largest groups of mature cacti and other succulents (visit on a cool morning or late afternoon). The Shakespeare Garden, meanwhile, blooms with plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works. The Japanese Garden features an authentic ceremonial teahouse built in Kyoto in the 1960s. A waterfall flows from the teahouse to the ponds below. In the Rose Garden Tea Room, afternoon tea is served (reserve in advance). The Chinese Garden sinews around waveless pools.
The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, a massive greenhouse-style center, has dozens of hands-on exhibits perfect for the whole family. And the Bing Children's Garden lets tiny tots explore the ancient elements of water, fire, air, and earth. 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.