Where can you find 120 acres of botanical gardens, fine art, and an institutional research library all within a short drive of Los Angeles? It’s The Huntington in San Marino, of course! It has taken me years to explore all the Huntington has to offer and while I’ll never see it all (short of a PhD or employment there) I feel I can finally give a reasonable summary of it all.
We’ll start smallest to biggest.
The Huntington Library hosts an incredible collection of documents behind vault doors and only accessible to people with a doctoral degree (or candidacy) and two letters of recommendation by known scholars. However, they often put on display a small segment of their collection on display to the public. When we toured the library we saw the Gutenburg Bible, a first edition of Paradise Lost, and some letters written by George Washington before he was president, to name only a few. I especially loved the maps displayed, and the old globes showing Europe’s version of the world, and contrasting the change in only fifty years from the first one to the second one. The children loved the Gutenburg Bible, but wished it had been written in Pig Latin, instead of boring ol’ regular Latin. (shown below.)
You can tour the library fairly quickly, as what’s available to the public is fairly limited.
The Art Collection is more extensive, containing pieces from 18th and 19th century British and French artists and 18th, 19th and early 20th century American artists. The gallery is primarily housed in the original Huntington family home on the property, and I feel that the views are almost as amazing as the art. I have yet to see it all, and as I’ve said before, when viewing an art gallery with your children you have to move fairly quickly. Stop every once in a while to point something out or ask your children probing questions to encourage them to think about the art, but if you’re the kind of person who would like to sit and stare at a still life for half an hour, or allow a landscape to make you cry, then you’ll have to put your own desires aside. With the little ones it’s about exposure. As they get older you can train them to be still and let the art move them.
The Gardens are my family’s favourite part. We’ve been exploring these 120 acres for six years and I still see something new every time. My children favour the Children’s Garden after going through the Conservatory and spending some time with the carnivorous plants, shown below. (You can tour the Conservatory virtually!)
Be sure to notice the Fire, Water, Earth, and Air elements of the Children’s Garden. And yes, I said water — bring a change of clothes for your little one! Below, the fog volcano.
I absolutely love the Japanese and Chinese Gardens. Be forwarned: both of those gardens are not 100% stroller accessible. I also love the Desert Garden. I was incredibly surprised to see the diversity of desert plants. The children and I agree that many of the desert landscapes are so foreign to us they may as well be dioramas of some other planet. The Herb Garden is fun, too. Sometimes they even fashion a fitting scarecrow for the space.
I can spend hours on end at the Huntington –and I have!– and still haven’t explored it all. But you can go back as often as you like, they are open every day except Tuesdays and major holidays. They offer a free day the first Thursday every month, but to control the crowds you have to pre-order your free tickets. Be online on the 1st of the month at 9am of the month before you want to go in order to get your tickets, but don’t forget or they’ll sell out! Even better, get a membership. Even better than that, go with your friend on her scholarly pass. I’ve gone on the free days, gone on the non-free days, and this week was lucky enough to get in with my smarty-pants friend. Any way you get in, you’ll be glad. It’s worth it.