I’m a big fan of museums, and Los Angeles has some great ones, including the Getty, the Getty Villa, LACMA/La Brea Tar Pits, and the California Science Center. But, I recently re-visited the continually-expanding Huntington Library and I concluded that it’s the best “date” museum in Southern California, and a great overall date destination.
“Is it really better than the Getty?”, you might ask. In my opinion, it is!! I will try to give you a taste of the ambiance there.
What Is the Huntington Library?
Located just east of Pasadena in San Marino, the “Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens” (commonly called “The Huntington Library”) is a museum and research institution with gardens encompassing 120 acres.
The Huntington Library was established by railroad mogul and collector of art and books, Henry Huntington (1850–1927). His mansion, located on the grounds, is now the Huntington Art Gallery. But there is much more to see.
Preparing for Your Visit
The Huntington is huge, so wear good outdoor walking shoes. Relatively few areas of the garden have shade, so if it’s a sunny day, bring a good wide-brimmed hat, or even an umbrella. Sunscreen would be a good idea as well. If you are into photography, bring your good camera!
If you want to really impress your date/guest, make a reservation at the Tea Room. It fills up early, especially on weekends and holidays so make your reservations early.
Be aware that the Huntington Library closes relatively early, at 4:30PM. You could spend the whole day there, but you might want to take just a half day and enjoy the rest some other time. Check the Huntington Library website for schedule.
It’s pretty easy to get to the Huntington. There are good directions on their website whether you are driving or using public transportation. They have a good-sized parking lot. I got there on Saturday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend and had no problem finding parking.
Why I Love This Place
So why am I so excited about the Huntington? The museum, books, and mansion are great, but these are not the primary attraction for me. The gardens are what I love. They are simply amazing. These are some of the nicest gardens I have seen in the country. The ecosystems represented include jungle, rain forest, desert, subtropical… you name it. The styles include Chinese, Japanese, and even a Shakespeare garden.
While the gardens alone would be fantastic, add on top of that a mansion comparable to those found in Newport, RI, an impressive art collection, rare books, and some great temporary exhibits. It’s an amazing place to spend an afternoon!
Your Virtual Tour
I can’t scratch the surface of what is available to see at the Huntington in one blog article. I’ll try to give you taste of what it’s like though based on my recent visit there.
When you get to the Huntington, you will go to the new visitor’s center and purchase your tickets. You’ll then enter the grounds to the right. I recommend proceeding to the greenhouse which houses the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science.
There, you’ll find themed areas including Rain Forest, Cloud Forest, Carnivorous Plant Bog, and the Plant Lab, which has interactive exhibits.
I really enjoyed seeing the exotic tropical plants and flowers in these rooms. One of the highlights is the giant “stinky flower” in the Rain Forest room.
Behind the main building is the Children’s Garden and Teaching Greenhouse.
From the Conservatory, proceed on the path west to the incredible (and still expanding) Chinese Gardens.
The new Chinese garden is especially exquisite. The Huntington brought landscape architects and artisans from China to work on it.
If you want refreshments, the Chinese Garden Tea House has drinks and food. (There is also a cafe overlooking the Shakespeare garden).
Next are the Japanese gardens, which have been featured in many movies (for example, it served as Admiral Yamamoto’s home in the 1976 WWII drama, Midway.)
I enjoyed walking through this shady bamboo forest.
From there, we went to the desert gardens, featuring some of the most unique cacti that I’ve ever seen! Note, this area is really lacking in shade, so you’ll really want hats on a sunny day.
From there, we went to the museum housing the temporary exhibits. As nice as the gardens were, it was great to get out of the sun after a while. There was an exhibit on WWI propaganda posters, which was cool.
They also had some great exhibits on the history of science and technology.
Next, we went to Huntington’s mansion, now the Huntington Art Gallery. Having visited the famous mansions in Newport RI as well as the Hearst Castle, I can say this mansion is right up there with the best of them.
But, the artwork inside the Huntington way surpasses anything in those other mansions.
After half a day of walking and seeing some amazing sights, we drove into Pasadena for an early dinner. One of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants in Pasadena is Tarantino’s. We stopped there for a large Italian salad and pizza. There are tons of other great restaurants in Pasadena though, making it a great date destination.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see at the Huntington Library. I still need to make it to the Tea Room, and, I didn’t even cover their fabulous Rose Gardens, Shakespeare Garden, or Australian Gardens in this review!
I highly recommend you check the Huntington Library out yourself with someone special! You won’t be sorry! – Brian