The Huntington offers Incredible History,
Vast Gardens, Enchanting Children's Area

By Kathy Chin Leong

Pasadena, the home of the Tournament of Roses Parade is also the illustrious home of The Huntington or formally known as The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  This bucolic stretch of 120 landscaped acres and over a dozen gardens and several museums is incredibly wonderful, transporting you around the world while whisking you to epic periods of history. However, with the long name also means that you have a long day ahead of you.  Pacing yourself (and the kids) and staying hydrated is vital or you won't have a good time. And who really enjoys having whining kids in the mix? Not me!

The Huntington was founded back 1919 by an extremely wealthy fellow named Henry Huntington who made a name for himself with railroads and real estate holdings in Southern California. Can you imagine that in 2019 (five years from now) that the park will celebrate its 100th birthday? That should be an amazing party! Stay tuned for details! 

The man had a passion for books, and the library features a collection of rare books and manuscripts. The art collection holds priceless gems such as Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy and Mary Cassatt's Breakfast in Bed- incredible paintings you have seen many, many times but may not have known it. 

When bringing the kids, note that you need to let them know ahead of time what to expect.  Walking through acres and acres of greenery may not be as fun for them as downloading the newest iPad app, so plan on hitting the highlights for either a full or half day of activity.

For little kids, the Children's Garden is adorably lovely as well as interactive. The children's garden entrance is depicted by a small Hobbitish rounded turquoise door that opens up to ones imagination. I wish I had one in my yard. 

Since this section is only ten years old, it has all the bells and whistles that would delight small and older children, even adults. It must have been so much fun to be on the landscape design team when creating the initial drawings!  The hedge mazes, a topiary playhouse, a steaming spray area called the Fog Grotto are just a few of the chief treasures here. Kids can inhale all sorts of aromas through the colorful and whimsical fragrance garden and make musical sounds dropping pebbles through an outdoor chimes sculpture as part of their sensory experience, 

Once inside, you can splash your hands in several small pools and  fountains, pose for photos around the topiary animals, and play in the playground structure.  Small and big kids will enjoy this creative oasis designed for fun and frolicking. Plenty of benches allow grandmas and grandpas to sit and relax.  

The next place your kids will love is the newest garden, the authentic Chinese garden called Liu Fang Yuan which means the Garden of Flowing Fragrance.  Debuted in 2000, it was created with architects from the Chinese city of Suzhou who worked with landscapers and builders in California. It is one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China with moon door arches, waterfalls, a large pond, and water lilies.  

The developers have placed a miniature replica encased under clear plastic so you can see the entire Chinese Garden.  The true-to-life garden is flat, wheelchair friendly, with a circular pathway that encourage you to meander.  You can stop by to eat dim sum or share in spot of oolong tea in the tea house. Any photo taken here will be the envy of your friends, for you can tell them you went to China, and they will actually believe you! 

The garden features a pavilion, courtyard, and sculptures that feature Chinese calligraphy and cultural images.

The third garden in this walkabout is the Japanese garden, full of bonsai, curved bridges, and plenty of greenery and tightly cropped flowers. It is the most popular of the gardens with a record 20 million visitors here since it opened in 1928.  

Benches are abundant at the top of the area, so if people in your party are tired, this is a good shady stopping place. At the edge of the garden is the Japanese House, a five-room house built in Japan and actually shipped to this location. The structure features Japanese woods and panel doors. Another structure is the ceremonial teahouse, which was restored in 2010. With open panels where you can see bamboo mats and ceremonial teapots and teacups laid out for view, the small house sits atop the garden ridge and on special days, docents will conduct tea ceremonies.   

You can scamper up and down the nine acres here, and wind up in an adjacent Harry Hirao Suiseki Court and Zen garden, perfect for contemplation. The little ones really should not run amuck here.  A gravel garden reveals patterns raked among the stones, and parents can point out the designs while keeping the kids in check. 

When it is time for special eats,  plan ahead of time to secure reservations to have afternoon tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room. Families usually dress up their little ones to make this a special time. It is not the traditional tea in that this is a buffet of tea treats,  so you are getting the scones, sandwiches, and salads and goodies yourself. But the servers do take your tea, coffee, and lemonade orders.  It is a lovely dining room with small tables, white tablecloths, and the like. Rates: $29.50 adults; $14.99 kids 4-8; $7.50 kids 2-3. 

Other options for eats include the garden cafe which offers a variety of under-$10 fare such as sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and ready-made salads and soups. And as stated earlier, you can opt for savory Chinese food at the Chinese Garden Tea House where reservations are not required. Prices here run $6.95 to $12.95 up for dishes such as spring rolls and stir-fried calamari; and $2.99 for a cup of specialty tea or $8.99 for a pot.

If you want to save money and bring your own lunch, a handful of tables at the entrance are good for families who have pre-packed their meals. I recommend leaving one adult to snag a table while the other one grabs the goods!  We left our goods in the car, and we walked back out to the tables when we were ready to eat. Nearby restrooms and garbage cans are readily available for your needs. 

After lunch, the rest of the day is up to your liking. I loved seeing the museums which offered relics such as one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, letters written by Abraham Lincoln and other important worldwide and American history documents.  

The architecture alone of the Huntington Art Gallery is so stunning, you will take pictures of the sweeping staircase, the patio, and mammoth pillars so towering you will almost feel dizzy by looking upwards.  The 55,000 square feet of beauty hearkens to Italian and Spanish Renaissance traditions with long wings, elegant drawing rooms, and more.  It houses 1,200 pieces of European art from the 15th to the 20th century. 

Meanwhile, if you have time, visit the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art that has over 245 paintings, 80 sculptures, 990 decorative objects, and more.  This dramatic building features an outdoor domed skylight full of cross arches and what resembles latticework that is marvelously opulent, casting a shadow that resembles a bicycle wheel.

Whether you tackle some or all of The Huntington, it's no doubt the gardens and galleries are a wonderful place to make a memory, but be sure to pace yourself and know you can always return!


The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA

Open daily, except Tuesday
Weekday Cost: $20 adults; $15 seniors 65+; $12 students with ID, 18 and under; $8 youth, 11 and under; FREE kids 4 and under; $11 for groups of 15 or more. (Weekend costs more).

Free day: First Thursday of the month. Must call one month in advance for tickets 800.838.3006 or reserve online



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