“Enjoy being overwhelmed” is the tagline for these expansive, diverse, and thrilling gardens spanning over 120 acres (what remains of the original 500-acre estate). The art gallery, within which hang priceless American and European works of art, once housed the Huntington family. It is a jaw-dropping spectacle, and it transports visitors to a different time.
In 1903, landowner, businessman, and visionary Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch that included expansive citrus groves, prolific fruit and nut orchards, and a host of farm animals. He was instrumental in the development of Southern California, and the San Marino Ranch was only one of the many properties he owned.
Today visitors who are willing to pay a pretty penny for an entry fee have access to the gardens, the library, the art gallery, and parts of the original estate. The impressive library is home to over 400,000 rare books and features gems like one of the 11 vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bibles known to exist as well as letters and manuscripts by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. Also within the collection are first edition manuscripts by authors Charles Bukowski, Jack London, Mark Twain, and more.
A major standout among the gardens is the Desert Garden. Renowned as one of the world’s largest and oldest outdoor collections of cacti and other succulents, garden curator William Hetrich an Henry Huntington acquired plants from extreme environments. With over 5,000 species of plants, this collection is one of the most expansive in the world.
Another must-not-miss is the Japanese Garden, which was completed in 1912. The authentic ceremonial teahouse along with the fully furnished Japanese house dominates the landscape, and treasures like the koi ponds, the Zen Garden, and the moon bridge quietly lie between.
Although the ticket price is expensive, this historical spectacle delights and enchants visitors of all sorts, and it is among the wealthiest cultural institutions in the United States. It has raised half a billion dollars in the last ten years, a slice of which was used to open the $60-million education and visitor center in 2015. Every year, thousands of scholars conduct research in the library and on the grounds, while hundreds of thousands of visitors make the trip.
Note: The Huntington is closed on Tuesdays, open from 12 p.m. through 4:30 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday through Friday, and 10:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Rose Garden Tea Room accepts reservations by calling 626.683.8131 with last seating at 3:30 p.m..