The bequest of entrepreneur Henry E. Huntington is now one of the most exquisite attractions in the Los Angeles region. It’s also not a destination easily explored in full during a single day: between the art, the library holdings and the spreadeagled outdoor spaces, there’s plenty to see, and most of it is best enjoyed at lingering leisure rather than as part of a mad day-long dash.
Once you’ve paid your admission, you’ll be close to the main library, which holds more than six million items—much of it open only to researchers (apply for credentials in advance of your visit). However, some of its most notable holdings, among them a Gutenberg Bible and the earliest known edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, are always on display in the adjoining exhibition hall, alongside regular themed temporary shows.
The art collection is almost as notable as the library’s collection. Built in 1910, the main house is home to a very impressive collection of British art, which includes Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy alongside works by Blake, Reynolds and Turner. And over in the newer Scott and Erburu Galleries, you’ll find a selection of American paintings.
However, despite all these cultural glories, the Huntington’s highlights are outdoors in its vast jigsaw of botanical gardens, arguably the most glorious in the entire Los Angeles region. The 207 acres of gardens, 120 acres of which are open to the public, are divided into a variety of themes: the Desert Garden, now a century old, is packed with cacti and other succulents; the Shakespeare Garden evokes a kind of Englishness rarely seen in England these days; the Children’s Garden is a delightful mix of educational features and entertaining diversions; and the Japanese garden is quietly, unassumingly magical. Most recent is the Chinese-themed Garden of Flowing Fragrance, a delicate environment built in part by Chinese artisans. Like much of this fabulous place, it’s best approached in slow motion.
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