Exploring the Huntington Library in Pasadena

We are both lucky and cursed in California to be seemingly avoiding winter, especially down in Southern California. While this lack of precipitation will likely haunt us in the end it has lead to some beautiful days. Including, one over President Day where we got to explore the Huntington Library in the Los Angeles area.

Pasadena Huntington LibraryDon’t even think about overlooking this place since it is called a library, it would be much better compared to Golden Gate or Central Park. It houses museums, beautiful gardens, and cafes. I am not a huge art museum lover. I can appreciate art, but I can’t do it for long stretches of time. For me, the Huntington is the perfect blend of exposure to beautiful art exhibitions and walks in nature. Twenty minutes in a museum and an hour walk through a garden is the right balance for me.

The Art

Pasadena Huntington Library ArtThe property houses five different galleries, some with permanent collections and other with rotating exhibits. Between the different galleries, they have a variety of European and American art. From the renaissance to modern. From paintings to sculptures to craftwork. There is something for just about everyone.

My favorite is some of the modern art including a few Andy Warhol’s, as well as an exhibition in the Mary Lou and George Boone Gallery by American photographers “Bruce Davidson and Paul Caponigro“. Their photographs, all black and white, of their travels through Britain and Ireland are absolutely breathtaking. Plus I wandered across this great quote by Richard Llewellyn.

“It has seemed to me that there is something big to be felt by a man who has made up his mind to leave the things her knows and go off to strange places.”

Gardens from Around the World

Pasadena Huntington Chinese GardenAcross the Huntington, there are 15 different gardens with specimen from just down the street to around the globe. It is a great way to “travel” while not leaving the city. Their gardens not only show the vegetation of different regions but also the cultures in at least a few. Both the Chinese and Japanese Gardens are remarkable for their structures, water structures and even just the tiles of the pathways. A few of my favorite that I have a had a chance to explore so far:

  • Liu Fan Yuan, Garden of Flowing Fragrance: This Chinese garden is not yet complete but is still a massive compilation of beautiful structures, flowing waterfalls, ponds and exquisite vegetation. You can wander around for an hour and they are still constructing more of it. There are unique rock structures, koi swimming around the large pond, and a Chinese tea house that serves everything from a snack to a full meal.
  • Desert Garden: If you haven’t spent much time in the desert you might not have realized yet how fascinating and beautiful they are. Growing up in Southern California the desert plants are a part of our backyard (and front for that matter). I fell in love with the desert in college while campaigning in Palm Spring and a nice walk through this garden makes me feel at home. The different types of plants are enchanting from types of the cati to the succulents.
  • Japanese Garden: Distinctly different from the Chinese garden this area of the Huntington has rolling hills, detailed bridges, a bonsai garden, bamboo and a zen rock garden. You can walk around and explore if you’d like or take a seat and just relax and absorb it.

The Gift Shop

We love museum gift shops and this is one of the better ones we’ve come across. With a wide range of books and trinkets related to the different exhibits and gardens. We had to work hard to walk away without purchasing anything. You could get a lot of Christmas shopping done in this store and give everyone on your list something unique to them.

Dining and Drinks

Some museums and parks aren’t where you want to eat. This is not one of them. They have great options from a cup of tea to a full meal. The only downside is no picnicking is allowed, if you do bring your own food there is an area you can use by the front entrance but you can’t just plop down in one of the gardens. A few of the options are:

  • Rose Garden Tea Room: Here you can grab a cup to go or do a full tea service. They have great little pastries and sandwiches to enjoy with a beautiful view overlooking the rose garden.
  • Chinese Tea Garden House: While I haven’t tried it yet the food looked scrumptious as we walked by. They had a wide variety of options as well as snacks. Its right in the middle of the Liu Fang Yuan Garden and is a delightful place to stop and grab a bite.
  • Cafe: When we first visited the Huntington they had an outdoor BBQ taking place here and the burgers and grilled sandwiches were tasty, plus it’s a gorgeous patio to enjoy. They have soups, salads and snacks as well as the grill. Definitely enjoyed stopping here for lunch.

Exploring a little of everything

Pasadena Huntington Library Bonsai Japanese GardenTwo of the best things about the Huntington Library are 1) you can do a little bit of everything and 2) you can keep going back and there is always something else to explore. While Los Angeles does have some good spots it’s often hard to feel outside of the urban crawl even in the more suburbs. The Huntington Library is the perfect place to escape to when without having to go far.

As I’ve researched for this post I’ve learned more things about it and can’t wait to go back and explore.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.