Visiting the Huntington is one of the best things to do in Pasadena.
A complex that includes more than a dozen themed gardens, an art museum, and a library, the Huntington entices garden and nature lovers, as well as history and art enthusiasts.
The Huntington is worth visiting for its beautiful plant collections and thematic gardens, the rare books, manuscripts and other exhibits in the library, and the many exquisite pieces of art in the museum.
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Located in San Marino, an exclusive residential community close to Pasadena, the Huntington makes for a fabulous visit any time of the year.
Considering a visit to this famous art and gardens complex? Read on to discover all the best things to do at the Huntington, plus our tips for the best experience.
The History of The Huntington
Henry Edwards Huntington was a business magnate from New York who settled in Los Angeles. He owned the Pacific Electric Railway.
Huntington had substantial real estate holdings as well, and bought the San Marino Ranch (now the Huntington) in 1903.
Henry Huntington and his wife Arabella built an extensive collection of art, rare books and manuscripts, and botanical specimens.
In August 1919, the Huntingtons created a trust to make their estate available for the public good.
Henry Huntington died in 1927. He and Arabella have their final resting places in the gardens at the Huntington.
In 1928, the Huntington opened to the public.
The complex used to be known as the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, but today the official name is simply The Huntington.
The Huntington has continued to grow over the years. Today it is considered a renowned institution for the arts and botanical science.
Touring the Huntington Gardens
The gardens at the Huntington sprawl over 130 of the 207 acres of the estate. The Huntington Gardens are among the top botanical gardens in California.
You will find more than a dozen themed gardens at the Huntington, and while all of them are worth touring, there are some highlights that you should definitely cover, even on a brief visit.
And while the plants are the stars, also look for butterflies, hummingbirds, and other birds and wildlife as you walk the gardens. Bring your binoculars if you enjoy birding!
In our opinion, the top five gardens at the Huntington are the Desert Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Chinese Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Shakespeare Garden.
Of course, if you have the time and you enjoy gardens, you should absolutely stroll through the other gardens as well!
The Desert Garden at the Huntington
Featuring one of the largest collections of mature succulents in the world, the Desert Garden is one of the top gardens at the Huntington.
Beautifully arranged in beds, with pathways in between, there are thousands of species of arid-adapted plants in the Desert Garden.
Plants in the garden range from really small to enormous, and it is fascinating to see the groups of different sculptural shapes as you stroll the many trails.
Barrel cactus, other types of cacti, yucca, agave, and aloe are among the desert plants families you will see in the garden. Look for the boojum tree, native to Baja California.
If you visit in the spring, you will get to see the beautiful yellow blooms of the Golden Barrel cactus: there are more than 500 of these plants in the garden, and the flowers create a gorgeous display.
You’ll also want to snap photos of the tall flower spikes of the agave: when we visited, we saw some flowering spikes that were more than 20 feet tall!
The Japanese Garden at The Huntington
One of our favorite gardens at the Huntington is the Japanese Garden, with its tranquil ambience, koi ponds, and striking moon bridge.
The Japanese Garden dates back to 1912, and includes the Japanese House, a 5-room house significant for architectural elements created in Japan.
Admire the Bonsai collection, touch the suiseki, contemplate the patterns created by raked gravel, rocks, and shrubs in the Zen Court, and watch a demo of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Serene green dominates the landscape in the Japanese garden, with bamboo, pines, leafy plants, and grasses.
Seasonal color is provided by cherry trees, camellias, wisteria, gingkos, and Japanese maples, among others. Visit when the purple wisteria is in bloom for spectacular photo ops!
The Chinese Garden at the Huntington
The Chinese Garden at the Huntington, called the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is considered one of the best examples of classical Chinese Suzhou gardens outside of China.
At more than 15 acres, the Chinese Garden is one of the largest gardens at the Huntington, with a beautiful lake and many traditional architectural elements.
In season, lotuses and water lilies bloom on the lake. Color is also provided by other seasonal flowering plants and trees, such as peach, plum, and chrysanthemums.
Take in the views from the Stargazing Tower, situated in the highest part of the garden. Admire the large unique statement rocks from China and the calligraphy on the structures.
Snap photos of the beautiful pagodas, with their curved roofs. Walk the meandering paths and over the bridges.
The Rose Garden at the Huntington
With more than 1,300 cultivars, the Rose Garden at the Huntington is a show-stopper when in one of its peak flushes of bloom.
But thanks to California’s long bloom season for roses, visit any time between late March and late November, and you will find roses to admire in the Huntington Rose Garden.
And when the roses are dormant, bulbs offer colorful displays!
The Rose Garden at the Huntington has a stunning location, with a part of the garden looking out over a hillside view.
Snap a photo of the stone tempietto that houses a statue of Cupid and Youth. The structure is encircled with roses, making for the perfect photo.
Walk through the arbor-covered pathway, where a number of climbing roses provide brilliant displays of color when in bloom.
You’ll find bed after bed of cultivated roses to admire. They are labeled, so if you are looking for roses for your own garden, you can make notes as you walk.
We love fragrant roses, and to our delight, we found a couple of beds that contain only fragrant varieties, so we now know where to sniff the blooms to inhale the heavenly aromas!
The Shakespeare Garden at The Huntington
The delightful Shakespeare Garden at the Huntington is right by the Rose Garden, and features a bust of the Bard, framed by roses.
In keeping with the theme, here you will find plants and flowers that were cultivated in England during Shakespeare’s time, and plants and flowers mentioned in his works.
Along with old roses, you may see pansies, pomegranate, violets, and rosemary, and many other annuals and perennials.
There’s a bench framed by “William Shakespeare 2000,” a fragrant rose, where you can sit and savor the beauty around you.
If you enjoy photographing plants and flowers, this is the garden where you’ll find the most beautiful displays of color.
We always enjoy the gorgeous flower borders in the Shakespeare Garden. They keep changing, and the artful blend of colors, textures, and shapes reminds us of English cottage gardens!
The Herb Garden at The Huntington
Also right off the Rose Garden at the Huntington, you will find the Huntington Herb Garden. It’s small and makes for a quick but pleasant stroll.
Here you will find many culinary herbs, as well as herbs used in cosmetics and potpourris. They are arranged by use, and labeled for identification.
From common herbs such as oregano and basil to fragrant delights such as lavender, mignonette, and heliotrope, the herb garden is a must for lovers of aromatic plants.
The California Garden at the Huntington
The first garden you see as you enter via the Oxford Road entrance is the California Garden at the Huntington.
Although you’ll see California natives here, you’ll also see plants from similar climates in other parts of the world.
A formal allée of olive trees leads to the entrance to the visitor center, and large California pepper trees offer shade as you enter the complex.
A water feature, and multitudes of colorful blooms such as California poppies, lavender, yarrow, and penstemons make the Celebration Garden inviting year round.
The Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court (the Conservatory at the Huntington), with its glass dome and misters, houses exotic plants. You’ll see tropical palms reaching for the ceiling, and lush large-leaved vines.
Other Gardens at the Huntington
Here are the other gardens you can visit at the Huntington:
The Australian Garden features eucalyptus trees (more than 100 varieties!), bottle brushes, kangaroo paws, and acacias, among other plantings.
The Jungle Garden contains a variety of tropical plants under a high tree canopy. Vines wind up tree trunks, and ferns and large-leaved plants recall Jurassic Park.
You’ll see palms in a few parts of the garden, but the Palm Garden has a large collection from many parts of the world. Loom for the super tall Canary Island date palm and the endangered Chilean wine palm.
The Sub-Tropical Garden has some color most of the year. You may see showy purple jacaranda, pink cape chestnut, or yellow golden trumpet, depending on when you visit.
The Lily Ponds feature water lilies in many colors and Japanese koi. They bloom from mid-spring through mid-fall. Around mid-July, you may see a magnificent lotus in bloom!
Although you’ll see camellias in the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, there is a dedicated Camellia Garden at the Huntington as well. Don’t miss it if you visit in January or February!
Visiting with kids? Be sure to explore the Children’s Garden at the Huntington! The delightful garden will thrill young visitors with its whimsical design, interactive elements, and interesting plants.
The Ranch Garden is a must for visitors that love edible gardening. Here you will find rows of vegetables, herbs, and a variety of fruit trees.
Visiting the Huntington Library and Art Museum
The Huntington Library
The Huntington Library owns a vast collection of several million items, and only a small selection is on view at any given time. It’s must for history buffs and lovers of old books.
The collection runs across a variety of subjects, from American history, British history, and Hispanic history to English literature, maps and atlases, and medieval manuscripts.
The main exhibition hall holds some invaluable items, such as the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Audobon’s Birds of America. A smaller hall displays temporary exhibits.
Several dozen items are displayed in the main hall, as part of an ongoing exhibition titled “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times.”
The hall itself is impressive, with three stunning chandeliers that have been designed to look like the original fixtures from Henry Huntington’s days.
There are only 49 copies of the Gutenberg Bible that survive today, and you’ll find one of them at the Huntington Library. It’s not one of the complete versions, of which there are only 21.
The Huntington Art Collections
Like the library collection, the Huntington’s art collection is extensive, with more than 42,000 items.
The art collection is mainly focused on European Art from the 15th century to the early 20th century, and American Art from colonial times to the present.
Works from the European collection are displayed in the original Huntington residence, while American works are exhibited in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Two other galleries host temporary exhibitions.
The European collection features paintings, drawings, sculpture, decorative art objects, and prints.
You’ll see many British grand manner portraits. Look for Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, Lawrence’s Pinkie, and Reynolds’ Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse.
You’ll also see some landscapes, such as Constable’s Barges on the Stour, and Turner’s The Grand Canal.
Among the European sculpture at the Huntington, Diana the Huntress by Houdon is striking, and the collection of small bronzes is extraordinary.
We were thrilled to see a bronze cast of Bernini’s Pluto and Persephone: it took us back to the full-size marble sculpture at the Borghese Gallery in Rome!
The displays of art objects are spectacular, from exquisite Sèvres porcelain to beautiful French tapestries and furniture.
The American collection includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, decorative art objects, and prints.
Among the paintings, don’t miss Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed, Warhol’s Small Crushed Campbell Soup Can (Beef Noodle), and Copley’s 1783 painting, The Western Brothers.
The American decorative art spans the 18th to the 20th centuries and you’ll see furniture, tools, and beautiful quilts. Also don’t miss the Greene & Greene collection of lamps, lanterns, stained glass windows, and more.
The Huntington Residence
As you enjoy the collection of European art works in the Huntingtons’ original residence, also observe the magnificence of the structure itself.
Completed in 1911, the grand Gilded Age mansion was hailed as one of the finest residential structures in Southern California.
While some spaces such as bedrooms did not survive the transition to an art gallery, you can still see many of the main rooms, such as the great hall, the grand library, the drawing rooms, and the dining room.
Essential Information for Your Visit to The Huntington
Where is The Huntington located?
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108. There are two entrances, one on Oxford Road and the other on South Allen Avenue.
San Marino is close to Pasadena, and about 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
What are the hours of operation for the Huntington?
The Huntington is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays, and closed Tuesdays.
It is also closed on New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Parts of the complex may be closed for various reasons, so if you are especially hoping to see a particular work of art or garden, verify that it is open by visiting the Huntington website before you go.
What are the admission fees for the Huntington?
At the time of writing, general adult admission is $24 on weekdays and $29 on weekends and holidays that fall on Mondays. Admission for kids 4-11 is $13, and kids under 4 are admitted free.
Discounts are offered to seniors (65+), active military personnel with ID, full-time students with ID, and groups of over 15.
The first Thursday of every month is a free admission day. Slots open at 9 a.m. on the last Thursday of each month for the following month’s free day. They go fast, so if you plan to avail of the offer, grab yours as soon as the slots open!
Are reservations required?
At the time of writing, timed-entry reservations are required for weekend days and holidays that fall on Mondays, and strongly advised for weekdays.
Reservations should be made online in advance here.
Are dogs allowed at the Huntington?
Dogs and other pets are not allowed at the Huntington. Service animals are allowed.
Is parking free at the Huntington?
Parking is free at the Huntington. Accessible parking spots are located close to the entrance. You will also find bicycle racks by the entrance.
Is food available inside the Huntington Library and Gardens complex?
There are several eateries within the Huntington complex, so if you are planning a full-day visit, you have several choices for lunch and snacks.
The Red Car Coffee Shop is located by the Huntington Store, near the admission booth. The shop serves espresso, tea, pastries, ice cream, snacks, and to-go items.
This is the perfect place to grab coffee and a pastry as you start your visit, but you can also visit for a light lunch: there is seating available.
1919 Cafe is located by the California Garden and offers indoor and outdoor seating. There is also a bar serving beer and wine.
The cafe offers freshly prepared dishes, plus sandwiches and salads.
Jade Court Cafe is located in the Chinese Garden, and offers a selection of Chinese-inspired dishes, from pot stickers to Dan Dan noodles.
Try the ginger crème brûlée for dessert!
The Rose Garden Tea Room is located in the Huntington Rose Garden. At the time of writing, it is closed for renovation, but if you visit once it reopens, be sure to have the tea here! (It is currently slated to open spring 2023.)
The tea room offers a large selection of teas, along with finger sandwiches, scones, small desserts, and strawberries with clotted cream.
Will you bring a picnic?
You’ll find some tables in the Garden Court and the patio by the admission booth if you want to enjoy a picnic as a part of your day at the Huntington.
Picnicking in the gardens is not permitted.
Tips for the Best Experience at The Huntington
Allow plenty of time!
If you are visiting for the first time and want to see the top gardens, plus the library and art collections, allow the entire day, and choose the gardens you do not want to miss ahead of your visit.
On our first visit, we took two full days to see everything at leisure and take lots of photos. Two days also gave us the time to relax and enjoy some of the beauty without feeling the need to keep moving.
Start early in the day
Admission to the Huntington is not inexpensive, and operating hours are not that long, so you’ll want to take advantage of the entire time the complex is open.
Arriving when the gardens open also means that you have a little while before more visitors stream into the popular areas.
While overall capacity is currently controlled, it’s still nice to be able to stroll some areas in solitude.
Download a map and keep it handy
The gardens are very large. Although there is signage, a map is helpful especially if your time is limited and you are trying to cover specific parts of the complex.
You will find a map of the grounds here.
Bring a refillable water bottle
There are water fountains in many parts of the complex, so if you like to sip as you walk to stay hydrated, bring a refillable water bottle!
Wear sun protection
Many parts of the complex are exposed. Sun protection is a must for your tour of the gardens.
Use bug spray
Mosquitoes can be a problem in some garden areas. Wear bug repellent!
Light, loose, long-sleeved tops and long pants are comfortable and offer protection from the elements, and from bugs and spiky vegetation.
Wear comfortable shoes
If you explore several gardens, you will be doing quite a bit of walking, and not all paths are paved. Wear comfortable closed-toed walking shoes.
Bring a camera or a fully-charged smartphone
If you enjoy taking photos, you will find lots of photo ops at the Huntington. Serious amateur photographers will want to bring a good camera.
If you are looking for a small camera that takes great landscape photos, consider the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III. It shoots excellent high-resolution photos, and great video as well. Get it on Amazon!
If you use your smartphone to take photos, make sure it’s fully charged: you’ll be stopping to take photos every few steps.
Bring your binoculars if you enjoy birding
Many birds have been spotted at the Huntington. While you’ll see hummingbirds everywhere, you may also see Canada geese, quail, red-shouldered hawks, and more.
Our go-to binoculars are the Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars: they are not too heavy and they work well in low light.
Visit in the spring or the fall for the best weather
While the Huntington is a year-round destination, we enjoy visiting in the spring and the fall.
From a weather perspective, these times of year offer pleasant daytime temperatures. There is a lot in bloom in the gardens at these times. Fall offers changing leaf colors. Wisteria bloom time is especially photo-worthy.
Summers can be hot, so if you visit then, keep the indoor areas for the hottest part of the day. Winters are mild, and although the rose garden is dormant at this time, you will find other blooms to admire.
Take advantage of the free day if you can!
If you have the luxury of choosing when to visit, take advantage of the monthly free day! Just make a note to reserve your free day tickets as soon as the slots open.
That way, you can pay for a second day if you want to spend more time, without forking over the cost of two days’ worth of tickets, which can add up.
If you enjoy gardens and art, you will almost certainly want to spend more than one day at this incredible complex.
Planning to explore more of California? Here are some other guides to check out!
- The Best Botanical Gardens in California
- Visiting the Sunnylands Center and Gardens
- The Best Gardens in the SF Bay Area
- Visiting McWay Falls in Big Sur
- The Best Gold Rush Towns in California
- A Guide to the Balboa Park Gardens in San Diego
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