Hidden in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just a few miles away from Downtown Los Angeles, lies one of the best kept secrets in L.A.: the Huntington Library & Gardens. Spread over 130 acres, this marvelous arboretum features 16 stunning theme gardens, a library, an art museum, a tea house and two cafés. Sadly, very few visitors include this beautiful place in their L.A. itinerary, although it’s an easy day trip from Los Angeles. But before I tell you more about the Huntington Library and Gardens, let me first tell you how to get in for free.
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How to Get Tickets for the Free Day at the Huntington Library & Gardens
One thing to remember is that the first Thursday of the month is a Free Day at the Huntington Gardens. But don’t get too excited, because there is a catch. You need to register first, in order to secure a free ticket.
As you may expect, the free day tickets are very popular, so they usually go within minutes of release. Therefore you’ll have to be quick. Go to the Huntington Library & Gardens website at 9:00 a.m. the month before you wish to visit. For example, tickets for February’s Free Day are sold in January 1st.
There is a limited amount of tickets and they can only be reserved for a morning entry (10:00 am to noon), or an afternoon entry (1:00 pm to 4:00 p.m). Tickets are Print-at-Home or Mobile Delivery. Free Day tickets are only available online and cannot be redeemed at the ticket booth on the day of the visit. Also, you may not purchase regular admission tickets on the Free Day. And now, let me tell you more about the beautiful Huntington Library & Gardens.
A Brief History of the Huntington Library & Gardens
In 1919 Henry E. Huntington founded the library and gardens as a private, non-profit research institution. A railroad and real estate magnate, Henry E. Huntington had a lot of money! He also came from a very prominent family in the U.S. His uncle, Collis P. Huntington, was one of The Big Four who built the Central Pacific Railroad, the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.
Besides being a shrewd businessman, Henry Huntington was also a visionary with special interest for books, art and botanics. During his lifetime he assembled one of the finest selection of books and manuscripts and established a great art collection.
He displays his book and art collections in the two beautiful buildings on the grounds of the Huntington Library. The first building (also known as the Beaux-Arts mansion) displays the art collection. The superb mansion was once the house of Henry E. Huntington and his wife Arabella. The couple lived here for several years. They were also buried together on the estate grounds, in the Mausolelum.
The vila was intended to be a country house with ample, functional spaces to accommodate guests. But its elegance and the grandeur surpassed that purpose. The magnificent building overlooking the valley resembles more a European palace than a country house.
The mansion opened as an Art Gallery in 1928, after Huntington’s death. Among other treasures, the collection includes the famous paintings the Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough and Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence.
The Huntington Library
Huntington Library is one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States. The Library has a vast collection of rare books, prints, photographs, maps and rare manuscripts, like the manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum.
How to Spend a Day at the Huntington Gardens
Over the past 30 years we’ve lived in Southern California we visited Huntington Library and Gardens countless times. Its spectacular grounds never cease to amaze me, no matter how oftenI come here. It’s a peaceful world of beauty and color that makes you forget the busy and tumultuous life outside its gates.
The Gardens cover a huge area (207 acres) and display more than 14,000 varieties of plants, many of which rare and exotic. The area is organized in over a dozen smaller gardens, each one with a very unique atmosphere and color. You have a Rose Garden, a Desert Garden, a Herb Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Jungle Garden, and many more.
Best Time to Visit the Gardens
The best time to visit it is in spring and summer when the flowers are in bloom and there is an ever-changing display of color and scents.
During the Summer Festival, the Huntington Library offers open-air concerts featuring classical music. Patrons and visitors alike can enjoy the performance either in the loggia sitting or on the lawn. Festival passes are offered at a 30% discount over single ticket prices.
Where to Eat at Huntington Gardens
Visiting the Huntington Library and Gardens will be a long day trip, so you’ll probably get hungry at some point. Therefore, if you feel your stomach growling after a long day of walking, the Rose Garden Tea Room and Café will come to your rescue with a variety of food options.
From a traditional English tea served with finger sandwiches, cheeses, and fresh fruit, to satisfying lunches and snacks, you will have plenty of choices. While the Tea Room requires reservations, the Café is a little more casual, with open sitting in the patio.
Admission Prices and Hours of Operation
Huntington Library & Gardens is located at 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108. The Library and Gardens tarted as a free-admission place. However over the years, due to the high maintenance fees of the grounds, the admission fee evolved from a $5/person suggested donation to a whopping $25/person today. Seniors and students pay only 21/person.
So if you can’t manage to visit the Huntington Gardens on the Free Day, you’ll have to spend a lot of money. Well, the price may be a little steep if you have a big family, but the gardens are well worth it.
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