This past weekend my husband and I decided to explore something new in LA – a place we’d never been. I researched LA bucket list ideas and at the top of the list were the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena. So we decided to hit the road and make a day of it!
In full disclosure, with the limited scheduling right now, we were only able to squeeze in a few hours, but we saw so many things that I want to share with you in that short time. We look forward to going back in the fall to spend more time revisiting the individual gardens and the art collections inside.
The Huntington Gardens spread across 207 acres (wear comfortable shoes!) and represent several gardens worldwide. Here are some of the things I loved most on our visit:
1. The audio statue tour of the Huntington Gardens is detailed and helpful.
After checking into the Garden, signs suggest listening to an audio tour of the sculptures on the property, so I logged in and started listening.
If you choose to log in to the tour right away, you learn that Henry Huntington personally collected many sculptures in the early 1900s. He had strong discernment on which sculptures to purchase and where to place them on his property.
From the app, I learned that this sculpture above is a modern copy of a piece by Giambologna depicting Mercury – the god of commerce, luck, eloquence, messages, and travelers. However, the statue is so unique in the way it appears that Mercury is flying – even though the structure is made of heavy metal.
Giambologna was one of the most important sculptors in Italy during his time. He created this original sculpture ins 1580 for the Medici family. In 1780 it was moved to the Uffizi Museum in Florence, and then finally to Museum National de Bargello in 1865 – where it remains today.
2. Statues along the North Vista Lawn of the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens inspire.
The North Vista lawn is a tranquil garden across from the original primary residence of the Huntington family. Looking across, you can see the 30 sculptures lining the North Vista garden, with an Italian fountain in the back and center. You can see the San Gabriel mountains in the background.
Most of the sculptures were formed in Veneto, a small town in Italy, during the 17th century. Together they form one of the largest collections of Venetian sculptures in the US.
According to the site, they purchased the statues with this Garden in mind. There is a sense of nostalgia in the Garden that reminds me of a slower pace, a different time.
The Garden transports you to another world, indeed.
3. The Chinese Garden is the most impressive of the Huntington Gardens.
Stepping into the Chinese Garden feels like you are being transported into another world.
According to the website, “The Huntington’s Chinese Garden is based on a famous southern Chinese style garden outside the city of Suzhou. A scholar garden has five elements: rocks, water, plants, structures, and links to Chinese literature and culture using calligraphy, poetry, and historical stories.”
Additionally. “The “Garden of Flowing Fragrance” includes a lake, seven pavilions, and five stone bridges, built by more than 60 Suzhou artisans from materials sourced, fabricated, and shipped from China.”
The reflection of the lake adds more interest to the scene. We were struck by the pink water lilies floating peacefully along the water. All of this combines to create an extremely tranquil setting.
Additionally, there are large, interesting stones placed throughout the Chinese Garden.
“The stones found throughout Liu Fang Yuan are a type of limestone traditionally harvested from the bed of Lake Tai near Suzhou; today, they are quarried in various regions of China. For more than 1,200 years, these rocks have been renowned for their strange shapes and many holes.”
“Patching Up the Sky,” the stone featured in the image above, is said to embody qi – lifeforce energy.
4. There are so many opportunities to pause and take in the beauty all around you.
Tucked into the Garden are many benches that invite you to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery all around you. The buildings and structures also have viewing points and places to sit for a while to take it all in.
Even though there are many visitors, there is a strong sense of stillness in the gardens. We saw people sitting quietly in meditation. As we walked through, we passed a wide-open grassy area near the lily ponds. Here, many people were lying under the trees in the grass, taking in the energy of the space.
5. The Japanese Gardens inspire quiet reflection and peacefulness.
This Garden has a zen feel with its particular trees, colorful koi fish, pagodas, a bamboo garden, a tea house, a zen court, and a bonsai court, among other things. The austere setting creates an otherworldliness, and it’s hard to believe you are in Pasadena at the Huntington Gardens.
According to the site, “The Japanese word bonsai translates as “tree in a pot.” Bonsai are living plants, typically a tree, shrub or woody herb grown in a pot and trained to develop characteristics found in a very old tree.”
There is a massive collection of bonsai trees in the Japanese Garden to explore. Unfortunately, the tea house was closed, and I’d like to go back and visit when it reopens soon.
6. The Rose Garden is dazzling and uber-romantic.
According to the site, “Visitors entering the Rose Garden from the Shakespeare Garden find a winding pathway that leads from a spectacular hillside vista to a recently restored 18th-century French stone tempietto housing a statue entitled ‘Love, the Captive of Youth,’ depicting Cupid and his captor, a fair maiden.”
The sculpture is placed centrally in the Garden, and it sets the tone of romance and over-the-top beauty. I could spend an hour in this Garden alone, exploring the various roses. It’s the most extensive collection I’ve ever seen.
7. The assortment of roses at Huntington Gardens is mindblowing.
The Rose Garden was planted in 1908 for the private enjoyment of Henry and Arabella Huntington. Word has it that they enjoyed massive displays of floral arrangements in their home, with cut roses abounding.
The roses have so many different names, from Passionate Kisses to Marilyn Monroe, Julia Child, and The Huntington’s 100th.
A long arbor-covered pathway with roses climbing along both sides leads to the primary residence of the Huntington’s, which is now an art gallery. Nearby is the Rose Garden Tea Room, and it looked so inviting! Plans are underway to renovate and expand the tea room, and I look forward to going back when the remodel is completed.
8. The buildings on the grounds are grand, with views at every turn.
As we headed from the Rose Garden back toward the main entrance, we walked across the main terrace and then passed through this outdoor patio. A sign stated that this space served as an outdoor living room that the Huntingtons’ enjoyed.
The rolling hills and views of the San Gabriel Mountains make for a very peaceful setting.
With the current restrictions, we couldn’t tour the museum and see all of the art, but I can’t wait to get back to explore the collection when it fully opens to the public.
It’s hard to believe that downtown LA is only a few miles away while visiting Huntington Gardens in Pasadena. You feel like you are a galaxy away from the hustle and bustle. If you find yourself in Southern California, make sure you plan a visit! You won’t be disappointed.
The Huntington Gardens in Pasadena is a worthy day trip to take any month, but welcoming spring season with a visit here is a great idea. Click here to get tickets for Free Day, the first Thursday of every month.
To escape to yet another gorgeous landscape, read about Eileen Holland’s “secret” paradise in Umbria.