The Best Museum Date in LA: The Huntington Library and Gardens

Updated on Aug 12, 2020

I’m a big fan of museums, and Los Angeles has some great ones, including the Getty, the Getty Villa, LACMA/La Brea Tar Pits, and the California Science Center.  But, I recently re-visited the continually-expanding Huntington Library and I concluded that it’s the best “date” museum in Southern California, and a great overall date destination.

“Is it really better than the Getty?”, you might ask.  In my opinion, it is!!  I will try to give you a taste of the ambiance there.

What Is the Huntington Library?

Located just east of Pasadena in San Marino, the “Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens” (commonly called “The Huntington Library”) is a museum and research institution with gardens encompassing 120 acres.

The Huntington Library was established by railroad mogul and collector of art and books, Henry Huntington (1850–1927).  His mansion, located on the grounds, is now the Huntington Art Gallery.  But there is much more to see.

Preparing for Your Visit

The Pasadena heat and sun are the top things that can put a damper on your time at the Huntington. The grounds are huge and there are vast areas with no shade. Here are a few things that I would strongly recommend for your visit, especially on a hot day:

  1. Wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap for shade
  2. Sunscreen
  3. An umbrella or parasol if it’s really hot out
  4. Comfortable walking shoes
  5. Water if it is a hot day (the drinking fountains are closed during COVID-19)
  6. Camera if you’re into photography

If you want to really impress your date/guest, make a reservation at the Tea Room (note, this is closed during COVID-19).  It fills up early, especially on weekends and holidays so make your reservations early. Note that picnics are not allowed on the grounds.

Be aware that the Huntington Library hours change depending on the season Some days it closes as early as 4:30PM, so don’t arrive at 3PM expected to see everything. Other days during the summer, there are Huntington Evening Strolls which go from 5:30PM to 8PM. These are highly recommended because it’s much cooler then!

I would allocate about three hours for your visit.

Getting There

It’s pretty easy to get to the Huntington. From Los Angeles, take the 110 North and make a right on California. Go a few miles then make a right on Allen and you’ll run into it.  There are good directions on their website whether you are driving or using public transportation.  They have a good-sized parking lot.  I got there on Saturday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend and had no problem finding parking.

Why I Love This Place

So why am I so excited about the Huntington?  The museum, books, and mansion are great, but these are not the primary attraction for me.  The gardens are what I love.  They are simply amazing.  These are some of the nicest gardens I have seen in the country.  The ecosystems represented include jungle, rain forest, desert, subtropical… you name it.  The styles include Chinese, Japanese, and even a Shakespeare garden.

Huntington Gardens
Japanese Garden

While the gardens alone would be fantastic, add on top of that a mansion comparable to those found in Newport, RI, an impressive art collection, rare books, and some great temporary exhibits.  It’s an amazing place to spend an afternoon!

Your Virtual Tour

I can’t scratch the surface of what is available to see at the Huntington in one blog article.  I’ll try to give you taste of what it’s like though based on my recent visit there.

When you get to the Huntington, you will go to the new visitor’s center and purchase your tickets.  You’ll then enter the grounds to the right.  I recommend proceeding to the greenhouse which houses the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science.

Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science
Botanical Greenhouse

There, you’ll find themed areas including Rain Forest, Cloud Forest, Carnivorous Plant Bog, and the Plant Lab, which has interactive exhibits.

Tropical leaf
Tropical leaf inside the botanical greenhouse

I really enjoyed seeing the exotic tropical plants and flowers in these rooms.  One of the highlights is the giant “stinky flower” in the Rain Forest room.

Behind the main building is the Children’s Garden and Teaching Greenhouse.

From the Conservatory, proceed on the path west to the incredible (and still expanding) Chinese Gardens.

Huntington Chinese gardens
Chinese garden lake

The new Chinese garden is especially exquisite. The Huntington brought landscape architects and artisans from China to work on it.

Huntington Chinese gardens
Chinese garden lake

If you want refreshments, the Chinese Garden Tea House has drinks and food. (There is also a cafe overlooking the Shakespeare garden).

Huntington Chinese gardens tea
Chinese garden Tea House

Next are the Japanese gardens, which have been featured in many movies (for example, it served as Admiral Yamamoto’s home in the 1976 WWII drama, Midway.)

I enjoyed walking through this shady bamboo forest.

Huntington bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

From there, we went to the desert gardens, featuring some of the most unique cacti that I’ve ever seen!  Note, this area is really lacking in shade, so you’ll really want hats on a sunny day.

Huntington desert gardens
Desert garden

UPDATE: Although the museum and library are now closed due to COVID-19, I’ve left in my description below for when it does re-open.

From there, we went to the museum housing the temporary exhibits.  As nice as the gardens were, it was great to get out of the sun after a while.  There was an exhibit on WWI propaganda posters, which was cool.

Huntington Library WWI exhibit

They also had some great exhibits on the history of science and technology.

Huntington science museum
Science exhibit


Next, we went to Huntington’s mansion, now the Huntington Art Gallery.  Having visited the famous mansions in Newport RI as well as the Hearst Castle, I can say this mansion is right up there with the best of them.

Huntington mansion
The Huntington mansion

But, the artwork inside the Huntington way surpasses anything in those other mansions.

Huntington Art Gallery
Huntington Art Gallery

The Gift Shop

Museum gift shops are usually pretty good, but the Huntington’s is that much better. Allocate some time to stop by on your way out.

Afterward

After half a day of walking and seeing some amazing sights, we drove into Pasadena for an early dinner.  One of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants in Pasadena is Tarantino’s. We stopped there for a large Italian salad and pizza.  There are tons of other great restaurants in Pasadena though, making it a great date destination.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see at the Huntington Library. I still need to make it to the Tea Room, and, I didn’t even cover their fabulous Rose Gardens, Shakespeare Garden, or Australian Gardens in this review!

I highly recommend you check the Huntington Library out yourself with someone special!  You won’t be sorry! – Brian

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