You could spend a whole vacation in Los Angeles and not come close to seeing everything — from the beach to Hollywood to world-class art museums and music venues.
But my suggestion would be to spend at least one of those precious days at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino near Pasadena. This property offers everything promised in its name — and so much more.
The story of how this treasure-trove came to be is almost as interesting as coming for a visit.
In 1892 the Shorb family had its ranch on this land.
When Henry Huntington, who worked in the railroad business, came from New York to tour Southern California, he fell in love with the place. Ten years later he bought it.
By this time he had left railroading and was concentrating on developing Los Angeles into a major city.
Then, at the age of 60, he turned his attention to establishing a research library.
In addition to his own collection he bought up some 200 complete libraries that form the nucleus of the collection.
He also hired a landscape architect, William Hertrich, and the two transformed what was mostly citrus orchards into perfectly landscaped gardens.
Later he married his uncle’s widow, Arabella Huntington, a major art collector who brought another dimension to the mix.
The heart of the organization is the conservation center that manages the most prized possessions among the library’s 7 million manuscripts and 420,000 rare books.
Among them is the original manuscript of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography that contains his advice to “eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation” and his note explaining a gap in his narrative: “Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the interruption.”
There’s also the manuscript of “Kidnapped” handwritten by Robert Louis Stevenson, a royal proclamation signed by Queen Elizabeth I, a letter written by Charles Dickens to his illustrator, a drawing by Michelangelo and the note from Abraham Lincoln granting permission for his bodyguard to have time off during the time when he planned to attend a play at Ford’s Theater.
Many of these priceless objects are available only to scholars, but a permanent exhibit allows visitors to see such pieces as a manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales,” a Gutenberg Bible, medieval illuminated manuscripts and Shakespeare’s folios.
Other seldom-seen items are specially curated for rotating displays.
The art gallery — housed in what was originally the Huntingtons’ mansion — contains significant British and French art, primarily from the 18th century.
Most famous are “The Blue Boy” by Thomas Gainsborough, “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence and pieces by J.M.M. Turner and John Constable.
In addition to paintings there are sculpture and decorative arts contained in entire period rooms.
Also here is a comprehensive collection of the drawings and poems of English poet William Blake.
The nearby Virginia Steele Scott Gallery houses American art, including paintings by Gilbert Stuart, Edward Hopper and Mary Cassatt.
Outdoor sculptures include pieces from classical times right up to the 19-foot-tall “Sounding Sculpture” by 20th-century artist Harry Bertoia.
Despite having all of this beauty to see, it’s the 110 acres of botanical gardens that will take your breath away.
The visitors center provides a map, but you won’t need it.
Just follow the path that leads from one manicured spot to the next.
The Palm Garden contains every kind of palm tree you can imagine and the Desert Garden every kind of cactus and succulent.
Pass by the Jungle Garden en route to the Lily Ponds and on to the Australian Garden and the Subtropical Garden.
Stop off at the aromatic Rose and Herb gardens, and plan to spend some time at the Japanese Garden. Here you’ll find a Japanese tea house overlooking a moon bridge and a Zen garden along with trees and plants native to Japan.
The newest addition is the Chinese Garden of Flowering Fragrance, which includes 1.5 acres of lake, waterfalls, pavilions and a tea room.
There’s already plenty to see, but more is currently under construction.
The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science is a robust center that does plant research and offers plant-related experiences for families. Outside it is the Children’s Garden, with interactive hands-on experiences for children.
Save time to stop at the mausoleum where the Huntingtons’ remains are interred.
Arabella chose the highest point in the complex for her burial place, and her husband selected architect John Russell Pope to design the circular marble memorial.
If it looks familiar, that’s because Pope later used the same plans when he designed the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., a few years later.
Winders is a freelance writer based in Indiana.