“How ‘bout we drive up to the Huntington Library and Gardens tomorrow?” husband Chris suggested between bites of spaghetti and meatballs. “I bet the flowers are at peak bloom. And maybe the Japanese gardens will be open this time” he enthused, blue eyes crinkling.
“Let me think about it,” I replied lethargically. “I’m pretty tired.”
It was a Friday night in the mid-1980s. I had just wrapped up a hectic week cranking out press releases, feature stories, radio spots and interviews connected to my job as a staff writer in the Office of Public Information and Marketing at a private university in southern California. Navigating L.A.’s tangled freeways and traipsing around outside in southern California’s summer heat wasn’t high on my hit parade of Great Ideas for a Saturday.
“It’s been, what, a year since we were last there?” Chris continued, undeterred by lack of enthusiasm. “Maybe we could pack a picnic lunch, and then roam around the fountains and art galleries.” I nodded absently. “It’ll be a blast!” he crowed, chasing a meatball around his plate with a shard of garlic bread.
“Right. A blast,” I shrugged non-comittally. Part of me just wanted to pull up the covers and sleep in the next day. But the great outdoors and world-class botanical gardens tugged at another part…
The next morning I packed a picnic basket, blanket, and a thermos of lemonade. We nosed the truck onto the I-5 freeway and hooked northeast on the I-710 to San Marino, home of the world-famous Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
The City of San Marino is located about 12 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. We were living in La Mirada at the time, a Los Angeles suburb hugging the Orange County line. It was about 25 miles to San Marino and the Huntington. Via its web site:
“The Huntington is an institution that supports and promotes the appreciation of, as well as research and education, in the humanities, the arts, and botanical science.”
- One of the world’s great independent research libraries;
- a distinguished collection of European and American art;
- a stunning botanical collection encompassing 120 acres;
- our academic research center, welcoming 1,700 scholars annually to work with our collections;
- and our many educational programs that host some 20,000 school children and their teachers in a variety of learning experiences each year.
Unloading in the parking lot, July in southern California hit us like a blast from a fire hose. A moment later we were intercepted by a white-haired, bespectacled security guard. “No picnicking allowed!” he barked, pointing at the picnic basket. “You’ll have to put that back or exit the premises.”
We pulled up short. Well good morning to you, too, bub I muttered under my breath. I smiled sweetly and chirped, “Where does it say that?”
“On the sign.”
We looked around, heads swiveling left and right. “What sign?”
“That sign!” Mr. Barker waved at a Lilliputian sign tangled in a snarl of eucalyptus branches.
I suppose we could’ve argued the point, but why bother? Good thing we had a big breakfast Chris observed as we returned the picnic basket to the truck, did an about-face, and sauntered toward the entrance.
That inauspicious introduction soon faded as we meandered through the Huntington’s carefully manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, multi-hued lily ponds and lush gardens.
Purchased in 1903 by Henry E. Huntington, The Huntington was originally the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. Today, the estate is home to 16 spectacular themed gardens spread across 120 acres.
We roamed every one, including palm, ranch, jungle, Japanese, desert, camellia, herb and Australian, Californian and. Our favorites were the Shakespearean, Japanese, and rose gardens. With its perfumed clouds of flowers, the latter featured kaleidoscopic blooms in virtually every color of the palette.
Evening rang down a curtain on day, purpling the Huntington grounds in shadow. A slim breeze blew in off the Pacific, dropping temperatures a few degrees. Chris and I ambled back to the parking lot to retrieve our picnic basket and eat elsewhere.
If I’d known that our mid-1980s visit to the famed Huntington Library and Gardens would be our last, I would’ve walked slower. Breathed Deeper. Taken more pictures. It’s a great outdoor adventure, with plenty of culture tucked in, too!
We moved the next year. And haven’t been back.
If you happen to trip on over to Los Angeles, be sure to look up San Marino and the Huntington Library and Gardens. A return visit is still on our bucket list.
Join us next time for our next installment of 30 West Coast Ways: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Japanese garden bridge credit: FLickr – Chris Goldberg. (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)