(626) 405-2141; (626) 405-2100 / $$$$
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino
(Exit Foothill Fwy [210] S. on Sierra Madre Blvd., R. on California, L. on Allen Ave., straight ahead into museum.)
              The Library houses one of the world’s greatest collections of rare books, manuscripts, and documents including a Gutenberg Bible; Ellesmere Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales; Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, in his own handwriting; original works by Whitman and Dickens; and letters written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. In the west wing of the library is the permanent, five gallery exhibit titled, Beautiful Science: Ideas That Change the World. One gallery is a reading room with reference copies. Each of the other four focus on a specific area: astronomy, natural history, medicine, and light. Original books are the core of the exhibit including Origins of Species (in several languages), Louis Pasteur’s personal diaries, and Isaac Newton’s own copy of Opticks, plus Robert Hooke’s 1665 incredibly detailed drawings of insects viewed under a microscope and more. Listen to an audio excerpt from written works at fourteen stations. The mural in the astronomy room portrays a supernova explosion in 1605. There are interactive components in each gallery such as computer terminals, a prism experiment, a camera obscura, and a replica of a 17th century microscope and of Galileo’s telescope to look through.
              The Huntington Art Gallery is the epitome of opulence. This mansion contains the collection’s European art of sculptures (including the life-size bronze of the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana the Huntress), rare tapestries, miniatures, period furniture, and famous paintings, including Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy. Get kids involved with observing the paintings by pointing out the ones with children and ones with different styles of dress. Read to them the accompanying information (stories) about the subjects. For instance, sweet-faced Pinkie, which hangs opposite The Blue Boy by Sir Thomas Lawrence, died soon after her portrait was finished, and the boy in Lavina, Countess Spencer and her son Viscount Althorp was one of Princess Diana’s great great (great, etc.,) grandparents. This is a gentle way to introduce children to some truly great works of art. Pick up a free Family Guide at the entrance that encourages kids to participate in certain artworks by striking similar poses, drawing a particular element, or listing objects in a painting. The Huntington has a world class collection of art so I’m thankful the atmosphere is not off-putting for kids.
>              The breathtaking Virginia Steele Scott Gallery and the Erburu Gallery display over 500 pieces of American art (all of which I won’t all list here!), paintings (by John Singleton Copley, Mary Cassatt, and Sam Francis, to name just a few) and other media such as glass, ceramic, silver (by Paul Revere and others), sculpture, furniture (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright). The Boone building showcases stunning, changing exhibits, some from the Library’s collection and others from around the world.
              The Botanical Gardens are composed of twelve, separate, themed, massive, amazing gardens that cover 150 acres of the 200-acre estate. As Lisa Blackburn, a museum associate says, “The gardens . . . have wide-open spaces and vast rolling lawns; great for running, somersaulting, cartwheeling, shrieking, and releasing all that boundless energy that is sometimes stifled in traditional museum settings.” There are waterfalls, lily ponds, koi, ducks, turtles, and frogs to capture kids’ attention - almost more than can be seen in one day. The Desert Garden has, again to quote Lisa, “twelve acres of some of the most bizarre, colorful, creepy-crawly plants that a child could imagine.” The Shakespeare Garden features plants mentioned in the bards’ plays, accompanied by placards of pertinent poetry phrases. My little Tarzans said one of the best part of coming to the Huntington, though, is hiding in the bamboo groves in the Jungle Garden. Another favorite garden is the Japanese garden, which is a quarter-mile west of the main entrance. This has a traditionally furnished Japanese house, stone ornaments, an old temple bell, a moon bridge, and a bonsai court.
              Think Ming Dynasty and you’ll get a picture of the four-acre (in the process of expanding to twelve acres), authentic Chinese Garden, or Garden of Flowing Fragrance. With a glimpse into the culture itself, it classically displays a 1.5-acre man-made lake with seasonally blooming lotus plants, and rocks imported from China lining its edge. It invokes a sense of serenity with lush landscaping of pine, bamboo, lotus, plum, and mature California oak trees; five stone bridges; several pavilions (most in Pagoda-style); a tea house and tea shop; pebble-embedded-in-cement pathways; and streams, waterfalls, and other waterways.
              A one-acre Children’s Garden, aimed toward younger children, is an absolute delight. Each of the four ancient elements - air, earth, fire, and water - has a section. In Air, a grotto surrounded by plants fills with fog every few minutes, then dissipates. Kids run around, temporarily “lost” in the mist. At Earth, create shapes with magnetic sand and, near the globe, drop pebbles through a maze of metal posts to compose a cacophony of sound. Crawl through a prism tunnel with rainbow arches in the front. See a topiary volcano. Watch for rainbows as you walk through the mist surrounding the rainbow room in Fire. In Water, this liquid reacts to sound vibrations and dances in response, so you can “feel” the sound waves. Jets make water jump from one pot of water to another, and just a touch changes the shape of small, dome-shaped waterfalls at the vortex and water bells exhibit. Interspersed throughout this magical garden are fragrant and colorful plants, tunnels, bridges, stepping stones, and a little playhouse formed mostly by vines and other plants. An adjacent Teaching Greenhouse offers youngsters an opportunity to get their hands dirty at the potting benches and provides a place for horticultural and botany programs for young people and adults.
              The Conservancy, which looks like a huge greenhouse, is also located in this area. It has four different environments (most are somewhat hot and humid), each incorporating fascinating hands-on experiments and learning stations of some sort that appeal equally to kids and adults. The Tropical Forest, in the central rotunda, showcases giant palm fronds and huge water lilies. The Cloud Forest is lush with orchids, bromeliads, and pitcher plants. The Bog has carnivorous plants, such as the Venus flytraps. The large Plant Lab holds the widest variety of plant exhibits. Look through microscopes, use a refractometer to measure the amount of sugar in nectar samples, and smell fragrances to match them with a photo of their pollinator.
              Choose from a wide selection of tours - free garden tours, audio and podcast tours, and tours geared for adults or specifically for kids or for the family, such as Kid’s Crafts, which is offered the first Saturday of every month and the interactive bi-monthly Family Workshops. Ask about the numerous educational classes and programs, including the Ranch, which is fifteen acres of fruit trees and vegetable garden in which to get hands dirty and learn.
              Picnicking is not allowed on the grounds at the Huntington. However, a special treat for you and your daughter, as it’s not really a boy’s cup of tea, is to dress up and sip English tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room, (626) 683-8131, which overlooks three acres of roses. The all-you-can-eat buffet includes a variety of finger sandwiches (egg salad, white albacore, watercress, chicken-tarragon, and more), tea; scones served with clotted cream and jam (apricot, blueberry-rosemary, candied ginger, and more); cheese and crackers; tea breads (cranberry, chocolate chip, apple-spice, and more); salad; seasonal fruit; and delightful English desserts and miniature pastries (lemon bars, iced chocolate brownies, fruit tartlets, and more). The cost is $27.99 for adults, $14.99 for ages 4 to 8. Reservations are recommended; walk ins are accepted by availability. A café, overlooking the Shakespeare Garden, serves hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, sandwiches, and quesadillas ($10 to $12 for an average meal), and offers a children’s menu. The restaurant in the Chinese Garden section serves Mongolian beef, sesame seed orange chicken, shrimp and chicken wonton lo mein ($12.49 each), a dim sum sampler ($7.29) and more.
Hours: Open most of the year, Mon., noon - 4:30pm (open holiday Mon. at 10:30am); Wed. - Fri., noon - 4:30pm; Sat. - Sun., 10:30am - 4:30pm. Open extended hours the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Open Memorial Day - Labor Day, Wed. - Mon., 10:30am - 4:30pm (closed Tues.). Huntington is open at 10:30am on its free Thurs. Closed Tues., New Year’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. The tea buffet and café are available about the same hours as the Huntington is open.
Price: Mon. - Fri., $15 for adults; $12 for seniors; $10 for ages 12 - 18; $6 for ages 5 - 11; children 4 years and under are free. Sat. - Sun. and holiday Mon., $20 for adults; $15 for seniors; $10 for ages 12 - 18; $6 for ages 5 - 11. Admission is free the first Thurs. of every month with advanced ticket reservations by phone or online. Tickets are available the first day of the month prior to your visit and they go fast (i.e. July 1 for an August visit). You may not purchase regular admission tickets on the free day.
Ages: 4 years and up.