The Huntington Botanical Gardens are an oasis in Los Angeles. Within minutes of entering, you may find yourself in a dense jungle surrounded by a canopy of trees, in the middle of the Australian Outback among Eucalyptus trees, or in an English rose garden having afternoon tea. The 16 themed gardens spanning across 120 acres present a choose-your-own-adventure experience, perfect for explorers both young and old.
Located in San Marino, California, the botanical gardens are part of a massive 1920’s estate, complete with marble-columned buildings and countless statues and fountains. Formally called Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, it was originally the home of Henry and Arabella Huntington, purchased in 1903. The Huntington Library and Art Museum are home to an extensive collection of historical art, artifacts, and literature. In this post I will solely focus on the outside of the Huntington estate: the botanical gardens.
Choose Your Adventure
There are 16 themed gardens at the Huntington, spread out over 120 acres, which is a lot of ground to cover. Luckily there are maps at the entrance for the directionally-challenged folks like myself. For the organized travelers, I recommend studying the map and making a game plan ahead of time to prevent having to double back. For those who like to wing it, I recommend taking note of any must-sees and planning your wandering around those areas. Over a couple of visits to the Huntington, I found myself enjoying and exploring some gardens more than others, but I did manage to see nearly all of them in about 6 hours total. If you want to be able to take your time in all gardens, I recommend splitting your visit into two days. Taking your time to explore the grounds will show you why the Huntington Botanical Gardens are an oasis in Los Angeles.
An Oasis Perfect for Wandering
These grounds are perfect for wandering. With our current busy lifestyles of routine and order, it’s refreshing to have time to simply explore. Something about unknowingly wandering into a shaded jungle surrounded by pre-historic looking trees brings out your childish wonder. If you keep walking, you are bound to reach another garden or a sign that redirects you. Just be sure to pocket one of those maps as you enter in case you need help finding a restroom or the exit.
All that is gold does not glitter,J.R.R Tolkien, the fellowship of the ring
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
16 Massive Themed Botanical Gardens
1. Chinese Garden (My Favorite at the Huntington)
If you want to start off with a bang, I recommend starting at the Chinese Garden. Also called the Garden of Flowering Fragrance, these 15 acres are a wonderland for the senses. Amidst the lush plants and trees, it’s the impressive architecture that steals the eye. Gorgeous gazebos, pavillions, and winding pathways lead you to the lake, over bridges, and through so many picturesque views it’s almost too much to take in.
Inspired by an actual garden in Southeast China, the Garden of Flowering Fragrance is one of the largest classical-style Chinese Gardens in the world. Be sure to make a stop in the different pavilions, each one providing sweeping views and displaying ornate wood carvings and calligraphy. You also can’t miss the bamboo forest. Follow the path of towering bamboo, so tall and thick that it blocks out the sun and the rest of the world. Experiencing wow moments like this are why I’ve fallen in love with the Huntington botanical gardens.
Each step through the garden’s pathways and pavilions reveals a new view as if a painted scroll were being unrolled scene by scene.Chinese Garden | THe HuntingTon
2. Japanese Botanical Garden
The Japanese Garden is located next to the Chinese Garden, and, after taking one glance at it, you will see why it makes the Huntington botanical gardens an oasis in Los Angeles. Complete with cherry blossoms, dreamy wisteria, a bonsai collection, and a koi pond, this space is sure to leave you feeling at peace. The central point is the moon bridge, perched right over a beautiful lake. Throughout the different gardens, I’ve noticed benches placed thoughtfully in or near most of these picturesque spots, welcoming guests to relax and take in the beauty.
To ensure that authentic experience, there is a Japanese house and ceremonial teahouse in the garden, both created in Japan and transported to the Huntington. The teahouse was built in Kyoto in 1906, donated to the Huntington, later shipped back for an authentic restoration, and then return shipped back to the Huntington. The lengths that have been taken to upkeep these pieces of art is outstanding. If you’re planning a visit to see the cherry blossoms, be sure to stop by in March or April. For more tips on seeing the cherry blossoms, see my article on Cherry Blossoms at the Huntington in San Marino, CA.
3. Rose Garden (The Most Classic Botanical Garden at the Huntington)
This is not your typical rose garden. Containing over 3,000 different plants, this 3 acre rose garden presents rows of blooming colorful roses, all neatly arranged and labeled. Guests can walk through the rows and marvel at the different varieties, including a custom hybridized pink and yellow rose called “Huntington’s 100th.” There are lovely winding passageways and trellises draped in vines and roses, making the scent of this place absolutely heavenly.
Originally created as a personal garden for Henry and Arabella Huntington in 1908, the garden has developed into a masterpiece. There is a hilltop viewpoint and secluded fountain area. There is a central stunning sculpture of Cupid and his maiden, surrounded by gorgeous colorful roses, including the variety called “Passionate Kisses.” There is a Rose Garden Tea room open to guests wanting to enjoy a traditional English tea service. While the normal menu is extensive, including a tea package, additional add ons, vegan options, and cocktails, it is currently only offering a boxed “Tea for Two” package to go during the pandemic.
4. Jungle Garden
Prepare to enter another world as you head towards the jungle garden. This space has such a tall canopy of trees that it limits the sun, creating a perfect condition for the amazing assortment of greenery below. These dense trees create a welcome home for local birds as well, whose calls ring and echo, perfecting the jungle ambience. Wander past trees with trunks, leaves, and vines so huge you will feel like you’ve stepped into another century.
Adventure is worthwhile in itself.Amelia Earhart
There is a stream rushing through the middle of the jungle, and as you descend the pathway through the garden, you are led to a beautiful pond below, surrounded by colorful jungle plants, massive trees, and a small sculpture in the middle of the pond. There are benches here for relaxing and taking in the scenery. If you look closely at the pond you will see happy turtles swimming around or sunning on the rocks.
5. Desert Garden
This was one of my favorites. As a Southern California native, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of cacti and succulents, many of which adorn my home and patio. Considering I live in this desert climate, I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was with this space. I was astonished when I entered this 10 acre garden, whose winding pathways lead you through 2,000 species of desert plants.
This garden is meticulously arranged and neatly manicured, with giant dramatic cacti accented by colorful succulents. There were snakelike cacti draped across wood supports and tall and straight cacti shooting into the sky. My favorite was the field of large but adorable golden barrel cacti. There are benches for resting, although you won’t find too much shade in this garden. This one may be best to do in the morning or afternoon to avoid the heat.
6. Shakespeare Garden
Pathways from the rose garden lead you into the Shakespeare Garden, a gorgeous display of plants, roses, and sculptures worthy of his infamous sonnets. As a Shakespeare lover myself, I was astounded while pouring over the details and hidden gems of this garden. Numerous rose varieties dating back to the Renaissance period are included so guests can personally witness the beauty that most likely inspired the great author.
Other flowers mentioned in his plays and sonnets are carefully placed throughout this space, creating a colorful wildflower atmosphere. There is a prominent bust of Shakespeare himself, surrounded by white flowers, overlooking the garden. One of the most picturesque sitting areas I’ve ever seen exists here. Framed and shaded by a trellis of vines, greenery, and flowers, it provides perfect inspiration for writing or for getting lost in a good book.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
7. Camellia Garden and North Vista
The Camellia Garden and North Vista are an awesome sight to behold. There are 80 camellia species and 1200 cultivated varieties, and they share the space with the north vista lawn. The massive lawn is outlined with tall sculptures and contains a 17th century baroque fountain at the end. While seated at the fountain and looking down the lawn, you get an amazing view of the European Art Gallery building. The surrounding area is filled with shady trees and hidden sculptures. This spot will surely prove to you why the Huntington Botanical Gardens are an oasis in Los Angeles. The area is a haven to squirrels, birds, and other wildlife, which complete the fairytale vibes of this amazing space.
8. Herb Botanical Garden
Designed in a square layout, the Herb Garden has a central hub with a piece of artwork in the middle, and walkways leading out from the hub, which also act as dividers between the types of plants. The plants are located in designated and neatly labeled sections, such as culinary, perfumes, dyes, and medicinal. I saw many familiar spices in the culinary section, but so many unfamiliar ones. Even if you’re not an herb enthusiast, this garden is stunning to walk through and smells absolutely amazing.
9. California Garden and Celebration Lawn
I had looked for the California Garden and didn’t find it at first, but then I learned it is part of the experience you have as you enter the botanical gardens. It starts at the main entrance and extends all the way to the celebration lawn, which you can’t miss. There are lovely shaded seating areas lining the walk from the entrance, and this is where the cafe and gift shops are located. I hope to be able to give more attention to this area on my next visit. The celebration lawn is at the main central point of the gardens, where most will begin their adventure. It contains a descending stream of water, framed by succulents and mediterranean plants.
10. Palm Botanical Garden
This continuously expanding garden contains over 200 species of towering palms. They are hard to miss, and provide a central, lovely space for sitting and relaxing. If you wander into the middle of the trees you will find some rare and endangered species being cultivated and protected by the barrier of palms that surround them.
11. Subtropical Botanical Garden
I walked through this garden on my way to the Australian garden, and it stood out to me as having the most vibrant pops of color among all the neighboring gardens. This is a warmer space at the Huntington, perfect for the types of subtropical plants that thrive here.
12. Australian Garden
I was intrigued by the Australian Garden, but I would probably leave it out of a visit if you are limited on time. Located in a far corner of the garden, it’s an open space and can get quite hot on a summer day. The trees run a little wild in this space, creating a perfect vision of the plant life in wild Australia. There are 700 types of Eucalyptus species spread throughout, which provide scattered but welcome shade in this part of the botanical gardens.
13. Lily Ponds
Sadly during my visits I did not get to experience the Lily Ponds. I must have passed right by them but didn’t see them. It sounds like an absolutely amazing space. Spanning across 5 acres, there are a total of 5 ponds adorned with water lilies and beautiful plants. This is unsurprisingly a spot that attracts lots of wildlife. On my next visit I will find them and add updates here.
14. Conservatory and Botanical Center
This space is sadly closed currently during the pandemic, but as soon as it opens, I will be there and this post will be updated. The conservatory is a 16,000 square foot greenhouse with 50 interactive exhibits. The photos make it look incredible. There are three sections, including a cloud forest, a rainforest, and a carnivorous plant bog. I can only the imagine the wonders that await inside. You can take an interactive tour of the conservatory online in the meantime.
15. Children’s Garden (Best for Families at the Huntington)
The children’s garden was unfortunately closed during my visit due to the pandemic. It is designed to be a space where children can run free and explore. Complete with kid-sized doors, fountains, water displays, and interactive exhibits, this is certain to be a fun space to visit when it reopens. Even for children, the Huntington Botanical Gardens can be an oasis in Los Angeles.
16. Ranch Garden
I have yet to visit the Ranch Garden since it’s only open on Saturdays from 10am- 1pm, but I plan to see it soon and update this post. Located past the children’s garden, the Ranch Garden contains crops and fruit trees, and is a space intended for research and education.
- Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Get there early or late to avoid the heat
- Remember to bring your mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19
- Bring a back up charger or batteries for your phone and/or camera because, if you’re like me, you will be photographing non-stop.
- If you’re interested in particular plant or flowers, be sure to check the handy Blooming Calendar on the Huntington Library website. This is popular for those wanting to see the cherry blossoms in spring or the increasingly popular corpse flowers.
Want to Learn More about the Huntington Botanical Gardens?
Be sure to check out this cool article 100 Fascinating Facts About the Huntington in Honor of Its 100th Year from Los Angeles Magazine. It contains fun facts like:
- Henry Huntington arrived here at the age of 42, when the population of all of Los Angeles County was 170,000.
- The 8,000-square-foot neoclassical Boone Gallery, built in 1911, was once the estate’s garage.
- Henry and Arabella Huntington rest in a mausoleum on the grounds.
COVID-19 Prevention Procedures
Reservations Required on Weekends
The Huntington Botanical Gardens are not only an oasis in Los Angeles, but an oasis amidst the current pandemic. Weekdays are open for walk in visits, but, if planning to visit on a weekend or Monday holiday, visitors need to reserve their date and time slot in advance. Side note: the time you reserve is the earliest time you can arrive. You are welcome to show up after your reserved time. Upon entry there are clear designated markers for distancing if a line needs to form at the entrance.
Health Screening at the Huntington Botanical Gardens
After passing a bag check for large bags and backpacks, there is a health screening station. You are asked if you’ve been exposed to anyone with Covid or have Covid like symptoms, and you get your temperature taken. You then proceed to one of two ticket booths where you are greeted by employees behind plastic dividers and scan your own mobile ticket for entry.
Masks are required to be worn at all times in doors. There are hand sanitizer stations located frequently throughout the gardens. All public drinking fountains have been blocked off, and there are multiple signs at the entrance reminding you to bring your own water or purchase some at the cafe before getting too deep into the gardens.
Plan Your Visit
For hours, tickets reservations, and membership info, head to the Hours and Admissions page on The Huntington website.
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