Those railroad robber barons sure left some nice things for us to enjoy. Take Henry E. Huntington. He was born in 1850 and at age 22 went to work for his uncle, Collis P. Huntington, tycoon of the Central Pacific Railroad, and made a fortune in the southern California rail business. When Uncle Collis died in 1900, he left behind his much younger wife, Arabella, the 'richest woman in America.' Her specialty was acquiring art from the old masters and other treasures, including 'Medieval and Renaissance devotional images, and Louis XIV-XV furniture and decorative arts.'
Henry, a bit of an art buff himself, took a shine to his uncle's widow, and in 1913 they were married. They shacked up in Henry's recently completed Beaux Arts mansion built on the grounds of his 600-acre ranch estate in tony San Marino, near Pasadena.
Now retired, Henry spent most of his time collecting rare books and art, and developing the gardens of his estate. In 1919 the couple created a nonprofit educational trust to establish The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, a stunningly beautiful place that I would much rather take out-of-town visitors to than Disneyland. (Sorry, Cory!)
It can be a little overwhelming when you first arrive at the Huntington. What to do first? There's the Australian garden, the botanical center, the art galleries, the children's garden, the Chinese garden, the conservatory, the desert garden, the Friends' Hall, the herb garden, the Japanese garden, the jungle garden, the library, the lily ponds, the mausoleum, the sculpture garden, the palm garden, the rose garden, the tea room, the Shakespeare garden, the subtropical garden, the teaching greenhouse, and more. Before you visit, download the visitor's guide so you can plan your visit.
If you're a first-time visitor, make sure you see both art collections: The Huntington Art Gallery, and the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The collections include Renaissance paintings, 18th- and 19th-century British paintings, and American paintings from the early 1700s to the 1950s. (Shown here is a recent acquisition: The Yankee Driver, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1920).
Aficionados of the Arts & Crafts Movement shouldn't miss the Dorothy Collins Brown Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries, which showcases the work of Pasadena architects Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene. The exhibit includes a recreation of a dining room of an early 20th century Greene & Green house built in Pasadena.
The Rose Garden Tea room and Cafe is a nice place to have a snack and admire the rolling green hills of the estate. I recommend making reservations online, especially for the weekend. (Mother's Day? Good luck.)
The Huntington Library is devoted to 'rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and other textual and graphic materials important for the study of British and American history and literature, the history of science and technology, and the history of the book.' I have not visited the reading rooms of the library, because they are open only to qualified scholars (called 'readers'). I know someone who is a 'reader' and he loves to write there. You can find out how to apply for reading privileges here.
The admission price at The Huntington for adults is $15 on weekdays and $20 on weekends, but the first Thursday of every month is 'free day,' provided you get your tickets in advance.