If you live in Southern California and the name Henry E. Huntington does not ring a bell, a thousand shames on you.
Seriously, haven't you ever wondered where the names Huntington Beach or Huntington Hospital came from? To be honest, I hadn't, not once in my whole life. But I bet now you're wondering, aren't you...
Read on to hear my latest adventures at an attraction of southern California I had personally never heard of in my 20 years of living but draws in over 500,000 tourists a year: The Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collections.
Good ol' Henry E. Huntington: A businessman who held a large financial empire and later dedicated large sums of his money to building railroads, developing real estate, and creating educational centers in southern California. Ah, corporate CEO's, where would we be without 'em?
Located in lovely Pasadena, California (apparently the old-town of Beverly Hills, where all the lucky rich of L.A. used to squat), the Huntington Library can only be compared to southern California's equivalent of Versailles: hundreds of acres of gardens to admire, a large mansion with many sitting and powder rooms modeled in the style of the Versailles palace, and a deceased rich person's home which is now open to everyone in the world to admire. I hope someday my tiny apartment will be of such interest to the ever-curious tourists of the future.
If you're into botany, culture, or tea, Mr. Huntington has left a haven of all of the above for you.
There is a shit load of botany for you to admire here--I mean, you really should be expecting this; the name of the place has the word "gardens" in it.
I actually am a big fan of botany, so I really enjoyed walking through the multiple Oriental-themed gardens pretending to be the badass Mrs. Arabella Huntington herself (really, she was badass, well-respected for her choices in art collecting and home decor, go her).
There are multiple gardens you can explore throughout the vast acres of land; we visited only the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Rose Garden. That alone took about two hours, because you get lost in the mazes of exotic trees and roses that all look the same but are categorized somehow into thousands of different breeds named after different rich people. Seriously, what is the criteria for having a rose named after you??? Because I'd so be on that...
Mr. Huntington also planted California's first commercial avocado garden, so, you are very welcome, California.
Admission to the gardens is $12 for students on weekdays, so bring your student ID (or pull up your Facebook page and convince the ticket attendant that it's proof enough that you're a student at the American University of Paris...). Or, if you're really a bargain hunter, every first Thursday of the month is a free day to visit the Gardens.
Huntington also left us his art collections for our free viewing pleasure. If you're an art history buff, or simply enjoy reading the captions on art pieces to feel more cultured and Jeopardy-ready, then consider finding some shade from the heat of the gardens in Mr. Huntington's very own crib.
You can also get a free audio guide to accompany you on the journey through the Huntington Mansion, complete with actors' voices to make the experience all the more real.
After all that garden viewing and art appreciating, you'll find your finger sandwich haven at the multiple tea houses and cafes.
Well, you can really only enter Finger Sandwich Land if you stop in to eat at the Rose Garden Tea Room, a busy and bustling indoor tea room complete with an hor 'doevres buffet. We made a reservation to celebrate my sister's birthday lunch, although it wasn't quite the atmosphere we were expecting for an afternoon English tea...
After brunching multiple times at The Tea House on Los Rios, a quaint little outdoor tea house complete with individual tea kettles per customer, beautiful china tableware sets, and a quiet atmosphere interrupted only by the occasional wind chime or far-off train whistle, the tea house at the Huntington Gardens was chaos in comparison.
Let me start by stating how underwhelmed I was by the selection of tea. Although there is a larger selection of hot tea, including the rose tea (absolutely divine) and blackberry tea, it was a blazing hot day and the only option we had for iced tea was a passion fruit blend. Of course, it was refreshing, but not something I'd expect from a tea house. They should really be more sensitive to customers allergic to passion fruit.
As soon as you enter the Rose Garden Tea House, you are greeted by a din of chatter, tableware, and noise from the nearby kitchen. It seems that there is hardly any room to sit--but let me advise to insist on sitting in the back room, which you would only know existed if you went to use the restroom. The back room is quiet and hardly populated while all the other bourgeoisie customers are stuffed into a bustling room that provides the antithesis to the setting of a typical English afternoon tea. It is simply not a comfortable meal.
I am complaining about this because I was literally making out with the wall, I was so squished into my seat. There was no room to shift chairs/tables or else risk being trampled by wait staff hurriedly entering and exiting the kitchen. Plus, I am doubly disappointed because we had reserved space in advance and the table was hardly large enough for five people.
Me, being a big fan of finger sandwiches, however, was satisfied enough by the egg salad finger sandwiches to forget to voice my complaints at the scene. Each table was also given hot scones with different assorted marmalades, which were delicious. We were able to make our getaway with a few stolen scones.
If you think you're making reservations for a quaint little afternoon tea and scones in a lush-smelling rose garden, you are sorely mistaken. You will be stuffed into an extremely cramped and ulcer-inducing atmosphere whilst you try to enjoy your tea. The wait staff is nice, though, so props to you all for making the experience a little more enjoyable!
I recommend checking out The Chinese Garden Tea House, which at least lets you dine outside and enjoy views of botany while sipping on your tea. It looked like the meals at this tea house were more substantial than finger sandwiches, including noodles, meats, and other hearty Chinese lunch options.
Overall, Mr. Huntington provides a thrilling day for the ever culture-seeking tourists of the world. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes; the acres and acres of rich people land will leave your feet aching. xx