I truly cannot say enough good things about The Huntington. Not only are the botanical gardens and art museum wonderful to visit, they have created a refuge for scholars. I have never worked in such an amazing library with so many wonderful resources and equally wonderful people. This has been such an enjoyable and productive time for me.
But you don't have to be a scholar to enjoy The Huntington. Their gardens and art collections are open to the public six days a week. Surprisingly, almost everyone I met in Pasadena and LA had never been to The Huntington. If you are or going to be in the LA are you should definitely set time aside to visit.
The incredible property and library were built by California railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington and his wife Arabella. Both Henry and Arabella were avid collectors of European art and rare books. Arabella was fascinated by Versailles, while Henry collected books on science and medicine (part of this collection is a scientific history of the Medici dedicated to Anna Maria Luisa, which I was able to read at the library). Following World War I, Arabella and Henry took advantage of the destitute European art market willing to sell almost anything to begin their collection. After Henry's death, the art collection, library, and estate were opened to the public.
In addition to the Huntington's mansion, you can also visit the property's numerous botanical gardens (the Huntingtons were also into collecting plants from around the world). Each has a theme and houses an incredible array of plants from around the world (most I had never seen before). My favorites are the Rose Garden, Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, and Dessert Garden (I wasn't expecting to love the dessert garden as much as I did).
In addition to several lovely cafes, you can also picnic on the grounds. It is basically the perfect way to spend the day. More importantly, while The Huntington is one of the wealthiest cultural institutions in the country, they devote most of their resources to education and research. Oh and PS, you know they are good people because their gift shop sells Kate Spade picnic accessories.
You probably had never heard of The Huntington, but now you have. And trust me, you should definitely add it to your LA itinerary!