Literary Liaisons – The Huntington Library

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Where: San Marino, CA
What: 207 acres of rare plants, art collections, and historic literary artifacts
The Scoop: In a way, the Huntington Library defies explanation – the 207 acre estate contains so much that even after multiple trips we still haven’t seen it all. Is it a library? Well, yes and no. Once owned by railroad mogul Henry E. Huntington, the property features 9 million literary artifacts, including 420,000 rare books; 17 lush gardens riddled with rare and exotic plants; an art collection that boasts everything from Thomas Gainsborough to Edward Hopper; and a research and educational institute.

Erin and Caitlin wandered out on an extremely rainy Saturday for a literary adventure at the Huntington. Both of us had previously visited the property, but the trip still turned up a few surprises and promises for future visits. Here’s a couple highlights:

  • The library – Far and away the best part of this trip was geeking out over manuscripts that are hundreds of years old. What better way to spend a rainy day than wandering around a quiet, low-lit room lined with row upon row of beautifully displayed rare books? The current exhibition featured literary highlights from science, politics, religion and, of course, literature. Among world literature greats Ptolemy, Aristotle, and Dante (to name but a few), the history of English literature was most impressively represented – from the 15th century Ellesmere Chaucer to Hilary Mantel’s writing notes, this collection was staggering.

  • The gardens – There are 17 main gardens on the estate, each featuring rare and exotic plants. We were granted a tour of some of the property by a kindly docent named Dick. Dick was exceptionally enthusiastic about camellias (the estate has dozens of varieties, many of which were in lush, gorgeous full bloom), gardening and using the word “wonderful” often. The tour ran a little long, but was full of interesting tidbits about the property – stuff we wouldn’t have known if we were out wandering on our own.

  • The Rose Garden Tea Room – This was an unexpected yet delightful stop on our trip. $29 a person for tea and finger sandwiches runs a little high in our book, but it was adorable, tasty and a welcome break from the cold rain. This is the kind of place you’d raise your pinkie slightly as you contemplate whether you’d like another pot of rose (Caitlin) or Earl Grey (Erin) tea, after stuffing yourself on tiny delicious scones.

Sounds fab, right? And we didn’t even visit the whole place. The Huntington Library warrants a second or third trip – heck, if we lived closer we’d spring for a membership.

Bonus side note: Major props goes out to the HL’s social media team (person? We like to think it was a solitary human with a slight crush – it would make this more mutual). We greatly admire a team that spends their Saturday responding to Twitter mentions, and we’ll fall for anyone who swaps Shakespeare quotes at will. *Swoon*

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