Upon arrival try to snag the free daily garden tour! The gardens are divided into different ecosystems/themes such as the Australian Garden, Camellia Garden, Children's Garden, Chinese Garden, Desert Garden, Herb Garden, Japanese Garden, Jungle Garden, Lily Ponds, Palm Garden, Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden and the Subtropical Garden.
Once you've finished the Garden tours, you can go to the Huntington Library, which is one of the largest research libraries in the United States.
This is a nice escape from the big city if you have a day to spare while in Southern California. There is also a slew of different local restaurants to choose from including some found in Old Town Pasadena which is worth its own visit!
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Cacophony of Cacti and Swaths of Succulents at Huntington Botanical Garden
One might expect a profusion of plant life in a botanical garden exhibit representing a rain forest, or a Japanese or Chinese garden, but I was taken aback at the "lushness" of the desert garden exhibit at Huntington. Despite so many of the plants presenting an array of impressively sharp prickles and spines, there are simply so many of such variety, so densely packed together along with fleshy succulents of both tiny and monstrous size, I couldn't help but think "lush." The profusion was on the verge of overwhelming.
About 150 acres of this 200-acre botanical paradise are accessible to the public. Ten of those acres are dedicated to the desert garden exhibit. I literally dreamed of cacti for several nights after visiting this magical place ... of the geometry of the cactus shapes and their patterns of spikes. Many of the plants have been growing for decades, and due to meticulous care have achieved remarkable sizes.
If you only have a couple hours to spend at the Huntington gardens, I say head directly to the desert -- it's truly a special place.