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On a beautiful day, nothing beats the kid-friendly gardens at the Huntington: Four Hours

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Stephanie Wilson and her daughter, Kira, 16 months, play in the children’s garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

You could spend four hours at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens and still not see everything.

That’s one reason this former private estate of the Huntington family, sprawled over 207 acres in San Marino, boasts more than 44,000 members, many of whom make regular visits to see the world-class collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs, rare books and more.

Just 12 miles from downtown L.A., it feels like another world set against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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The Chinese garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)
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To some, this world might feel elite and exclusive — an experience for, and supported by the wealth of, the privileged. Membership, which starts at $159 a year, might seem out of reach.

But if the Huntingtons wanted this place for “the uplift of humanity,” most of us haven’t been priced out. Tickets are $25 ($29 on weekends) and $13 for children 4-11. Younger kids and parking are free. And the first Thursday of each month offers free admission to visitors who reserve a ticket online.

The Huntington, which began celebrating its centennial last year, is now looking forward, and 2020 begins a five-year plan to further promote diversity, equity and inclusion to make it more accessible. For my family, that’s reason to celebrate and spend four hours in San Marino.

The San Marino institution, launching its centennial, is now the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Why? Google, for starters.

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9 a.m. You’re going to do lots of walking, so get in a good breakfast at the Colonial Kitchen Restaurant at 1110 Huntington Drive. I went for the Titan Breakfast ($16), which offers two eggs, bacon, sausage, toast or biscuit, pancakes or French toast, with hash browns and a glass of orange juice. From our booth we could watch a machine turn the oranges into juice. The 87-year-old restaurant, in a nod to its former British owner, offers a Welsh rarebit sandwich, a Beefeater sandwich and a British burger.

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The Colonial Kitchen off Huntington Drive in San Marino.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

10 a.m. Drive the roughly two miles to the Huntington at 1151 Oxford Road. The Huntington’s website offers an “I Have An Hour” tour itinerary, but who’s in that big of a hurry?

If you live close to the Huntington, an annual membership makes sense, especially for a family — unlimited access for parents and kids. (But no pets.) January is a great time to visit, after the Rose Bowl visitors have flown home, and February is less crowded, except on Chinese New Year when thousands celebrate within the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, said to be one of the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China.

The Huntingtons’ 55,000-square-foot home now houses their art collection, as does their 8,000-square-foot garage — which has more paintings and fewer paint cans than mine. The architecture and furnishings are as enjoyable as the art, and the library is great too.

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A miniature version of the Japanese garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

But on a beautiful day, nothing beats the botanical gardens. There’s something for everyone:

I’m transported as I walk the paths and bridges of the Japanese garden and the Chinese garden, which is undergoing remodeling and will be completed this year.

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My wife takes endless selfies in the rose garden.

My daughter plays and splashes in the children’s garden. If your kid is like mine, bring water-wear and a change of clothes — maybe even a fancy set for tea in the Rose Garden Tea Room.

It’s also worth planning ahead and checking out the Huntington’s events calendar. There are kids classes and workshops, family events and a summer day camp. Even when the Huntington celebrates Disney, as with a screening of “The Little Mermaid,” it goes beyond, introducing kids to the Hans Christian Andersen tale and the artist whose sketches inspired the animated classic.

If you worked up an appetite, stop in the 1919 cafe. There’s no picnicking on the grounds, but you can enjoy a light lunch while gazing at the California garden. Other options include the Freshwater Dumpling and Noodle House and Latin cuisine at Patio Grill.

On your way out, stop in the museum-size gift shop for a jar of marmalade made from oranges grown on the grounds.

12:30 p.m. Before driving home, explore the mansion-lined streets surrounding the Huntington. Stroll them if you’re not too tired. You’ll find many fine examples of Spanish Colonial Revivals, with their distinctive red tile roofs, courtyards and wrought-iron fixtures, all said to represent the “spirit of California.”

With their red-tile roofs and stucco walls so commonplace that they’ve become part of the landscape, the homes of the Spanish Colonial Revival tapped the climate, local materials and an idealized view of history to become the signature style of Southern California.
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