A Walk Through Huntington Gardens – Pasadena, California

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Living in Southern California, I feel as though I have an endless list of places to visit nearby, or with a day or weekend trip away from my home in San Diego. I keep my travel wish list organized by continent, country, and region (does anyone else do this?). Despite countless trips to the LA area, The Huntington in Pasadena, CA had been on my wish list for so long and I finally had the opportunity to visit!

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It has a library with rare books and lovely museums, but the main draw is the 120 acres of botanical gardens. Walk with me first through the rose garden…and try not to smell each variety of rose like I did!

20140906-IMG_5304All of that rose sniffing had me a little woozy and in need of a rest. This spot will do nicely.

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The Japanese Garden has a bit of everything – moon bridge, tea house, koi pond, and even a bonsai courtyard! It seems to have been designed with inspiration and reflection in mind, with many nooks to sit and absorb the surroundings.

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This is the only zen rock garden I have seen outside of Japan. Walking through it took me right back to the famous Ryoan-ji in Kyoto. Especially during this epic drought we are experiencing in California at the moment, I have great appreciation for a garden that requires no water!

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In contrast to the Japanese Garden that invites reflection and intimacy, the Chinese Garden promotes community with its tea house overlooking the lake, and large, intricately decorated gazebos.

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There are so many other gardens to explore at The Huntington, including an Australian Garden, a Cactus Garden, and one of the largest Camellia gardens in North America. If you have been before, what was your favorite garden? I loved the Japanese garden the most, but felt I could have sat at the Chinese tea pavilion for hours!

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

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The Getty Center was high on my list of things to visit while in Los Angeles, but not because of the art. There are a few Van Goghs and Monets worth a glance, but the real draw is the Richard Meier-designed space. An efficient tram takes you up a steep hill, and you exit to a space of serenity, dotted with quirky sculptures and native plants.

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Wait for everyone from your tram walk up the stairs, leaving you with a brief moment of quiet. You have about 5 minutes to take people-free photos before the next tram arrives.

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The views of Los Angeles all the way to downtown are lovely, and the cactus garden is a nice distraction from the ever-present layer of smog.

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I was surprised to see a sculpture of a man on a horse that I had seen for the first time just a few months ago in Venice, Italy at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Peggy’s version of the Angel of the Citadel has a screw-in “member” that she could remove when more conservative guests would visit. The horse’s silly smile really makes me laugh.

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The garden area provides a playful burst of color amidst the monochromatic architecture.

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All of that walking and stair climbing and picture taking might make you want to take a break in one of the inviting seating areas. Maybe find one that has a view of Los Angeles and cool off with an iced tea, like I did!

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Have you visited the Getty Center? I would like to see it during golden hour as the sun begins to set. The stone buildings must glow as if lit from within!

Adamson House – A Hidden Treasure of Malibu

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Situated on Pacific Coast Highway just north of Malibu Pier, it’s not exactly hiding, but Adamson House is often skipped by the usual Malibu weekend visitor. Combined with its architectural and natural beauty beyond comprehension, it’s exactly the type of place I love to visit and love even more to share.

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From its front courtyard outlined in roses and bougainvillea to its tiled fountains and luscious lime trees at the back, it is a fairy tale castle, Spanish Colonial Revival style. The interior (accessible by guided tour only, and where photos are not allowed) is full of custom tile created locally, which, aside from the spectacular views of the ocean and hills, was the most memorable part of the house tour. One room had tiles painted to look like a Persian rug, which I thought was pretty genius since tile is much easier to clean than a fancy rug!

Also fascinating was that the home had all original furniture and appliances, including a seriously flawed early dishwasher, which ran water straight through it while spinning the dishes in a circle. How many glasses do you think they broke in that contraption?

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From the back lawn, you are left without any question as to why the family chose this location to build their fairy tale villa. Imagine it a hundred years ago without being able to see a single building, but even today, it makes sense. Even the most picturesque lifeguard tower (featured in the movie “Gigi”) and Surfrider Beach are perfectly framed by the house’s landscaping!

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The home is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and can be rented out for events. My only wish is that you could stay overnight and wake up to this view out of your bedroom window.

Experience Mexico Without Leaving Los Angeles – Calle Olvera

Walking through Calle Olvera in downtown Los Angeles is as close to walking through a market in the heart of Mexico as you can get in the U.S. without packing your passport. The tiled street is flanked by shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, with stalls down the center, all celebrating Mexican culture.

This area is supposedly the birth place of Los Angeles, and it also appears to be the resting place of every color of the rainbow. You see so many colors and textures at once that it’s quite overwhelming at first. Everything catches your eye – the bins of candies, the shoes lined up on the wall, colorful dresses hanging, and those creepy leather masks.

Take your time and wander through the stalls, and you will find some treasures that you might not be able to resist taking home. Particularly beautiful were they children’s dresses in the brightest colors, and I was happy to find a striped cotton blanket I had been looking for to use as a beach blanket. There was no bargaining, but prices were decent.

If you’re lucky, you might even happen upon a mariachi band strumming guitars and singing while strolling through the calle. Being serenaded while shopping in a marketplace of color explosions completed the sensory overload that is Calle Olvera.