Monday, April 28, 2014

Los Angeles ~The Huntington Library ~ The Chinese Garden

Other than the rose garden, this is my favorite outdoor space on the grounds of The Huntington Library. The beauty of this place truly just swept me away. We did spend a lot of time here, probably more than we should have due to the limited visitor hours, but we all just fell in love with it.
 The first view, walking down from the Conservatory, is of the beautiful rooftops and the emerald pond in the center of this space.
 And it's hard not to be totally charmed by the weeping willows, swimming ducks and lush vegetation of this area.
 Fortunately there are benches and chairs positioned everywhere so you can sit down, take it all in and relax. 
 On one side there is a lovely building, where a musician was playing a Chinese instrument for visitors, that you can walk through to get to the back of the area. We didn't want to disturb anyone so we chose to walk across the bridge. What you can't see in this photograph, on purpose, is that, on the other side of the bridge, were construction crews that were adding to this beautiful garden. There are to be at least one more building and even more pathways to stroll in the upcoming months. 
 While we were there a charming docent talked to us about this lovely place and told us the reason behind carp (or koi) being part of this area. Legend has it that the koi swim upstream to spawn and those who are able to jump the dragon gate become dragons. This simply means that if you work very hard at what you do then you will achieve wonderful things. Koi in a Chinese garden is also a symbol of wealth and they attract good luck. We were, indeed, charmed. 
 I'm a real fan of birds. Over the years, as a nature photographer, I have had to learn the names of hundreds of birds and, at first, I thought..."Oh look, a Night Heron". Close but no cigar. This is actually a Green Heron and my very first sighting of one. SO beautiful! 
 And speaking of beautiful. Symmetry is very much evident in the design of these gardens. Repeating patterns and symbolism is everywhere you look. 
 Long hallways connect one area of the Chinese gardens to the others and there are plenty of beautiful surprises along your way. And notice that each hallway has wonderful places to just sit and relax and take in the beauty.
 But don't forget to look down! I was fascinated by the tiny stones and slate that made up this patio area. Each meticulously placed to create this gorgeous pattern.
 Now here is a wonderful secret. This part of the gardens is actually a restaurant! You can order lunch and enjoy this beautiful view from either inside this building or on the patio area in front of it. We had lovely weather so we chose to eat outside and admire the ponds. Be aware, the serving sizes are HUGE. So plan to share. Also be aware, the food is simply wonderful! 
 This is the view from our lunch table and a good part of the reason we were in this section of the Huntington for a good long time. Who would possibly want to hurry away from this view? Not even our 12 year old was in a hurry to leave.
 Sadly, we did have other gardens to see and so we did finally make our way off of the lunch patio and headed towards the hallway that leads to the trail and the Japanese gardens.
Our last view of the gardens. They are SO beautiful we really could have just relaxed there all afternoon. I know that if we lived near I'd have to have a membership just so I could come here with a good book and while away many lovely hours.

And speaking of lovely. Next week we'll explore the Japanese and Rose gardens before heading inside to the galleries and the main house. Hope to see you then!


Monday, April 21, 2014

Los Angeles ~ The Huntington Library Part One

The Huntington Library is located in Northeast Los Angeles on the San Marino/Pasadena border. If you love old homes and tree lined streets then take a few moments to go up and down these residential streets either before or after seeing the Library. The first thing you need to know about the Library is that, while there are libraries here, the Huntington is much more an art gallery and gardens. In fact, they extend the gardens every year. When we first visited, when I was a child, there were only a few gardens and now there are over 120 acres of gardens. The next thing you need to know is that they have very limited hours. We only had 4 hours to try to see it all. Not nearly enough time. Over the next three weeks I'll share with you just a sliver of all there is to see there. 
As you leave the parking lots you enter the visitor center, get your sticker at the kiosk and then you have a choice to walk left to the rose gardens and main house or right to the other art galleries. We chose right since we wanted to see the new Chinese gardens. We were there in late November so while there were flowers it's nothing like what it looks like in the Spring. So if you live anywhere near at this time of year head on out for a beautiful surprise. This is a view of the walkway at the American Art gallery.
 Next stop was the Conservatory to see the hot house environments inside. But the grounds are full of surprises including this part of a Camellia plant. Apparently this is what is left after it drops it's petals!
 There are different zones in the Conservatory but this is the first one you walk into. It's a very hot and humid area so you are pleased to find more comfortable climates in the other areas as well.
 Beautiful orchids are everywhere. When we first walked into the Conservatory we found a staging area with all sorts of orchids. We were even more pleased to see them inside the hot house areas as well.
 Naturally my 12 year old son was much more fascinated by the weirdness we found there, like these furry leaves, instead of the beautiful flowers. There is a whole section of carnivorous plants that he was thrilled to see!
 There were all types of orchids in almost every room. Apparently the different types grow in all different types of climates. I've decided the tree orchids would be the ones I would want in my garden!
My son delightedly called these Reindeer Antlers. We never did find out the real name but they were a favorite of ours.
 If you head out of the side door of the Conservatory you will find the Children's Playground. It looked like it would be fun to explore but with such limited hours this was where we realized you really need two days to see the entire place. 
 But beauty is everywhere. This is the pathway in front of the offices there. I can only imagine what it looks like when it full bloom!
Of course I found a lion! Chinese lions are fun since they look so friendly from the side and so fierce from the front!
We'll end this part of the tour with the first of the art galleries we entered. The Library West Hall always offers something new to see since this is a Changing Exhibitions gallery. This time they had a bunch of miniature paintings that simply fascinated me. Unfortunately no cameras are allowed in this particular gallery.

Next week I'll share with you the Chinese Gardens. They deserve a post of their very own since they are SO beautiful! See you then!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Los Angeles ~ The Beaches

I was born in Southern California, not far from the beach. I'm a beach baby through and through. So any time I can return to the beach I'm also the happiest person you could ever know. A whole day exploring the beaches was high on my list. Setting out we ignored the freeways, and headed down to the coastal road and started exploring. Our first landing was Venice Beach.
 Venice is an odd combination of beautiful beach, murals, artists and souvenir hawkers liberally sprinkled with the work out folks from Muscle Beach. If, at first glance, all you see are the souvenir hawkers then keep walking and keep looking. There is so much more. 
 People watching on Venice Beach is almost the best part of the visit. There truly is all sorts. We saw movie people setting up for a shoot, models and photographers, workout buffs dressed in nothing but skin tight leggings, skaters, skateboarders, surfers...and on and on. And that was just walking around!
 Venice Beach is also known for the murals. Down each street and on many of the buildings along the beach you can see these beautiful murals. One of the many great free things to do while there.
 I, of course, couldn't resist the architecture. These buildings have been around a lot longer than the hawkers or skaters or marijuana dispensaries. The details are simply gorgeous.
 Not all of the hawkers are selling cheap souvenirs...some of the garage like store fronts feature wonderfully quirky goods. Those are the most fun to explore!
 We were blessed with the "typical" (read: not really) Southern California day. It was simply gorgeous, 70 degrees in late November, and had blue skies that just took your breath way. What a beautiful backdrop for the gorgeous architecture!
 And, yes, you "can" stay in Venice Beach. Not sure how much I would recommend it but there are plenty of really nice hotels in the area. The boardwalk is about 5 blocks long and there are plenty of fun places to stop and get a bite to eat, lots of places to cop a squat and just enjoy the views...either of the coastline or of the people.
 And the coastline really is stunning. Across from the hawkers is this wonderful pedestrian walkway that meanders it's way along the beach. Lovely for walking, biking, skating, etc.
 On a weekday morning we got the area to ourselves, almost, but on the weekends this is very, very crowded. It was quite easy for us to park and walk around because it was in late November and it was a Tuesday. So be aware that the closer you get to summer and the closer you get to the weekend the more crowded it will be.
Even if you avoid the hawkers on the Boardwalk and stick to the beach, there is plenty to enjoy there. Hanging out at the railing watching the surfers play in the small waves, enjoying the graffiti art installation, having a picnic, people watching or being one of those that the people watch. A wonderful spot in LA to enjoy your day.
 Beach "Shacks" are a California staple. They dot the beaches, stocked with highly proficient lifeguards in their "Baywatch" suits. I've always loved them, loved hanging out near them and they are always a sign of "home" for me.
 From the beach it's a very short trip to the canals of Venice Beach. This is not the "cheap" district. The homes here are worth millions and are often featured in movies and on tv. 
 It is a very idyllic place to park and take a walk. Those who live there are very use to the tourists. Thankfully, if it's during the week, there are not many tourists there to disturb them. The bonus for those of us who do want to tour the homes is that, on the quiet days, it's a very peaceful and beautiful place to walk.
 On this visit I didn't see anyone out in their boats but many do cruise the canals. 
 Many of the homes have at least one canoe tied up at their dock. You will notice, also, that there is a rather eclectic mix of home styles on the canals. Just one more reason it's great to tour them.
  From ultra modern to quaint cottage, you will see all types of architecture here. The canals are like a huge rectangle that has water all around it and then 2 lines of water going through it longways. This means there are 8 sidewalks to enjoy, several beautiful bridges to cross and lots of different homes to enjoy.
 From Venice Beach we head back up the coast just a few miles to the historic Santa Monica Pier. Unfortunately a great bit of it was under construction but there were still lots to see and do there. 
 The rides are a big part of the appeal of the Pier. Ferris Wheel and rollercoasters, boat rides and carnival games could keep you happily occupied. 
 But it's all about the beach for me. The tide makes these wonderful ripples in the sand which is just an added detail to the beauty of the beach.

 It is right near downtown Santa Monica so you have the lights from the high rises when the sun begins to set as well as a modern backdrop for the beach play during the day.
Check out the homes under the bluff and right on the beach. (just click on the small photo to get the full sized version) These million dollar homes have some of the best views in the LA area. At night, when the lights come on at the Pier, these residents enjoy the gorgeous light show.  
And as sun sets the lifeguards start to close up shop, tour the sand to make sure all is tucked away and everyone is doing fine. There are some beaches where you can drive your car in California but usually the only car you will see is the Lifeguard truck.
It was freezing cold out on the water as we huddled up to watch the sunset. But the show was totally worth the wait and the frozen hands.
 This is definitely a photographers haven. I was not the only one trying to get the perfect angle as the sun set the sky on fire.
 And then the lights came on. We were headed off to dinner with a frozen child who could care less about the beautiful lights but this is when the Pier starts to fill up with people. It's a very popular dinner spot and, even during the week, a very popular place to hang out and play after dark.
For us it was the perfect place to watch the sunset over the water and the perfect way to end our day at the beach.

A word of warning and also of hope. Because we were not in Los Angeles during the summer, the crowds were low everywhere we went. This doesn't mean there wasn't traffic. LA, known for it's traffic jams, is always good for slow going. When you are planning your day you have to include an hour on each end of your day in the car. We were fairly lucky with our journeys. It was 65 miles from the Santa Monica Pier to our hotel in Anaheim and it took us a little less than 90 minutes to get there. For LA traffic that's making good time! I know, I know, seems like torture. Just be prepared, especially if you have children that you know will be tired and cranky after a long day at the beach and you still have an hour to drive back to the hotel. Either leave a little early to head back or break the drive up by stopping for dinner halfway back to the hotel. We were heading back near our hotel for a special dinner so we left early. The child was cold and tired and couldn't care less about the lights on the Pier so we decided to just head back. The result was a happier kid at dinner. 

Next week I'll be taking you to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. The Huntington Library. This house and gardens tour is one you won't want to miss. See you next week!