The Huntington Library, Art Collection & Botanical Gardens
San Marino, CA.
Talk about a birthday present for me: I've been trying to "make it" to the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens for more than a decade without success; even as a I conquered other proximate sites like the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. San Marino is like a super-wealthy enclave within already wealthy Pasadena. The Huntington Library, Art Collection & Botanical Gardens is best described as a "grounds." What started as the private residence of Henry Huntington (nephew of "the" Huntington, Collis Potter Huntington, who was one of the principals in the railroad linking California to the rest of America.) eventually grew to a two structure art museum (European stuff housed in the original manor house, American stuff in a more recently built museum structure) and library display housed in what I believe was/is the library itself.
My interest lay specifically in the library, which is one of THE best libraries in private hands in the world. The one room display demonstrates that to spectacular effect, with a copy of the first bound edition of Shakespeare's works, a Gutenberg Bible, a Declaration of Independence and so on and so forth.
The art museums are a mixed back- with the bulk of the collection consisting of pre-Modern 18th century English portraiture and landscape. They DO have The Boy Blue by Thomas Gainsborough, which is arguably the most famous 18th century painting. The high light of the modern museum is their collection of Craftsman furniture and fixtures, including significant example by the Greene Brothers, Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The botanical gardens are also well put together, though the Chinese Garden rather paled in comparison to the one I saw in Portland, and the Japanese garden was so inundated with screaming children that it made quiet rest and contemplation impossible. Note for the wary/cheap: Entrance is 20 bucks!!!