East of Pasadena, at the west end of the San Gabriel Valley, old Route 66 runs along Huntington Drive, which takes its name from one of the most important figures in early Los Angeles, Henry Huntington. Nephew of Southern Pacific Railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, from whom Henry inherited a huge fortune (as well as a wife, Arabella), Henry Huntington controlled most of Southern California’s once extensive public transit system. He is now most remembered for creating and endowing one of the world’s great museums, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Rd., 626/405-2100, Wed.-Mon., $23 and up), located in the upscale community of San Marino.
The Huntington Library contains all sorts of unique books and documents and preserves thousands more for the benefit of scholars, but the real draw is the art gallery, which displays an excellent collection of British and European painting and sculpture, with major works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and others. There are also fine assemblages of American art, including Gilbert Stuart’s familiar portrait of George Washington. Perhaps the best part of the Huntington is its splendid gardens, which cover 120 acres in a series of mini ecosystems, distilling the essence of Australia, Japan, South America, and, in one of the country’s largest cactus gardens, the American Southwest.