Tranquility is a state of mind that is hard to achieve in today’s world. Fortunately for the addled and the anxious, there are Japanese gardens.
One of the loveliest Japanese gardens in the state is relatively close by — the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden is about two hours north up the 5 and 405 freeways, on the campus of Cal State Long Beach. Admission is free to the public.
This beautiful spot is perfect for an afternoon of mindful introspection. It’s also a nice destination for events like weddings, rehearsal dinners, baby showers and memorial services. The gardens can be rented for those and other events, as well as for professional photo shoots. (They don’t mind if you take pictures in the garden with a regular camera, minus your tripod, but would prefer that you don’t haul in your professional photo equipment without making prior arrangements with the staff.)
I would describe this garden as medium in size, which is nice if you don’t have the time or the mobility to spend a lot of time walking around — although you’ll probably want to spend a long time here. I almost had to be dragged out because it was so stunningly beautiful. A fully paved path leads around the garden, and there are many spots for sitting in contemplation or capturing inviting photo ops. I filled up one entire photo disk on my digital camera and spent several rolls of film in my “old fashioned” camera.
Just because it isn’t massive in size doesn’t mean that the garden is lacking anything — quite the contrary. It has all the requisite elements needed to create the perfect Japanese garden. There are bridges, waterfalls, koi ponds, stone lanterns and statues. There’s also a sand and rock garden and a replica of a traditional Japanese tea house, and there’s plenty of signage describing the multitude of traditional Japanese plants as well as the history of the garden.
My favorite thing (or rather, things) at the garden were the friendly, brightly colored koi fish who acted like hungry puppies waiting for a handout. I’d never seen anything like it before. These koi, most of which were very large, would come right up out of the water — sometimes ten or twenty at a time — and perch themselves halfway upon the shore to eat fish food right out of your hand.
The garden was officially dedicated in April of 1981. Mrs. Loraine Miller Collins donated funds to build the garden in memory of her late husband, Earl Burns Miller, for whom the garden is named. The garden was designed by a Long Beach architect personally selected by Mrs. Collins, Edward R. Lovell. Mr. Lovell visited gardens in Japan and the U.S. to get ideas for the garden at Cal State Long Beach. He was especially inspired by the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo.
There are several well-known Japanese gardens in Southern California, including our own Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park and the expansive Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. There are also two Japanese gardens in the Los Angeles neighborhood Little Tokyo. One is located at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (244 South San Pedro Street), and the other resides at the top of the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens (120 South Los Angeles Street).
As you can tell, I’m very fond of Japanese gardens. I found out recently that there’s even a Japanese garden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys, which I have yet to visit.
Although we’d specifically decided on lunching at a Japanese restaurant before heading up to the gardens, that idea got thwarted when my brother, who was born in Long Beach and lived there until the ripe old age of five, spotted Hof’s Hut. He had a bout of nostalgia for the restaurant that’s been there for over 50 years, recalling the place as having terrific chocolate malts (which they still do).
Hof’s Hut serves old-fashioned diner-style food with some touches of modern flair. There’s a messy chili size, a homestyle meatloaf, hamburgers with all the fixings, Philly cheesesteak and hot turkey. Some of the newer items include Cajun tacos with grilled salmon and anchiote sauce, shrimp scampi sautéed in garlic butter with ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, and a breakfast quesadilla with marinated chicken breast, scrambled eggs, chilies, two cheeses and avocado, which is what my brother ordered.
I opted for the French toast and mooched some of “those potatoes,” as they call them at Hof’s Hut, from my brother’s plate — homestyle fried potatoes sautéed with onions, bell pepper and parsley. They’re so delicious that people always ask for “those potatoes.” Way better than hash browns!
Although I wanted to have Japanese food to keep with the theme of our trip, I’m really glad we went to Hof’s Hut instead. Next time I’ll try sushi.