How the J. Paul Getty Museum Works

Getty Museum Information

The Getty Center

The main Getty Museum attracts 1.1 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular art museums in the country [source: Getty: Snapshot]. One reason for its appeal may be that, in an era of rising museum admission prices, the Getty is free. No tickets to buy, no reservations needed. There's a $15 parking fee, but even that's waived after 5 p.m., and public transportation is available [source: Getty: Visit].

A tram carries you from the parking area up to the hilltop campus, which is just off the San Diego Freeway in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. When you step out, you come face to face with views of the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the vast expanse of L.A.

You'll find the five main pavilions that house the museum's collection surrounding a central courtyard. The buildings are connected by glassed walkways, so you can enjoy the view again while you move from one to the other. One of the outstanding features of the museum is the natural light that shines through each pavilion's computer-controlled louvers and allows viewers to look at paintings in the same light in which they were created (most of the works were painted before electric lighting).

Part of the 110-acre campus is given over to a series of gardens. The Central Garden was designed by California artist Robert Irwin, who fashioned everything from the handrails to the huge azalea rings and waterfall to create a unique, artistic experience in nature [source: Getty: The Gardens].

The Getty makes an effort to accommodate visitors. There's a cafe that offers lunches and snacks in an outdoor terrace setting. There's also a restaurant available for more formal dining, but it usually requires reservations. The museum includes a family room that lets kids create manuscripts or sculptures and offers educational programs for everyone. You can also sign up for daily tours of the architecture and gardens at no cost.

The Getty Villa

If the museum at the Getty Center is a prime example of modern architecture, the Getty Villa exemplifies a much earlier time -- 79 A.D. to be exact. That was the year Villa dei Papiri in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum was buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius [source: Getty: Architecture]. When builders created a replica of that villa in Malibu, the architects included other elements from ancient Rome, such as bronze lanterns familiar to residents of Pompeii and a 450-seat outdoor classical theater.

Admission to the Villa is also free, but you will need a timed ticket, which can be obtained in advance via the museum Web site. The cafe at the Villa offers Mediterranean dishes, including pizzas, pastas and risotto.

As does the museum at the Getty Center, the Villa offers plenty of family activities. Kids can explore vase-painting techniques in the Family Forum and imagine themselves part of a Greek vase in the shadow-pose area.

In the next section, you'll learn about the heart of the Getty: its world-class art collection.