J. Paul Getty Museum

The Getty Center
S. Greg Panosian / Getty Images

The J. Paul Getty Museum started from the oil millionaire's private collection and was housed for many years in a Roman-style villa in Malibu, which is now the Getty Villa.

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How to See the Getty Museum

The Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

Today's Getty Museum occupies 750 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountain foothills. The Getty Center includes an art collection so large it takes four exhibit pavilions to show just part of it, and the complex includes nine buildings in total.

Getty Museum With Kids

You'll find this place very family-friendly, with a Family Room, Gallery Games, storytelling and weekend family workshops. The GettyGuide also features stops just for children. One-hour children's tours are given daily in the summer and on weekends the rest of the year.

Forget that boring shop in the main building. The Children's Bookstore is on the plaza level of the South Pavilion.

No food is allowed in galleries, but there's an exception for baby bottles.

Getty Museum Review

For my friends and me, the architecture here is a work of art so entrancing that, in more than a dozen visits, we've spent less than an hour inside the galleries. Don't be misled. The collections are impressive and include some fine pieces of art. However, for this architecture-loving writer, the buildings are more interesting than their contents.

We rate the Getty Museum 5 stars out of 5 for Richard Meier's awesome architecture, creating what we think is one of California's greatest outdoor spaces. It's one of our favorite Los Angeles places. We've heard their collections are good, too, but it's so nice outside that we're not sure we'll ever make it inside to find out.

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Getty Museum Tips

Inside the getty center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

By artist Martin Puryear, this sculpture looks like a fishnet to some, a face to others. 

Getty Museum Tips

If you have limited time to see the Getty Museum, go straight to the information desk in the main lobby for advice.

Start your visit with the orientation film.

Check the daily schedule for tour times to plan your day.

If you plan to spend time inside the galleries, rent a GettyGuide audio tour. It's like having your own personal entourage of art experts along to explain things.

The complex is large enough that it can be difficult to find others, even if you use cell phones to communicate. Pick up a map when you arrive. If your group splits up, pick a meeting place. The entry plaza near the tram stop is a good spot.

Dining options include a full-service dining room (reservations suggested), a cafeteria-style dining room, and an outdoor cafe serving coffee and snacks. There's also a picnic area at the lower tram station.

Leave umbrellas at home. If it's raining, or the sun is too intense, you'll find umbrellas bins at the tram station and outside each building. Pick them up and leave them as you need to, with no worry about losing anything.

Leave big stuff somewhere else. If it's larger than 11 x 17 x 8 inches, you'll have to check it at the entry pavilion.

When the Getty Museum is open late on a clear day, the sunsets are beautiful. Free evening concerts, performances, and lectures are also available.

If you have questions, look for someone wearing a blue vest. They're there to help you.

The facility is fully accessible, and assistive animals are welcome. Wheelchairs are available at the lower tram entrance. Assistive listening devices are provided but arrange ahead for sign language interpreters for public programs.

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Getty Museum Architecture

Three people sitting on the lawn at the Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

The building at the top of the stairs is the Entrance Hall. The sculpture on the steps is called Air, designed by artist Aristide Maillol.

The fact is that the Getty Center's architect Richard Meier did such an outstanding job of creating a public space that people get surprised. They go to the Getty thinking they're going to a museum with works of art on the inside. What they find instead is a work of art with a museum inside.

It's an interesting concept, the idea that an outdoor space can be a thoroughly satisfying artistic experience. The only way you'll know who's right is to go there yourself. If you want to see the architecture, this is what you need to know.

Designing the Getty Center

Getty Center architect Richard Meier has been called "the ultimate voice of twentieth-century modernism." Meier took a few basic materials: metal, stone, and glass. Working with a billion-dollar budget that has been called “the commission of the century,” he combined them to create a work of architecture that can excite visitors as much as the art collection inside does.

The Getty Center site sits more than 800 feet above sea level, towering above the city of Los Angeles. A 0.75-mile-long tramway whisks visitors to the top of the hill, elevating them from everyday experience. The museum includes four exhibit pavilions and a visitor center, which form the hub of an eleven-building complex.

The entire complex is based on a 30-inch-square whose horizontal lines span every structure and unify them. On some buildings, those shapes bend around curves, and an occasional rectangle or other geometric element mixes in. It all forms a public space that's one of Southern California's most inviting.

The building stone is travertine, imported from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, the same source as the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and St. Peter's Basilica colonnade. A guillotine-like cutting process exposed fossils long buried inside the stone, their delicacy a stark contrast to the violence of the process that revealed them. The best 24 of these are set as "feature" stones scattered about the site, waiting to delight those who find them. One of the most fantastic ones is on the arrival plaza wall, across from the tram station.

You can learn more about the Getty Center's design on their website. You may also enjoy reading more about it on Richard Meier & Partners website, where you can see architectural drawings and photographs.

Learning More About the Getty Center Architecture

Docents lead daily architecture tours which make it easy to learn more about Meier's architecture. They also offer tours of the gardens, which are an integral part of the outdoor experience. These tours are a must for anyone who is even remotely interested in architecture, to learn more about the architect's techniques and ideas.

If you miss the tour or want to explore on your own, you can pick up the Architecture and Gardens map and brochure at the information desk.

You may also enjoy the book The Getty Center (Architecture in Detail) written by Michale Brawne and published by Phaidon Press.

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Getty Museum Collection

A sculpture in the Getty Museum

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

The Getty Museum Los Angeles displays mostly pre-twentieth century works of art by artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. The Getty holdings also include an impressive collection of antiquities, displayed at the Getty Villa in Malibu. The most famous holding at the Getty Museum Los Angeles may be Van Gogh's Irises, which the museum purchased in 1990.

Each gallery has computer-controlled louvers near the ceiling that limit the amount of natural light that comes into the gallery. Coupled with a system of cool and warm artificial light, the system facilitates viewing the paintings in the same natural light in which they were painted.

Seeing the Getty Museum Los Angeles Collections

The extensive collection of the Getty Museum Los Angeles is housed in five separate buildings, named simply by their location (east, west, etc.) and organized chronologically. In each building, the ground floor is dedicated to sculpture, decorative arts and the like, with paintings upstairs.

  • North Building: Items from before 1600 including illuminated manuscripts
  • East and South Buildings: 1600 to 1800
  • West Building: After 1800, including the Van Gogh Irises and photography collection
  • Research Institute: Changing exhibitions

To learn more about what you're seeing, check the daily schedule when you arrive for gallery talks and docent tours, or rent a GettyGuide audio tour (highly recommended). In the sculpture garden, you can use your cell phone to get a free audio tour, or just pick up an explanatory brochure at the information desk.

More About the Getty Museum Los Angeles Collections

To read more about the Getty Museum Los Angeles collections, you may want to browse the online GettyGuide or buy The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections

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Sculpture Terrace

The Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

Featuring pieces donated by Fran and Ray Stark, a collection so big that this one space can't hold it all.

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Stairwell at Night

Getty Museum Stairwell at Night

Betsy Malloy Photography

Some say the East and North Buildings have open, airy qualities similar to those created by the Bauhaus movement in 1920s. This simple stairwell becomes a work of modern art when lit up at night.

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Ancient Urn, Modern Form

Water Feature in the Getty Center Gardens

Betsy Malloy Photography

The water starts flowing on the plaza above, runs down a long trough and trickles into this recessed area before running down the hill. 

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The Gardens

The Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

These entwined curves of azaleas are made of 400 individual plants. They form the centerpiece of the Central Garden.

The Getty Center buildings and gardens cover 24 acres and require a crew of full-time gardeners to keep them looking beautiful. Besides the usual landscaping, trees, blooming flowers and the like, the Getty Center also includes a central garden that's almost as much a work of art as it is a garden in the traditional sense.

Getty Museum Landscape Gardens

The formal landscaping, designed by Laurie Olin, complements and enhances Richard Meier's architectural design, providing a balance between human-made and the natural. Its color scheme is primarily lavender and white, perhaps not coincidentally the colors of the museum's prized painting, Van Gogh's Irises. The purple-flowering jacaranda trees in the small courtyard in front of the auditorium are especially pretty when they bloom in June.

The Getty Center site sits more than 800 feet above the surrounding city, providing panoramic views. To the east are city landscapes; to the south, the cactus garden's architectural shapes and stark silhouettes punctuate the city views of the South Bay and Palos Verdes Peninsula. To the west is the Pacific Ocean, which needs little adornment. At the north promontory, the landscaping blends into the hillside surroundings and the resident herd of mule deer sometimes appear if visitors are quiet enough.

Getty Museum Central Garden

The piece de resistance of the Getty Museum's gardens is the 134,000-square-foot Central Garden, conceived by artist Robert Irwin, who calls it "a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art."

Gardeners work year-round to tend more than 300 plants in Irwin's ever-changing creation. The garden's design is precise in every detail. Rocks are placed to change water's sound as you walk down the zigzagging path. Colors blend so subtly that red and orange transform into white and pink within a few steps, leaving no memory of the transition.

Touring the Getty Museum Gardens

Docents lead daily tours of the gardens.

If you want to tour on your own, pick up the Architecture and Gardens brochure in the visitor center. The suggested route for a self-guided tour of the Central Garden starts to the right as you approach the main building and proceeds along its side, down the zigzag path to the Central Garden and up the hill toward the West Pavilion.

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Resting on the Lawn

The Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

Resting on the lawns is common sight in the gardens - and the grass doesn't seem to mind.

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View from South Promontory

View from The Getty Center

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

From here, you can see what displaced all the original native plants. While you can sometimes see downtown Los Angeles from here, the more prominent area of taller buildings is Century City.

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What You Need to Know About Visiting the Getty Museum

Tram Arriving at the Getty Center

Betsy Malloy Photography

Everyone arrives at the Getty Center on the tram, from the parking structure at the bottom of the hill.


The museum is open most days, except some holidays. It's also sometimes open late, and concerts and other events may be held in the evening. Check current hours.

There is no entry fee, but there is a parking charge, which is lower for evening events.

Allow two hours to half a day - or more for a visit. Anytime is fine to go, but it's especially beautiful on a clear evening.

Where Is the Getty Museum Located?

J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA
Getty Museum website

The Getty Museum is located just off I-405 north of I-10 and the Sunset Boulevard exit. If you're driving, exit I-405 at the Getty Center exit and follow the signs. If the freeway is jammed (which it frequently is), Sepulveda Blvd. parallels it and it may be faster.

Automobiles pay to park but bicycles park for free. Motorcycle parking is free for individuals, but groups of more than 15 have to pay for each space they use. Vehicles up to 12'6" can fit in the parking structure, but there is no parking for RVs, motor homes or limousines.

If you want to go by public transportation, Metro Bus 761 stops at the center's main gate on Sepulveda Boulevard.