I had always wondered what it would be like to see Pompeii before the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed it in 79 C.E. Oddly, that wish was fulfilled at the Getty Villa where I felt eerily as though I had traveled to Naples, Italy, not Malibu, California.
As a sister museum to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Villa is an immersive experience of Greek and Roman art and architecture. There are over 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan works in the collection with 1,200 of them on view at any one time. For people who love Greek and Roman art and antiquities, the Getty Villa is the best museum experience you can have in the United States.
Like the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Villa sets the collection in a context that evokes their original settings. Also like the Cloisters, it's a little eccentric.
Built by J. Paul Getty, it's a recreated Roman Villa modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum (near Pompeii), but built in the 1970s. Villa dei Papiri is the most luxurious villa to have been destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E., though there still remains over 9,200 feet of the property to be excavated. It houses the only intact library from antiquity with over 1,800 scrolls, a fact that particularly fascinated Getty. Architects and designers closely studied the ruins at Pompeii to fill out the details of the Getty Villa, but the Mediterranean plants, trees and flowers do much enhance the setting. Moreover the golden Southern California sunlight feels nearly identical to the light on the Bay of Naples.
What the Getty Villa does especially well is embrace visitors who might not give a fig leaf about art or museums. This is Malibu after all and the Villa experience is easy, comfortable, accessible and designed for you to learn if you want to or sit and or simply sit and be surrounded by beauty. The only obstacle is that you absolutely must purchase your ticket in advance, no exceptions.
So what makes the Getty Villa such a great experience?
- The food is fresh and delicious, using great California produce which lends itself perfectly to the light Mediterranean fare. Sit on the terrace, enjoy lunch, a glass of wine and soak in the sun. You may also order a gourmet picnic lunch. Also consider Tea by the Sea, every Thursday and Saturday afternoon at 1pm where you will enjoy a small lunch in the Roman gardens inspired by the herbs, fruits and vegetables that grow there.
- Inspired by the gardens at Pompeii, the Getty Villa has four gardens. Currently the fountains are turned off because of the California drought, though the plants and fragrant herbs remain lush.
- It's easily accessible for visitors with mobility impairments. I once visited with a friend who uses a wheelchair and was so pleased by how easy and accommodating the building and staff were. My friend was able to enjoy the full experience with grace and ease.
- I'm always impressed by the programs and lectures which range from daily tours of the collection and gardens to wine tastings. There is always interactive media available and a dedicated space for families. This is a great museum to bring your kids.
How do I visit the Getty Villa?
Rent a car and don't forget to purchase your tickets in advance.
And definitely check the website for a list of their programs and events which are always fun and unique.
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Wednesday–Monday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays
Admission is free, but parking is $15. Though most Los Angeles residents won't believe you, it is possible to get there by Metro Bus 534 which stops at Coastline Drive and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) directly across from the Getty Villa entrance