The Getty Villa Museum: Antiquities on Display

Exploring The J. Paul Getty Villa Museum
George Rose / Getty Images

Los Angeles is home to not just one but two Getty Museums. This page is about the Getty Villa, the original Getty Museum built by J. Paul Getty for the dual purpose of housing his antiquities and giving visitors an idea of what a Roman Villa looked like.

The museum complex includes a 450-seat outdoor classical theater, the villa, and a cafe. Architects Machado and Silvetti's modern designs blend with the villa's Italian style.

What's the Getty Villa All About?

The brilliant thing about the Getty Villa - in my opinion - is their building. It recreates the Villa dei Papiri, a first-century Roman country house unearthed at Herculaneum. The original was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A. D. 79. 

For others, the Getty is about its collections. They specialize in ancient art.

Besides the artwork, the Getty Villa stages performances that include re-imagined versions of classic Greek and Roman dramas, as well as new and adapted works inspired by the museum's holdings or the ancient world.

The rest of the Getty's large holdings are on display at the Getty Center.

Reasons to Visit the Getty Villa

  • The building: the recreated Roman country house is beautiful
  • The collection: Getty Villa holds one of America's finest holdings of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art

Reasons to Skip the Getty Villa

  • If you aren't interested in the architecture or the art, there's not much left that you would want to see.
  • If you're the spontaneous type, you should know that you need parking reservations to visit. Don't drive all the way to Malibu unless you're sure you can get in.

How to Plan Your Getty Villa Visit

The only way to get into the Villa property is to drive in, use public transport, taxi or have someone drop you off at the Getty Villa.

Admission is free, but you need an advance, timed-entry parking reservation and they charge for parking. Print your pass and take it with you. They sometimes release a few last-minute tickets online at 9:00 a.m.

The Villa is magically quiet shortly before the official opening time. Reserve the earliest time of the day, arrive a half hour or so early to enjoy the grounds.

Vehicles over 6'10" high and standard car length/width aren't allowed. If yours is bigger than that, see more info on their website

You can take photographs for personal use only, but no tripods or flashes are allowed. You can use your selfie stick, but only in public outdoor spaces.

Getting to the Getty Villa

  • If someone is dropping you off, the entrance gate staff will direct you to the drop-off area.
  • Pay attention to where you park. After a few hours of museum-browsing, it's easy to forget where you started. Write it down or take a digital photograph.
  • Don't bring big bags or packages. You'll just have to check them at the entrance. You'll also have to leave your umbrella in the cloakroom, but the museum provides plenty of them for you to use if you need them.
  • Don't carry anything embarrassing. Your bags may be searched.
  • Child-carrying backpacks can't go into the galleries
  • On your way in, you may wonder why the driveway is so rough. It's paved with the same kind of large stones found in the streets of ancient Herculaneum and Pompeii.
  • Don't be lazy. Walk up the hill from the parking garage if you can, so you can enjoy the gardens and views.

Making the Most of the Getty Villa

  • Take advantage of the orientation tours and weekend gallery tours to learn more about what you're seeing.
  • Before plunging into the museum itself, take a few minutes to look over the daily schedule of tours, gallery talks and events and plan your visit around them. Some tours will only take a limited number of people, and on others, the audio headsets can run out. Pick your tours and sign up or arrive early to be sure you get in.
  • Get more out of the museum with a GettyGuide. It's like getting a private tour from the museum's curators and conservators.
  • Don't leave the kids out. The GettyGuide has a great selection just for the younger set. 
  • When they're offered, try a one-hour guided family tour (age 5 and up). 
  • Got questions? Look for the people in white shirts and vests. They have answers.
  • The Cafe serves casual Mediterranean fare, which is quite tasty.

What You Need to Know About the Getty Villa

Getty Villa
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, California
Getty Villa Website

The Getty Villa is less than a mile north of the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. Look for the signs and use your navigation system. If you overshoot the driveway, it's hard to get back.

Los Angeles Metro Bus 534 stops near the Getty Villa entrance on Pacific Coast Highway. If you arrive by public transportation, you still need an advance, timed ticket and you will have to show your bus receipt or transfer at the gate.