Getty Villa

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Getty Villa
Photograph: Paul Khor
Getty Villa
Photograph: Spike Brennan
Getty Villa
Pacific Palisades Free

In 1974, oil magnate J Paul Getty opened a museum of his holdings in a faux villa in Malibu, based on the remains of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. Derision from critics and ridicule from art experts followed, but no matter—the Getty grew into a beloved local attraction. In 1997, the decorative arts and paintings were moved to the Getty Center, and the villa was closed for conversion into a museum for Getty's collection of Mediterranean antiquities. When it reopened in 2006, part-restored and part-transformed by architects Jorge Silvetti and Rodolfo Machado, the press was rather kinder.

There are roughly 1,200 artifacts on display at any one time, dated between 6,500 BC and 500 AD, and organized under such themes as Gods and Goddesses and Stories of the Trojan War. If you're a novice, start in the Timescape room (numbered as room 113), where a wall-mounted frieze maps the different civilizations along with the art and statuary they created.

You could easily spend a few hours idly wandering through the galleries, but some exhibits really stand out. In room 101C, look for an amazing Greek perfume container that dates back to around 400 BC: it's incredibly elegant and, despite its age, entirely intact. Room 101 holds a collection of disparate items relating to Greek gods, among them a 2,500-year-old monumental statue of Aphrodite in limestone and marble, and some delicate painted oil jars. The outlandish, stag-spouted drinking horn in room 105 is gloriously absurd. And in room 108 stands a 1,900-year-old statue of Hercules, a real alpha-male figure that reputedly inspired Getty to built the museum in the design of a Roman villa.

Upstairs, room 217 holds an eerie limestone statue of a Cypriot fertility goddess from around 3,000 BC, her six toes implying superhuman qualities. In room 213, there's a vivid table support depicting two griffins going head to head as they devour a fallen doe. But the highlight is room 212, where you'll find some intricate Roman gems and coins alongside an unnerving miniature skeleton cast in bronze.

The site also holds conservation laboratories, seminar rooms and a research library, plus temporary exhibitions. Note, though, that you'll need to book a timed ticket (free) in order to visit the museum: walk-ins aren't accepted. At peak times, be sure to book well in advance; try and book your ticket for early in the morning in order to beat the crowds.

Venue name: Getty Villa
Address: 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy
Los Angeles

Opening hours: Wed-Mon 10am-5pm
Price: Free admission; Parking $15.
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