What’s now called the Getty Villa served as the decades-long home for the J. Paul Getty Trust’s extensive art collection. But in 1997, the Getty Center opened. The end result is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that houses ornate French furniture, recognizable Impressionist pieces and rotating exhibitions. Its relative inaccessibility is more than compensated for by free admission and panoramic views, from the hills and the ocean in the west all the way around to Downtown in the east.
What to see inside
Once you’ve parked at the bottom and taken the electric tram ride up the hill, one thing becomes apparent: It’s a big place, with works displayed in four permanent pavilions, an exhibition space and the adjacent Getty Research Institute. The West Pavilion’s Impressionist pieces are a perennial crowd-pleaser, particularly Van Gogh’s Irises. Across the way, the South Pavilion features French decorative arts, outdone only by the baroque room recreations in the East Pavilion. Make sure to head to that building’s upper level, where you’ll find a number of Rembrandt masterpieces. Meanwhile, the North Pavilion features art exclusively made before 1700—most exquisitely, a collection of illuminated manuscripts on the lower floor.
What to see outside
You could stroll along the Getty’s myriad courtyards, overlooks and fountains without ever stepping foot inside a gallery and still come away satisfied. The most notable destination is Robert Irwin’s Central Garden, a cascading stream that leads to a lush labyrinth of hedges and pathways—make sure to check out the modern sculpture garden just past it. The cactus garden in the southeast corner provides a postcard-perfect view of the city with a cluster of cacti in the foreground. If you’re after sunset views, post up on any of the pavilion’s westward-facing terraces (if you can see the Central Garden and the oceanfront mountains, you’re looking the right way).
Where to eat
The bustling cafe by the entrance, as well as another one near the Central Garden, should suffice for most visitors, while the Restaurant (reservations recommended) provides sit-down service for a more leisurely, luxurious meal. We’d opt for the casual offering; if you want to go with the most casual option, pack a picnic and lay out a blanket on the museum’s sloping, south-facing lawn.