Getty Center Getaway: A Cultural Peak

Into each life, a little culture must fall.  Well, should anyway.  When you live near a city like Los Angeles, “culture” shouts from every corner.  But we’re talking capital-C Culture, as in the Getty Center.  It’s a perfect Day Two of a visit to LA.

Often when we attend events in Los Angeles, we like to stay overnight and spend the next day exploring new shiny objects.  We may cruise Pacific Coast Highway or find something fascinating.  And we love to top off the day in Dana Point with dinner, chocolate shopping, and a stunning sunset over the harbor.

Getting Your Getty Straight

A while back we spent an afternoon exploring antiquities thousands of years old at the Getty Villa in Malibu. We decided to round out our Getty experience by devoting another day to immersing ourselves in the arts at the Getty Center, which focuses on art from the Middle Ages to today.  You need at least a full day to get the most out of the museum.

The Getty Center is an architectural masterpiece set on a 24 acre site in the Santa Monica Mountains.  It hovers on a hillside over the world-famous (mainly for how crowded it is) I-405.  This is the finest museum one could build for $1.3 billion in 1997, the crowning jewel of architect Richard Meier. The architecture may draw as many visitors to The Getty as its extensive art collection, gardens, and panoramic views of LA.

Billion-Dollar Budget, 20-Buck Parking

After making reservations online in advance, our visit starts with a tram ride up to the center. Admission to the museum and the tram ride are free, but parking is $20 for the day.  As you step off the tram you are greeted with views of Mountain Saint Mary’s University and first your glimpses of the Getty grounds.

We made a plan ahead of time in order to get the most out of our visit. It’s impossible to see it all in one day, so we decided our best approach was to prioritize our order: West (post-1800), South (1600-1800), North (pre-1700), and East (1600-1800) Pavilions.  

So heading to the West Pavilion, we begin with sketches and sculptures owned by famous artists, made by other famous artists.  Even the Greats like to study the Masters, and these pieces were sort of their “secret weapon” for inspiration and instruction.  Then we head to the best part…

The Paintings!

Princess Leonilla commissioned this painting in 1843 so that you would still know today that she’s better than you!

It so exciting to see and get within a paintbrush-stroke of works by artists like Monet, Renoir, and Manet.  But the star of the show clearly is Vincent van Gogh’s Irises (1889), which had a place of honor and a special explanation of how Getty preservationists had worked on it.  Another painting that captivated me was the portrait of Princess Leonilla of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, painted in 1843 by Franz Xavier Winterhalter.  Leonilla was a Russian born Princess who fancied swimming in the fashionable Parisienne circles of her time.

In the South Pavilion, we start with paintings on the top floor.  We come upon a painting by one of my favorite artists, Thomas Gainsborough.  It’s a portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield he painted in 1777.

Rococco paneled room, circa 1730-1755.

Then we head downstairs to view the decorative arts exhibit, including whole rooms representing two fascinating eras of design:  the Regency (1670-1720) and Rococo (1730-1755) periods.  

After all this walking and soaking up culture, we head to the North Pavilion.  We’re mildly disappointed to find that the illuminated manuscript exhibit closed a few days earlier.  They plan to open it again in the future, but until then the closest we’ll get is waiting room magazines.

Finally, we make it to the East Pavilion where we’re bordering on art overload!  We decide to stroll on the terrace and take in the cactus garden sprawling on an arm of the museum below us and panoramic views of LA in the distance.

As daylight dwindles (or maybe my eyes are just getting heavy; it’s just 5 pm), we agree that we must make a second visit soon to tour the gardens and lunch at the bistro.  We noticed couples nestled in various outdoor niches, lounging with snacks and sharing bottles of wine. There is still so much to experience!

Take It from Me

Plan ahead!  Look at the Getty website and and pick the most important things you want to see.  There are rotating exhibitions and the classics.  Remember:  most of the ancient things are at the Getty Villa near Malibu.  The Getty Center is Middle Ages to pre-20th Century art.  

You’re going to be hoofing it all day, up-and-down stairs, in-and-out of doors.  Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater. I expected it to be a toasty 80⁰ day in LA, but it is breezy on the hill where the Getty is perched.  And paintings must age better in a deep freeze, because the galleries are kept nice and cool!

Our Homeward Habit

Sunsets are free, but the boats are extra!

We top off our day stopping in Dana Point for dinner at a favorite restaurant.  We discovered The Harbor Grill years ago by accident, a charming place with delicious food!  We pick up dessert at The Chocolate Soldier, which crafts tasty treats that are a work of art themselves.  Finally, we soak up the setting sun over the Harbor.

Remember to raise your sites and see the cultural choices just over the horizon!  We’re already buzzing about our next visit to The Getty!