A work of art inside and out, this primary campus of the renowned J. Paul Getty Museum (“The Getty”) in Brentwood features European and American art from the Middle Ages to the present. The Richard Meier-designed museum complex alone—a riot of shapes and angles clad in white Italian travertine marble, poised on the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains and commanding panoramic views (of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the Pacific)—will amaze even those who never pass through doors. A winding .75-mile ascent from the parking lot via an electric tram literally glides on air to what appears as a Xanadu in the sky. The ever-evolving Central Garden, with 500 species of plants lining walkways that wend their way to a central pool supporting a floating maze of azaleas, could have lured Louis IV from the Palace of Versailles. The Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden, a collection of 28 contemporary sculptures by Elisabeth Frink, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi and other 20th-century greats, is a relatively recent addition to the grounds; Henry Moore’s “Seated Woman” and Roy Lichtenstein’s “Three Brushstrokes,” among other sculptures, pop up elsewhere on the estate.
But enter the museum doors you must, in order to see the vast collection of Impressionist paintings—including a rare early Edouard Manet pastel, “Portrait of Julien de la Rochenoire,” acquired and exhibited for the first time in June 2014—as well as gilded French furniture, decorative arts and contemporary photography. The trove within the galleries include van Gogh’s Irises, painted in an asylum in the last year of his life. (It’s almost as famous for having cost nearly $54 million as for its artistic significance.) The galleries have programmable window louvers, which display works in the natural light in which they were created.
For help taking it all in, stop at the GettyGuide Desk in the Entrance Hall and pick up a free iPod touch (photo ID required) loaded with a multimedia tour to follow at your own pace. ((Art, architecture and garden tours led by humans are also available). In addition to snack carts and two cafes, the Getty’s informal yet elegant full-service restaurant serves lunch (Tues–Sat), dinner (Sat), and Sunday brunch in full view of those astounding panoramas. Reservations are recommended, though walk-ins are accepted if space is available.
Tip: Don’t leave the kids at home just because you’re going to an art museum. The Getty offers inspiring children’s programs, including a family room filled with hands-on activities; drop-in art labs, Saturday family festivals, and garden concerts for kids.