With many different and exciting things to do in Los Angeles, a visit to the Getty Center may be one of the city’s highlights. Perched on an 800-foot hilltop, the Center offers great art, beautiful gardens and views of the entire Los Angeles basin, Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains; providing a setting for a glorious day.

Designed by architect Richard Meier, and built on 750-acres of land, the Getty Center is the location of the flagship museum of the J. Paul Getty Trust and home to a research institute, conservation institute, grant program and leadership institute. It is one of the largest privately funded architectural complexes ever designed and constructed in a single architectural campaign.

A seven story deep underground garage with over 1,200 parking places located at the base of the hill provides access to the Center. At busy times, the line for the tram might remind you of one for a ride at Disneyland- but the wait is worth it because the ascent up the hill via a cable driven three-car electric tram reveals the always busy 405 Freeway, views of Santa Monica and the unveiling of the Center itself. For the more energetic art lover, the hike up the hill is short, and offers an appreciation of the surroundings that can only be assimilated slowly.

Once you arrive to the center, head to the museum’s information desk and pick up a “Getty Guide”- these multimedia handheld objects (that look somewhat like iPods) provide several audio tours and can be docked into a computer station offering more in-depth information on specific works of art.

The museum includes five galleries- North, East, South, West, and the Special Hall housing classical sculpture and art, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, decorative arts and photographs. The gallery that usually draws the largest crowd is the museum’s collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. With the exception of photography, the Getty usually does not collect 20th or 21st century art.

The second floor galleries are connected by open terraces and enclosed bridges, offering some astounding views of the gardens and the surrounding hillsides. Computer controlled skylights on this floor allow visitors to view paintings in natural light.

The museum also offers many docent-led tours that last about 45 minutes. Storytellers, films, lectures, and concerts featuring classical music, jazz or even an experimental party band are part of the repertoire of day and evening performances that take place inside the museum as well as outdoors.

After viewing all that art, you’ll be ready for lunch. You can picnic, eat a snack, have a delicious brunch or dine in a fine restaurant on the property. A picnic area is located near the lower tram station and gourmet picnic lunches can be ordered in advance online to be available for pickup. Or check out the Café that offers an extensive menu that includes sandwiches, soups, salads, pizza and pasta. The self-service Café has indoor and outdoor dining areas. The smaller Garden Terrace Café offers coffee, lunch and snacks overlooking the Central Garden.

Next, head to the extensive gardens that are maintained by 32 full-time gardeners. Conceived by artist Robert Irwin, the Museum’s Central Garden design is precise in every detail. Colors blend and transition in a subtle but beautiful manner. New plants are constantly added creating an ever changing living work of art.

Visitors can also enjoy the fountains, shaded spots, a cactus garden and the always spectacular views. The museum provides an Architecture and Gardens brochure for those who wish to tour on their own or join a docents led tours of the gardens.

Although most fine art museums aren’t much fun for children, the Getty Center provides interesting children’s programs, including a family room filled with picture books, games, and dress up clothes, computers and puzzles. There are weekend family workshops and special self-guided audio tours designed specifically for families.

For dinner check out the restaurant, called “The Restaurant”. Offering full service in an elegant setting with seating for 150 and floor-to ceiling windows with views of the outdoors and a wrap around deck. The full bar and a wine list predominantly offers selections from California. The menu changes weekly but may include such tasty dishes as black mission figs with goat cheese and serranno ham, iced oysters, roasted baby beets and arugula, ahi tuna salad, Dungeness crab cakes, lobster risotto, prime beef filet, Texas wild boar chops, and Muscovy duck. Desserts include pear and hazelnut Napoleon, lemon flan, citrus rice pudding and baked caramel.

Whether you hike or ride, eat brunch, lunch, picnic or enjoy a fine dinner, see the museums treasures, or stroll through the gardens in the waning light awaiting a nighttime performance, the Getty Center, sometimes called “Disneyland for the mind” is a unique and wonderful cultural experience.

What and Where:
The Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive; 310-440-7300)
The Restaurant (310-440-6810)

Helpful Tip: Admission to the Getty Center is free; there are no tickets or reservations required.