I’m no stranger to art galleries and museums as I’ve had the pleasure of frequenting a handful in my lifetime. But the Getty is one that I’ve yet to visit and, as a result, it completely and totally eludes me. With so much to take in, I’m sure it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed upon arrival. Lucky for us, Getty-frequenter extraordinaire and talented photographer, miss Katie Parra, has agreed to share her wisdom on how to tackle this utterly unbelievable space. For more inspiration, head on over to the gallery!

From Katie Parra…

COST. During my college years in Santa Barbara, CA I used to drive down to Los Angeles on the weekends and spend an entire day at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Situated on a hill on the north end of the 405 the Getty has expansive views of LA and the ocean (on a clear non-foggy day that is). The best part of the museum is that it’s free! You pay anywhere from $10-15 dollars for parking depending on the day - but that’s it. For any struggling college student that’s a bargain!

WHERE TO START. I’ve put together what I believe to be the perfect Getty itinerary. So follow me step by step as I guide you through the magical world of J. Paul Getty. You start off by boarding charming white trams that carry you up the steep hill into which the Getty is built. The Getty has several subterranean levels and only extends two stories above the grade of the natural landscape. Here is a link that talks about how the Getty was built and information about its architect Richard Meier. When you exit the tram you are confronted with the most amazing off white, Italian travertine-textured stone building. The museum itself is a work of art. It can be a bit overwhelming at first but there are friendly volunteers stationed all over the grounds to help you find your way. 

THE MUSEUM. The Getty houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European and American photographs. After you climb the beautiful travertine steps you will first enter the museum entrance hall. There you will find free maps as well as the museum store and coat/bag check area. Check your coat, grab your map and then follow the sound of the beautiful, serene fountain that awaits you in the main courtyard. If you have a smart phone or iPad you can follow the self-guided tours of each exhibit available on the Getty website.

THE NORTH & EAST PAVILIONS. The first building we are going to is the North Pavilion. This pavilion houses paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and illuminate manuscripts made before the 1700’s. Start on the first level and work your way up to the second. The manuscripts are my favorite part of this pavilion. Then follow the second story bridge to the East Pavilion. This pavilion houses paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from the 1600’s to the 1800’s. The paintings are incredible but I find myself endlessly lingering at all of the sculptures. Once you’ve exited on the plaza level you will be greeted by another amazing fountain that combines both architectural and landscape elements. There are colorful potted plants and walls of ivy that lure you to the back deck where you will find panoramic views of the city and of the Pacific Ocean.

THE SOUTH PROMONTORY & PAVILION. Before entering the South Pavilion, take a few minutes to explore the South Promontory which features a re-creation of a desert landscape and cactus garden. By introducing drought-tolerant plants and efficient irrigation the Getty has cut their water use by more than 30 percent. Beautiful and environmentally friendly! From the cactus garden enter the South Pavilion on the plaza level. Working your way up to the second level you will see paintings and decorative arts from the 1600-1800’s. This pavilion is my favorite! The furniture and still life paintings are a particular highlight for me. I sometimes find myself making a beeline straight for this pavilion and spending my whole day drooling over all of the opulent furnishings. It is so much fun!

SKYLIGHTS. Another great aspect of the Getty that you will notice is that on the second level of all the pavilions is natural daylight streaming through computer controlled skylights. They have a cooling and warming system using artificial lights. These skylights maximize the natural light in each room and cut down on the amount of electricity used to light rooms….ingenious and efficient! 

THE WEST PAVILION. The West Pavilion is accessible from a second story bridge from the South Pavilion. The West Pavilion houses paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, drawings and photographs that were made after the 1800’s. Here you will find Monet’s, Van Gogh’s as well as a current photography exhibition called “In Focus: Ed Ruscha”. 

EATING. Whew…are you exhausted yet? You just saw a whole lot of inspiring and jaw dropping art collected over the centuries. I think it’s time to get some lunch! There are several options for dining at the Getty but I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch and eating alfresco. You can enjoy the Garden Terrace or bring a blanket and find a nice spot in the garden. On my last trip we packed a light picnic of fresh fruit, a blackberry tart and scone, dried fruit, walnuts, dates and the most amazing lavender shortbread bars – all from Sweet Salt Food Shop in Toluca Lake. We bought a chilled bottle of California white wine from the cafe as well. One thing for sure though – where ever you choose to sit and eat you will have one amazing view!

GARDENS. After lunch stroll through the winding pathways of the central garden created by artist Robert Irwin. The bougainvillea arbors are stunning and quintessential Californian. There is a stream that starts at the north end of the garden, winds down a beautifully shaded path, and ends with a cascading waterfall that flows into the circular garden pool. In the pool there is a spectacular maze of over 400 azalea plants. There are over 500 varieties of plant material used in the landscaping of the central garden some of which change with the seasons.

To the west of the central garden there is a sculpture garden on the Lower Terrace. Umbrellas are provided at no charge for rainy days or just to stay protected from the sun. One of my favorite images in my home is a black and white, panoramic photograph of people exploring the central garden on a rainy foggy day and everyone is carrying black umbrellas. Even in bad weather the Getty is a magical place to be. 

EXHIBITIONS PAVILION. Follow the winding path along the stream up to the north end of the central garden. There you will find the entrance to our last stop on this tour, the Exhibitions Pavilion. You can climb the stairs or take the elevator to the upper level where there is a constantly changing exhibition space.

CONSERVATION. Conservation is an integral part of the Getty’s goal to “exhibit and interpret the collections and preserve them for the enjoyment and education of future generations”. They have an impressive Research Institute on the grounds which include a lecture hall, laboratory for twenty five conservators and four conservation departments.

For any artist the Getty is a place to recharge and get inspired. From the amazing art inside to the incredible architecture, fountains and gardens outside. I never feel like I plan enough time. Someday I might just pitch a tent in the circular garden and refuse to leave! Plan on a whole day if possible but I’d recommend a minimum of four hours to ensure a proper visit. In 2006 the Getty museum expanded and opened the Getty Villa in Malibu which houses an extensive collection of Roman, Greek and Etruscan antiquities. The Villa is at the top of my “must see” list for my next visit to LA. I encourage anyone planning a trip to Southern California to stop by the Getty. It truly is a magical and inspiring place!

Photography: Katie Parra Photography | Food: Sweet Salt Food Shop in Toluca Lake | Wine: Getty Cafe Location: Getty Museum in Los Angeles | Models: Mallory McKenzie and Rachelle Dimaria