I love going to art museums. Now as an art history major, that is not really a surprise. But I swear even if I wasn’t, I would still love going to the Getty Center. I see the Getty as the perfect starter museum, especially for kids. With the diverse collection, large outdoor space, and family fun spaces, it is the perfect place to visit while in Los Angeles.
While I try to avoid L.A as much as possible since moving away, when I heard that there was going to be a special exhibit on Caravaggio I had to go. I knew it would be the perfect time to take Aaliyah to the Getty for the first time, and a great opportunity to meet up with my friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
Read on to hear about our girl’s day!
History of the Getty Center
The Getty’s founder J. Paul Getty was a lifetime collector of art. He acquired a large personal collection focusing mostly on Greek and Roman sculptures, 18th century furniture, and Renaissance paintings. In 1953 he opened a part of his house in Pacific Palisades to the public so that he could share his personal collection. Plans were later started to build a new museum to house his new collection, and in 1974 the museum now know as the Getty Villa was constructed. J. Paul Getty passed on June 6, 1976 and left his fortune to the Getty Museum Trust. This allowed the Trust to construct and build the magnificent museum that is now known as the Getty Center.
This is the most condensed version of the extremely interesting history of the Getty Trust I could write. You can read more on there website here
Planning Your Visit
- Like all activities in Los Angeles, plan accordingly for traffic. Located right off of the 405, it is best to arrive right when it opens at 10 AM.
- The museum is free. Yes, free! You only need to pay $15 for parking. Please do not try to walk up to the museum to avoid parking because 1. The surrounding area is private residences or businesses and you will get towed. 2. It is so dangerous to even think about walking along Sepulveda! 3. Security will turn you away as soon as you walk under the overpass.
- Water bottles and snacks are not allowed out in the galleries. You can carry them with you as long as they are stored in your bag or pockets.
- Keep bags small, too large you will have to check your bag in the free coat check. This is to keep the art safe!
- The Getty is well known and some days it is packed. Big strollers are not recommended, which is why I took my baby carrier. Keep them on your front, you don’t want your little one grabbing priceless art while riding on your back!
- The museum is HUGE. It has 4 pavilions, the central garden, and exhibits in the Research Institue. Dress nicely but wear comfortable shoes, the travertine will make your feet sore after walking all day!
- Photography is allowed, double check for special exhibitions, as long as there is not flash!
Arriving to the Museum
When we pulled into the parking garage and I saw that we had to park on the 7th floor I wanted to cry. I should have known better, the exhibit was on its second to last weekend and that is when things get busy! We stayed positive and rode the elevator up to to the tram. There was a line, but it only lasted a few minutes. The tram comes every 7 minutes, so don’t worry if you don’t make it right away. If you feel like walking, you can walk up the hill which only takes around 30 minutes. The Visitor Services Associate on the platform can help you. As a previous VSA at the Getty I have to take a minute here to tell you to please be nice and listen to the VSAs and security staff. They are there to help you!
Once on the tram your little one will be able to watch the trees and 405 go by as it climbs up the hill. Aaliyah was so excited to look out the window and hold on the the safety pole!
Once off the tram you can stop for a quick photo op on the steps, or grab coffee at the coffee cart. We went inside and checked my bag in the lobby. Here you can also find maps and audio tours. These are great for older kids to learn more about the art, they have a family friendly tour, you can also download your an app on your phone if you bring your own headphones!
We came for the Caravaggio, so that is where we went! Imagine our surprise when the elevator doors opened and we saw the huge line! I love museums, but I love empty museums the most. Feeling a little overwhelmed (and carrying a restless after a 3 hour car ride toddler) we decided to head back downstairs to the family room. Here they have hands on activities that connect to their current and past special exhibits. You can also grab one of their activity guides here and throughout each pavilion. These are great for older kids, and they can walk through the galleries on an art scavenger hunt!
Aaliyah had so much fun bouncing and reading books on a 18th century style bed, peering in the peep holes to see art, and making silly faces in the wall of mirrors. There was also a place to color paper masks, but that little bit of energy she was able to burn made her even more restless, so we headed out to the garden.
The Central Garden
When going to museums little ones it’s so important to be able to take breaks. To be able to be able to run a little and be louder than their indoor museum voice. The central garden is the perfect place for them (and you!) to get some fresh air. Heading out from the pavilions you can see the fountain in front of the West Pavilion. Stop at the many balconies for amazing viewpoints of the garden and L.A! There is a restaurant and tables here to eat as well.
The garden itself is a work of art, created by Robert Irwin to be “always changing, and never twice the same.” At the top of the hill you will find a long zig-zag path over a stream of water and bordered by large grassy areas. Most days there will be people here picnicking (bring your own basket and blanket!), reading, and always someone sleeping. It’s so peaceful!
At the bottom of the path there are large metal trees topped with blooming bougainvillea. There are two entrances to take you on two paths that circle around the floating maze of azaleas. On these paths you will find hundreds of different types of plants (there’s over 500 different plants in the garden!). There are so many colors and smells it feels like a magic garden. Within the garden there are benches, perfect to sit and enjoy the view of the gardens and the L.A. skyline.
Aaliyah went up and down the zig-zag path 3 times and then around the circular paths. She was ready for a nap and we were ready to go back inside!
We headed straight back to the Caravaggio exhibit, and while we had to wait for 35 minutes, this was a great time for Aaliyah to nap. It was so worth the wait! Seeing art works you studied in textbooks and wrote endless essays about in real life is such an amazing experience. And Caravaggio’s work is so emotional and beautiful. It was amazing.
When looking at the art with your little one, encourage conversation about the art. Ask what they see, what colors are in the painting, what story they think the artist is telling. Aaliyah is only two but we still talked about the grapes or trees or pretty skies that we saw. These simple conversations are the perfect way to start getting your little one comfortable talking about art!
After we decided to walk around the galleries a little bit. While we had both been there many times before, the art seems to always be changing, which I love. If you only have a little while to stay, I recommend looking at the map and deciding what you want to see. Each pavilion has a designated time period, starting with the Early Renaissance in the North pavilion.
One downside to the Getty being the Getty is the busy days. And while we were able to see some amazing new pieces, and their new acquisitions that included this beautiful Degas, we both felt a little overwhelmed trying to connect with the art surrounded by so many people. We realized that we had been there for 4 hours already! So we decided it was time to leave. Make sure you pay for your parking ticket before riding the tram back down. Aaliyah was so excited to get on the tram she kept asking people “are you ready?”
Have you ever been to the Getty Center? How was your experience?