Waiting for the boxy white tram to slowly roll into sight is one of the most exciting feelings I get when visiting a museum in California. The anticipation is much like being at the airport, readying yourself to hop on an airplane and jet off something new and exotic. I love the Getty Museum’s tram — I really do. And I especially love it today, because aside from myself and Kristin, there’s no one here. That’s not really surprising. It’s almost four in the afternoon on a weekday, and the museum closes in an hour. But with Kristin’s work schedule and mine, this was all we could manage. “We won’t have much time there,” I told her earlier. “But let’s make the most of it.”
We hop onto the empty tram, and splay out like we own the place. (I was here on a weekend a little over a week ago when my mom was visiting from out of town, and the tram was full to the brim. It was the first time I’d been to The Getty in over a year and a half.) Another exciting thing about being on the tram is the view. As it makes its way up the hill, riders are treated to unparalleled views of Los Angeles. Ant-sized cars zip by, a perfectly gridded vineyard unfolds in the distance, houses grow smaller and smaller, windows forming a connect-the-dots game. It feels as though we’re leaving the world — with its cluster of problems, anxieties and everyday annoyances — behind. I watch it all disappear like a dime tossed off a high building.
When the tram finally stops at our hilltop destination, we spill out of it with urgency. We’ve only got an hour — and not a minute to waste! I scan The Getty’s honey-colored travertine walls with quick admiration, and then slap on a mask and head indoors. Though vaccinated visitors are free to lose the masks outdoors, everyone is still required to wear them inside. Fine by me, given that, as of this writing, Covid cases are on the rise in California.
“Alright, where to?” Should we start with the manuscripts? Sculpture and decorative arts? What about The Getty’s collection of drawings? Unsurprisingly, Kristin and I settle on paintings. We head toward the north pavilion and then make our way toward the east pavilion. We take the stairs to the second floor, which boasts art from 1600 to 1800. Paintings at The Getty usually occupy the upper level, “illuminated by skylights with computer-controlled louvers and a system of cool and warm artificial lights.”
I might not be as familiar with the Getty as I am with the Huntington, but I still have a good sense of its layout. Part of what’s great about living close(ish) to your favorite places is that you get to know them intimately. So, on days like today, when I’m in a time crunch, I know where my most beloved pieces are. You sort of become your own adept and unobtrusive tour guide. My inner art buff leads me to El Greco’s Christ on the Cross, a painting that jumps out from the rest. I admire what I love best about that work: El Greco’s knack for exaggerated, distorted proportions, the play of light on Christ’s body, the vicious stormy sky in the background. It’s something else. I visit other old friends like Rubens’ The Calydonian Boar Hunt and Rembrant’s The Abduction of Europa. A quick hello and a “nice to see you again.”
Before we know it, it’s 5 p.m. Our time here flew by like a breeze. I guess that’s what happens when you’re truly enjoying something. The Getty is a wonderful place for escapism and immersion. With its sculpture garden, flowering maze and cactus garden at the south promontory that overlooks the city, even non-art buffs will find something to enjoy there. Plus, you really can’t beat those views — the best postcard of Los Angeles you can capture, in my humble opinion. So, whether you’re a first-timer or returning after a long pandemic-induced break, here are a few things to note before your visit.
During Covid-19, make sure to reserve entry time
Gone are the days when you could just show up at The Getty Center and prance in. Though admission is still free, you have to reserve a time slot online. Make sure you do this ahead of time as The Getty’s website typically requires you to register and log in before you can check out with those tickets. Personally, I’ve experienced some spotty internet in the lower level of the museum, so my hot tip would be: Pull up the PDF you receive via email ahead of time to get your barcode scanned efficiently.
Stay current with Covid-19 mask guidelines
According to The Getty’s website, “All visitors over the age of two must wear a face mask over nose and mouth when inside buildings, including parking structures, and when boarding and riding the Getty Center tram. Visitors may remove their masks when outdoors.” I would highly suggest checking the museum’s Covid policy before each visit because as we all know, things are in a constant state of flux.
Know that admission is free, but parking isn’t
As I mentioned, admission at The Getty is always free, but be aware that parking isn’t. The current parking rate is $20 per car or motorcycle. If you’re ridesharing, there’s a special designated spot for pick up and drop off. Word of warning: Last time I decided to Uber back home from The Getty, I was shocked by the fact that Uber couldn’t find a single driver in the area. A long line of people formed by the pick-up/drop-off area, all struggling with the same issue. Finally, a Lyft driver came through for us. But it still took almost 40 minutes for us to find a ride. Point is: Uber and Lyft drivers are scarce these days. Make sure you have a plan B.
Wear comfortable shoes
The Getty Center is huge. I mean, 110-acre huge. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking, and you’ll need some comfy kicks to really enjoy yourself there. This is especially true if you’re there for the first time and want to explore every nook and cranny of the complex.
Not all restaurants are open
Stopping by the self-service cafe for a bit of a walking break and some nibbles used to be one of my favorite parts of dining at The Getty. Unfortunately, post-pandemic, the cafe is closed. If you haven’t been to the museum in a while, this might surprise you — especially if you’d planned to lunch there. The Garden Terrace Cafe serves box lunches and drinks, and the coffee carts (which do stock simple sandwiches and chips) are working, too. The plaza-level restaurant is open as of this writing, but reservations are required. Again, do check what’s open and closed before you go by visiting the food and drink section of The Getty’s website.
Watch what you snap
The Getty is pretty easygoing with photography. The place is always packed with tourists, and of course, everyone wants to remember their visit with photographs! As long as it’s for personal use, you’re fine. Just don’t bring a lighting brigade and an arsenal of tripods. As far as indoor photography is concerned: No flash (But that’s common sense anyway!) One piece of advice: In certain photography exhibits, for example, you’ll see a “crossed-out camera” sign, which means photography isn’t permitted. These signs are easy to miss, so make sure to keep an eye out.
Account for tram time
Unlike a lot of museums, you can’t just simply park and walk in. If you’re there for limited hours, make sure you account for the time it takes to walk from the garage to the check in area, check in, pass through security, wait for the tram to arrive and actually take the tram all the way up to the museum. All in all, I would say it takes at least 10 minutes (the tram itself is a 5-minute ride) and at most, 20 minutes.