The Gardens of the Getty Center

by Editor
Getty Center

I’ve spent a week in the small beachside towns of southern California. It’s my first visit to the area and so far we have avoided the big cities, but it’s Friday and we are spending a few hours in Los Angeles at the Getty Center before I catch my flight home.

We approach the famous Hollywood Hills, and soon I spot a sign for Wilshire Boulevard, a familiar name. I’m expecting glitz and glamour but there’s not a starlet in sight and where is the iconic “Hollywood” sign? It is on the other side of the hills, I’m told.

We are at the quieter end of the boulevard. Even the traffic is slower than I expected. I will find out on my brief visit that there is another side to Los Angeles, much more than glitz and glamour, with many cultural institutions, museums, and historic connections. Soon we are on our way to the amazing Getty Center, nestled on the hillside in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. “There it is,” says my son as he points out a huge white building complex, glistening in the sunshine halfway up the hills.

The Getty Center

Founded by the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, in his California home in 1953, the collection soon outgrew the location and the Getty Center opened in its current location in 1997. Dedicated to the world’s artistic legacy, by 2020 it had grown to be the world’s largest and richest repository of history in the world, with an endowment of 7.7 billion dollars, a unique monument to the benefactor.

Getty Center

Getty Center / David Bridgwater

No cars are allowed on the hillside and must be left at the street level entrance. Visitors catch a small tram which runs every 15 minutes up the canyon. There is a trail for intrepid hikers, but most prefer the short tram ride with lovely views on a clear day of the city in the valley below. Arriving at the vast complex, a series of stone stairs take you to the main entrance and courtyard. There’s plenty of walking, but the whole area is wheelchair accessible with elevators for the physically challenged.

The Getty Center is both an indoor and outdoor museum, every part of it designed by well known architects to showcase the treasures for maximum enjoyment. “Let’s see the garden first,” says my daughter in law when we arrive, “Did you see the garden?” says my granddaughter later. And indeed with a vast array of choices, this seems to be the first stop for nearly everyone, and soon we found out why. The climate in southern California is usually quite temperate and here, sheltered between two mountain ranges, which capture the sun and moisture in equal measures, plants and flowers from every corner of the world flourish.

The Getty Gardens

There are 86 acres of landscaped gardens-one at street level and the other three gardens at the top of the hill. The 134,000 square foot Central Garden designed by artist Robert Irwin is set into the hillside in a circular bowl shaped design. Zigzag pathway takes you past teeming flower beds, a riot of color in early summer with plants from all across America and beyond. Exotic flowers from California, cacti and other desert plants from Arizona, wisteria, clematis, roses, and lupines from the eastern states abound. I even spotted foxgloves and hollyhocks from my native England, not often seen here. There is a Japanese maple tree or two and wildflowers grow among them to attract pollinators. An absolute feast for the senses.

Getty Center

Getty Center / David Bridgwater

A rambling stream falling over specially placed rocks is designed to create sound sculpture as it tumbles downhill. There are viewing points along the way, overlooking both the garden and museum above and the valley below, with the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Reaching the lowest point, a circular water pool completes the main garden, masterfully designed with a reflecting pool and a maze of azalea plants. A short distance away, a sculpture garden has many fine examples of modern sculpture and a cactus garden on a separate promontory recreates a desert landscape. Garden tours are offered during the day if you would like an in depth tour, or it is a wonderful place to just sit and enjoy for a few hours.

When You Go

There is a tented snack bar and an open air stage with a concert program during the summer and several full service restaurants throughout the complex. Sit a while and take a look at the permanent and seasonal exhibitions on display in the various pavilions and galleries. We enjoyed the Impressionist old masters, but there was everything from ancient Greek and Roman relics to a contemporary photographic special exhibition, attracting much interest as well. What an amazing repository to be enjoyed often. It is just not possible to see it all in one visit, instead make it permanent on the bucket list.

Getty Center

Getty Center / David Bridgwater

The elegant Luskin Hotel at the UCLA Convention Center, Westwood Plaza, with its colorful flower and shrub filled patio, is part of the UCLA campus, surrounded by tree-lined streets and student residences. It is an oasis of calm.

The Getty Center is open daily except on Monday. Admission is free but tickets are required for timed entry. There is a fee to park. For more information and to make a reservation, visit

Tess Bridgwater is an Award Winning Canadian Travel writer. Her Wartime memoir – A Wessex Girl Remembers – about growing up in England during World War II is available on Amazon or from the Authors web site.

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