The Getty Center Museum in the Santa Monica area of Los Angeles is a world-class free visitor destination. Unfortunately, there is a parking fee of $15 per car. If you can avoid paying for parking, you can legally enjoy this renowned art and architectural marvel for absolutely no charge. You can also avoid a very backed up parking garage hassle; this is a very popular LA tourist center.
How to Use the Getty Museum for Free
If you can walk, take a bus, or bicycle to the Getty Museum, you will be admitted for no charge. If you carpool with others, you can split the fee. Or just drive and park a few miles away from the entrance. Be warned that parking on nearby residential streets is not encouraged. If you can drive and park a little further out in the area and walk in, things should be okay, and you'll get a little fitness in on the side. :)
Lastly, if you drive to the museum after 5:00pm, you can park and enjoy the Getty for no charge. Since the museum closes at 5:30, I think the timing would be a little bit challenging. Don't forget you still have to take a five minute tram ride up and down the mountain.
My "after-5" suggestion is to have a museum destination in mind. For example, you might want to see Van Gogh's Irises. Park for free at 5pm, jump onto the tram, and head like a homing pigeon right to the Van Gogh. You will probably have a good 15 or 20 minutes to enjoy the masterpiece before they start shooing people to the 5:30 tram departures.
You could easily make a list of top things to see and simply arrive at the Getty at 5pm on different days, allowing yourself a leisurely examination of a particular artwork for free. Or simply picnic on the lawns amid the outstanding views and architecture.
Tips for Seeing the Getty Museum
After parking (or walking or biking) in the parking garage on Getty Drive, take a quick look around the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden. A lot of people, in their hurry to board the tram, completely miss this nice series of outdoor art 'rooms'. Keep your eyes on the hillside for deer. We've seen a family of deer sitting in the grass, simply watching the cars on the 405 drive by. It must be like watching television for them. :) The parking attendants report that the deer live very safely on the Getty property, and especially enjoy overcast weather for people watching.
After enjoying this lower area, you will need to board the electric hillside tram. The tram leaves every five minutes and runs slowly and quietly up to the museum campus proper. It's a nice little ride - and is free - giving you plenty of time to enjoy the unique scenery of the Santa Monica mountains.
At the upper tram station there is a large, bright plaza of Italian travertine stone and fountains. Take the stairs or elevator to the main entrance area and head straight into the museum entrance hall. Grab a free Map & Guide from the visitor kiosk and plan out your tour. You can enjoy indoor art, another outdoor sculpture garden, a winding stream and maze garden, and views in every direction of the LA area (on clear days, look for the expansive ocean, Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Pier, Marina Del Rey, Downtown Los Angeles and the Palos Verdes Peninsula). A few of the viewpoints give you a bird's eye view into the crowded 405 Interstate canyon passage below.
Ask at the visitor center about taking free docent tours or seeing events in the auditorium.
The food at the cafe is also very, very good and is much more affordable than the onsite restaurant. You could also pack in a few snacks and enjoy them on the outdoor benches and chairs scattered around the gardens.
Since the museum is up high on a mountain, very cool ocean breezes can blow you away or make you feel downright chilly. Bring a jacket (even on sunny days) if you want to explore the outdoor areas and plazas. Wear a sunhat or sunglasses, and comfortable shoes suitable for hours of standing and walking. There is a coat check in the visitor area near the Museum Shop.
Bring a camera if you have one. While you can't use a flash on the artworks, there are endless incredible photographic opportunities at the Getty.
I found the Getty Center to contain far more than I could see in one afternoon. It's like Disneyland - you have to go several times to get a full sense of what this destination offers.
Directions to the Getty Museum
The Getty Center is located right beside the 405 at 1200 Getty Center Drive (just north of the 10) in Los Angeles, California, 90049. You can map out the address on Google, or call 310-440-7300 for more information. Their website is www.getty.edu. Reservations are not needed.
Learn More about the Getty Center and Museum -
The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook
Making Architecture: The Getty Center