The Best Art Museums in Los Angeles
The art collections housed in the great museums of Los Angeles are as varied as the museums themselves. At Getty’s grand villa above the Pacific, marble statues from ancient Greece oversee gardens and fountains. Behind the dazzling ultramodern facade of the Broad, visitors find ultramodern artworks, too. Even when the beaches and rooftop bars beckon, leave time in your schedule to tour these outstanding museums.
221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
When it opened in 2015, this museum drew headlines for its extensive contemporary art collection and Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed building, which resembles a futuristic honeycomb. Then a single exhibition catapulted it into fame: artist Yayoi Kusama’s installation of thousands of twinkling LED lights called Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. (The artist’s follow-up, Longing for Eternity, opened in 2017.) There’s plenty to be dazzled by in this museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. Hundreds of skylights illuminate the column-free third floor’s permanent galleries—featuring the Broads’ considerable collection of pieces by Kara Walker, Barbara Kruger, Jasper Johns, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Insiders know to visit on weekdays for the most relaxed experience or around major holidays and occasions such as Halloween and International Women’s Day for engaging and sometimes provocative tours. Pro tip: Though general admission tickets are free, it’s wise to book tickets online ahead when they’re released on the first of each month for the following month, especially if you’re taking a date or going with a group (the same goes for Kusama’s rooms). At least two weeks out, request a before- or after-hours guided group tour of one hour, not including the Infinity Mirrored Room. And make sure to also book reservations at Otium, the trendsetting restaurant by Chef Timothy Hollingsworth located next to the Broad.
17985 Pacific Coast Hwy
J. Paul Getty’s original museum is as much about the transporting setting as it is about the pieces inside. When the billionaire oil tycoon decided to open a museum for his extensive collection of antiquities in 1974, he modeled it after an ancient Roman villa that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The estate’s painted ceilings, Roman columns, and marble floors feel at one with the 44,000-strong collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman pieces (don’t miss the bronze statue of Herakles, circa 300 B.C.E.). When you stand amid the 64-acre ground’s bronze statues, frescoes, and reflecting pool, the expansive view of the Pacific Ocean offers one of the few clues that you’re in California. A regular stream of theater performances, readings, and academic talks in the open-air amphitheater keeps things heady day and night. Pro tip: Although it’s free, entrance to the Getty Villa requires an advance, timed-entry ticket, bookable online. Don’t miss the 40-minute tours on Thursdays and Saturdays of the four Roman gardens, which cover a fascinating array of mythology and history.
250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Founded in 1979, the mission of this institution is clear—it’s committed to preserving, presenting, and interpreting art created after 1940. Its methods, however, are ever changing. Three distinct venues in the city shine a spotlight on forward-thinking artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Start at the Grand Avenue location, arriving right at the 11 a.m. opening for a chance to contemplate Mark Rothko’s emotional color studies in peace. After exploring work by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Miró, and Nijideka Akunyili Crosby (who created the mural that wraps around the building), grab lunch from Lemonade café to enjoy in the Sculpture Plaza. One mile away, the same general admission ticket gets you entry to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, which opened in Little Tokyo in 1983 after a renovation of a former police car warehouse by Frank Gehry; today, it hosts the museum’s more experimental exhibits. Architecture aficionados should also visit the third location, the MOCA Pacific Design Center, about 10 miles away in West Hollywood. (A fourth MOCA location, called Double Negative, requires much more of a detour—it’s a work of land art by Michael Heizer in the middle of the Nevada desert.) Art talks, screenings, and live music alongside food trucks make MOCA Grand and Geffen as much social venues as they are cultural ones. Pro tip: For an in-depth look at the collections, book the completely customizable educator-led tour (request a couple weeks ahead). For a livelier experience, visit on a Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m., when admission is free.
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
Encyclopedic is one way to describe L.A.’s oldest art institution. Sprawling is another. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened in its current Miracle Mile location in 1965 and has not stopped growing, becoming the largest museum in the western United States. Its 135,000-piece collection spans 6,000 years of art. It also includes some of the museum world’s most photographed outdoor sculptures, such as Michael Heizer’s mind-boggling Levitated Mass and Chris Burden’s Urban Light. The museum hosts some 40 exhibits per year, plus a dynamic schedule of events, such as Tuesday film matinees and picnic-friendly Jazz at LACMA (held weekly on “summer” weekend nights—which in L.A. means April to November). While anyone can join free tours throughout the day, docents also lead customized experiences for a fee, which will take you through the galleries before or after hours to marvel at artists as wide-ranging as Henri Matisse, Ai Weiwei, Diego Rivera, and Catherine Opie. Kids are also catered to with a special gallery, Sunday activities, and a free membership, which includes entry for them plus an adult guest any day of the year. Pro tips: Plan to spend several hours at the museum, fueling up on wood-fired pizza midway through the day at Ray’s & Stark Bar. And if you’d like to experience the outdoor sculptures without the crowds, go early in the morning or on Wednesdays, when the museum is closed and gloriously quiet.
1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA
Crowning any one location as having the “best view in L.A.” would be controversial, but the Getty Center is certainly a contender. The anticipation that builds upon approach to the arts and cultural center—up a driveway to park, on a tram coming up a hill—doesn’t hurt. At the top of the hill, guests are rewarded with sweeping views of downtown and the Pacific Ocean, verdant gardens, and a series of modern buildings designed by the renowned architect Richard Meier. Spend the afternoon browsing the wide-ranging art collection, which spans the 17th century through the 21st, with headliners like Rembrandt, Renoir, Manet, and Van Gogh (his Irises is the most popular painting here). Then in the early evening, explore the Central Garden designed by artist Robert Irwin—taking in a pool filled with floating azaleas—before enjoying a multi-course dinner at The Restaurant. Time your visit right and you might experience music from a live band or wine tasting, too—part of the museum’s packed schedule of events. Pro tip: The crowds tend to die down around late afternoon. The museum is open until 9 p.m. on Saturday nights.