The Getty Villa lies halfway to Malibu atop a cliff, with magnificent views of the Pacific. The recreation of a Roman villa is filled with Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities. Parking should be reserved before a visit; be sure to allow yourselves time to explore the grounds and enjoy a delicious meal at the cafe. Visit the website for directions on parking reservations (easy to secure) and to time your visit in time for tours you might want to join. The Family Room has wonderful art activities for children and, like the Getty Center, the Art Detective Cards and audio tours are geared for kids.
1. Audio Tours: One of the best ways to get the most out of your visit to the Getty Villa is by renting out a free audio guide. They include in-depth information about the majority of art housed at the Villa, as well as a map of the grounds and history of the museum. Thematic Family Audio Tours are also available, with a focus on topics like gods, heroes, and athletes that cater to kids’ interests. Pick up your audio guide just beyond the information desk; you’ll see it after you make a right before the impulvium, or pool in the middle of the atrium.
2. Temple of Herakles: Keep heading clockwise through the rooms around the atrium until you reach the Temple of Herakles, known as the most important area to J. Paul Getty himself. The story of young Herakles is quite an impressive one, and is told in part by the marble sculpture itself. The victorious Herakles holds a lion skin in his right hand, as a trophy he acquired after killing the Lion of Nimea, which had been terrorizing a village. To get a more involved story of Herakles, continue in to the next room and read the panels on the far right hand wall.
3. Family Forum: As you continue to make your way around the atrium, be sure to stop in the “Foro Familiar”. It’s the perfect spot for kids to apply the kinds of designs they find around the Villa. Your children can become part of a vase decoration themselves by donning some of the costume pieces provided and striking a pose behind a screen that dominates the room. If they prefer the fine arts to the performing arts, have them decorate a plastic vase with a dry-erase marker. Or, they can have fun making rubbings by placing a piece of paper over the designs etched into one of the tables, and (as the name suggests) rubbing a crayon over it.
4. Reflecting Pool: Just beyond the Family Forum, this iconic pool dominates the Outer Peristyle and may be the highlight of your entire visit. The scene could have been taken directly from a painting, complete with sparkling blue water, blooming trees and flowers, and picturesque bronze sculptures dotting the landscape. Take your time—especially in this section of the museum—to walk around the entire perimeter and through the center to take in all the garden has to offer. If you’re feeling particularly relaxed, grab a bench and spend as much time as you please just taking in the scenery.The garden makes it wonderfully easy to forget about anything else you may have on your mind.
5. ArtQuest: The ArtQuest program at the Getty Villa provides a range of fun, educational, kid-friendly activities for you and your family to enjoy together. Activities differ per session, but always involve a craft table set up for hands-on learning. ArtQuest activities are held on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
6. The Café: If your tummy starts growling during your visit, head to the café located on the entrance level. It’s the perfect casual spot to satisfy your stomach with delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, which complement the Villa’s architecture perfectly. Menu items are seasonal, and use plenty of fresh local ingredients. Offerings include dishes like a generous Mediterranean platter, salads, sandwiches, some pastas, special options for the bambini, and alcoholic beverages for parents. No reservations are required, but if you feel like having “Tea by the Sea” on a Thursday or Saturday at 1:00 p.m., making reservations is recommended.
7. Art Odyssey: On Saturdays from 11-11:30 a.m., the Villa gives you and your family the opportunity to explore the monsters, gods and goddesses, and famous heroes of antiquity in a more interactive fashion than your traditional museum tour. Led by a Villa educator, the Art Odyssey program incorporates fun family teamwork to create a very informative and educational museum experience. Be sure to sign up 15 minutes before the tour starts, and meet your group at the Tour Meeting Place.
8. Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theatre: Outdoor views from the café look out on to the Villa’s gorgeous outdoor amphitheater. Classical dramas are performed here during the summer, and it is an excellent location to soak up some sunshine even when performances aren’t in progress.
9. Auditorium: Just across from the store lies the Getty Villa’s indoor auditorium. Upon entering, you’ll be met by an impressive Roman mosaic floor portraying Medusa, which has now been mounted on the wall. The auditorium is the site for a variety of performances and lectures throughout the year, so be sure to check out the Villa’s event calendar before your trip to find out if there’s a performance in particular that might be of interest to your family.
10. Museum Store: At the bottom of the amphitheater and to the right is the merchandise hub of the Villa. Items include everything from fun postcards to fine jewelry and how-to children’s books. We were particularly fond of the “Build Your Own Kaleidoscope” handbook. If you don’t feel like splurging on some of the pricier publications, in-depth information on classical antiquity can also be found in the Reading Room, located on the upper level of the museum among the changing exhibitions.