Visiting the Getty Villa with Kids: What You Need to Know Before You Go
The Getty Villa in Malibu is one of the most beautiful spots in the whole greater Los Angeles area. The Villa is a re-creation of a Roman country house—and the original home of the Getty Museum, which has since moved to its tram-accessible perch above the 405. It's filled with a spectacular collection of ancient art and statues, spilling into gorgeous gardens, and is located right by the ocean for incredible views that make you think you've been magically transported to the middle of the Mediterranean.
If all of this makes it sound like a grown-ups-only space, that's not the case at all. With room to run and smell the herbs, fruits, and veggies growing in the garden; a magical pool to linger by; 3D art to entertain; a Percy Jackson-inspired self-guided tour; and so much more, this is one of my kids' favorite museums in town. Armed with these tips and tricks for when to visit, what to see, and even what to eat, the Getty Villa will quickly become your family's favorite local destination, too.
For guides to other favorite museums for kids in the LA area, including Kidspace in Pasadena and Pretend City in Irvine, check out our Museum Guide for Kids in Los Angeles and Orange County.
Getty Villa photo by Elon Schoenholz, © J. Paul Getty Trust
Why the Getty Villa is an Awesome Family Destination
There's nothing like the Getty Villa —it's one of the best places to visit in all of Southern California. Even if you're not interested in ancient relics, or your kids are too young to appreciate frescoes, the buildings and grounds are magical, and it's a little bit like living history—it's a recreation of a Roman villa, and you can see the different way people lived in ancient Rome, with a home that flowed from indoors to outdoors; perfect for our LA weather. You get a little of everything: art, architecture, and nature. The size of the museum is just right for little feet and short legs, and it's never crowded. It's not only the perfect place to take visiting guests to help them appreciate why the premium we pay to live in LA (not to mention the traffic) is actually worth it, it's a perfect family getaway for a day. You just might be surprised how many things here captivate kids, from the mummy room to the sensory overload that is the herb garden
The Getty Villa's Exhibits and Architecture
There are permanent and changing exhibits at the Villa throughout the year. Some of the permanent collection includes Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating as far back as 6500 BC. Babies are welcome in front carriers and strollers; curious littles will enjoy hunting for clues with their Art Detective Cards; older kids will be fascinated by the colorful Roman mummies. Don’t miss the jewels and the incredible room filled with delicate glass artifacts that have somehow survived centuries.
As for the rotating exhibits, those are usually found on the second floor. Exhibits are all small enough to whisk kids through before they get bored, while still giving adults enough time to see everything.
Ducks and geese love the pool and fountain in the garden as much as the kids!
The Getty Villa's Gardens and Grounds
The Villa's four gardens are all great for families. Wander around the reflecting pool in the Outer Peristyle—children are fascinated and occupied by the low hedges planted in maze-like formations, and by saying hi to the ducks and geese that often visit to paddle around the pool.
Find the Herb Garden and enjoy the scents of herbs and flowers including basil, thyme, lavender, and chamomile. Run through the grape arbors and stop and visit with the koi.
The Inner Peristyle is a quiet spot with sculptures and fountains. The Ionic columns are based on the House of the Colored Capitals in Pompeii, and provide an opening to talk about the Roman city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Finally, the East Garden is a small, colorful nook with splashing fountains and a huge mosaic wall framed by theatrical masks.
Don't underestimate the kid-friendly fun to be had at the outdoor 500-seat amphitheater. It is a large space where you can sit quietly or move around noisily—your small ones will be happy to climb and explore the steps, or jump and dance around the stage area, all within your sight. They're even within your sight from the outdoor eating area at the top of the amphitheater, where you can relax with a glass of wine or coffee, while kids blow off steam.
Plan to come on a day when family workshops are offered.
Special Events and Activities at the Getty Villa for Kids
Scavenger Hunts at the Getty Villa
Pick up Art Detective Cards (available in English and Spanish) at the Entry Pavilion and guide the family through the museum looking for answers to trivia questions about the grounds, the architecture, and ongoing exhibits. Look around, there are amazing details on the floors and ceilings. The cards change from time to time; at our last visit, the museum still had one of the most popular iterations of the cards, encouraging kids to look for and learn about myths and characters they may be familiar with from the Percy Jackson books.
Depending on your family's interests, there are also tours of the exhibitions, architecture, and gardens. A private company called Watson's Adventures has created scavenger hunts for various venues, including the Getty Villa; check out the version for kids over 7.
Performances and Workshops
On Saturdays from 11 am - 3 pm, families can participate in hands-on, activities and workshops which are influenced by whatever the rotating exhibit might be. Keep an eye out for special Family Days, too.
The Villa amphitheater and auditorium are regularly the sites of performances, concerts, and lectures; most are best for teens and up. (It's the Getty Center that has more family-friendly concerts for kids.)
The Family Room
The Getty Villa Family Room, still closed due to Covid, has long been a wonderful, hands-on experience for little kids with craft projects that coincide with current exhibits and docents who are enthusiastic and sweet. Keep an eye open for re-opening dates, it's one of the coolest and most unique family centers you'll find in a grown-up art museum anywhere in the world.
Tea by the Sea features ingredients grown at the Villa. Photo courtesy of the Getty Villa, © J. Paul Getty Trust
Eating at the Getty Villa with Kids
Dining options are good for whatever you like: coffee cart, Mediterranean cafe, and box lunches. The cafe serves soups, salads, burgers, and pizza, as well as small plates of Charcuterie, hummus and pita, and desserts. Order indoors, but unless it's raining, plan to eat outdoors with stunning views of the Villa and the sea. Wine and beer are available at the cafe. At the coffee cart you can order coffee, tea, and hot chocolates along with pastries and chips. On the lower level (the ground floor of the museum), there are picnic tables and vending machines; families are welcome to bring food and picnic, though eating and is not allowed in the museum or the gardens.
Tea By the Sea, available on Thursdays and Sundays with a reservation, is an event all by itself, where you are served Afternoon Tea filled with foods inspired by those grown at the Villa.
Strike a pose like the statues scattered throughout the gardens and in the museum.
Make a Day of It
If you don't want to eat at the Villa, or need a second dining spot for dinner, Gladstones or Duke's Malibu are right on the PCH and both offer kid-friendly menus with ocean views where you can often watch dolphins frolic while dining. You can also head right up the PCH to Malibu Country Mart, where you can eat anything from coffee and smoothies and fast food to go, to sit down dining at Cafe Habana or Taverna Tony. You can also swing into the new Whole Foods for takeout, which you can eat at the little playground located behind the Country Mart.
If you're showing guests from out of town the villa, be sure to also take them to the Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum. This gorgeous beachside home offers docent-led tours on select dates and is a brief, fascinating, and beautiful museum to pair with a visit to the Villa. Kids will enjoy running around the grounds and meeting the wild bunnies that live there.
Who needs Italy when we've got the Getty Villa? Photo by Tahnee L. Cracchiola, © J. Paul Getty Trust
Know Before You Go
- Admission to the Getty Villa is free and timed-entry reservations are required for every visitor over 2 years old. Parking is $20, cards only, at the gate.
- The Getty Villa is closed on Tuesdays, and open all other days from 10am - 5pm.
- Don't forget to leave time to visit the Museum Shop; there's a fantastic section filled with things kids adore, including books, toys, and costumes. It's also a spectacular place to stock up on gifts for adult family members and friends.
- If you want to try to hit two Getty museums on the same day, make your reservations and pay for parking once! Great for when you have tourists in town and you're showing off the art and culture of LA.
- Strollers and wheelchairs are available for free rental on a first-come, first-served basis in the Entry Pavilion. The whole museum and all the grounds are extremely wheel-friendly, with ramps and elevators available for all buildings.
- Family restrooms have diaper-changing accommodations and a unisex stall. Restrooms are next to the Museum Store and at the tour bus drop-off area.
- Baby bottles are allowed in the galleries, but all other food or beverages are not.
All photos by Meghan Rose, courtesy of Mommy Poppins, unless otherwise indicated.