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A visual feast for a bargain

By Paul Vercammen, CNN
The Getty Center combines stunning design with an impressive collection of art.
The Getty Center combines stunning design with an impressive collection of art.
  • Getty Center offers look at art masterpieces with no admission
  • Los Angeles museum charges $15 for parking, $5 for audio guide
  • In addition to art on the inside Getty offers beautiful design on the outside
  • Getty Center
  • Los Angeles
  • Museums

(CNN) -- The visit begins with a 4,000-foot climb in a tram.

Once you arrive at the hilltop Getty Center, the summit is filled with Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Monet and an eye-popping view of Los Angeles.

So many treks to Southern California landmarks can reach pay-check busting proportions, but the Getty is sort of a cultural amusement park with few costs attached.

"It's less than the movies," said Whittier, California resident Javier Ramirez. "I like to go to the café, enjoy the view and visit piece by piece. You don't have to see everything at once."

There's no admission charge for the Getty Center, just a $15 parking fee per car. Parking is free after 5 p.m. on Saturdays when the museum is open until 9 and for special evening events.

The cost of parking can also be eliminated by taking the bus, Los Angeles Metro Rapid Line 761, which stops at the main gate.

"We went to the Queen Mary yesterday and we spent at least $120," said Elena Mack, a visitor from Guatemala touring the Getty Center with her husband and four children. "Today we are really enjoying this. It's a beautiful place and the kids really like the audiotape."

The Getty Center's audio tours cost $5 and give details and analysis about specific pieces and artists.

"You get this overall impression of intensity," the tape explains about the Van Gogh masterpiece "Irises." Up close, the thick blue-green paint jumps off the canvass. Visitors seemed entranced, lost in the garden. Van Gogh wanted to show us "the power and beauty of nature," the audio narration says.

Across the way, Sheila Clarkson took in the visual calm of one of her favorite paintings, "The Bridge over the Water Lily Pond" by Claude Monet.

"I'm really surprised this place is free," Clarkson said. "Because most of the stuff in L.A. isn't free and that's kind of been getting me down."

Beyond the great paintings, the Getty Center offers a children's drawing room and a complex that is a work of art in itself.

The center was designed by architect Richard Meier, who intended to interlock nature and culture. Everything here seems to glow beneath a halo, as 1.2 million square feet of beige Italian travertine make up its walls and reflect light.

Many of those stones from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, 15 miles east of Rome, are marked with fossilized, feathers, leaves and branches.

Almost everywhere you turn at the Getty Center, there's another visual experience. The vast Central Garden features a walkway through the flora and next to a pond featuring a floating maze of azaleas.

Weaving through the garden and the exhibits, strolling outside to revel in the vistas, the Getty Center offers a stunning way to take in priceless art for a bargain.