Note: Due to COVID-19 precautions in Los Angeles County, an indoor mask mandate reinstated in July remains in effect. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is required to wear a mask indoors. Museums in this article have taken additional precautions that include booking tickets in advance to ensure social distancing. Check museum websites as you plan your trip as rules are subject to change.
When it comes to American cities, it would be hard to find two more different than Seattle and Los Angeles. Growing up on the East Coast, I didn’t visit L.A. until I relocated from New York City to Seattle in my 20s — but it quickly became one of my favorite places to visit for a full vacation or a long weekend. With a slew of two-plus-hour direct flights from Seattle, it’s the perfect place to head when you’re craving a dose of vitamin D (or, in my case, incredible street food).
Aside from the wide variety of amazing international cuisines, my favorite thing about L.A. is its arts scene. From LACMA, the biggest art museum on the West Coast, to simply wandering the Arts District to enjoy the street art, I love being able to see everything from classic paintings by the world’s most renowned artists to quirky, fun murals.
For an arts-themed visit to Los Angeles, read on for details about each museum and the best way to navigate the streets of the Arts District.
Where to stay
For a splurge, it doesn’t get any better than Petit Ermitage, which is located on a quiet street in West Hollywood. In addition to the gorgeous rooms and first-rate amenities, including a rooftop saltwater pool, this hotel is basically an art lover’s heaven. It’s home to over 150 artworks by the likes of Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Abel Pierre Renault. The art is mainly from the hotel owner’s private collection, but it’s on view in the lobby and the hallways of each floor.
A more affordable but equally artistic option is Hotel Figueroa — and an added perk is that it’s located right in the Arts District. This boutique hotel focuses on highlighting the work of L.A.-based women artists. Name an artistic medium and you’ll find it at Hotel Figueroa. Between the hotel’s rotating exhibitions and creative programming, you’ll find photography, mixed media, paintings, sculptures and performance art. The recently redesigned hotel has an early California Mission style mixed with Moroccan and Mexican touches.
Art museums and more
The Getty Center is located on a 24-acre campus in the Santa Monica Mountains. The first time I visited The Getty, it was a warm and sunny November day, so I opted to spend a lot of time exploring the expansive grounds to take in the unique gardens (including a cactus garden), sculptures on terraces and balconies and picture-perfect views of the city. However, the art collection inside is not to be missed either, so I recommend carving out plenty of time for your Getty visit.
When you head indoors, you’ll find more than 1,000 works of art from the Renaissance era to the 20th century, including paintings, sculptures, decorative art and a rotating collection of photographs, drawings and manuscripts. The Getty’s permanent collection includes paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, Jan Brueghel, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Jackson Pollock and more. The Getty’s Center for Photographs holds what is considered one of the best photograph collections in the world. Notably, it includes photographs dating back to the 1830s, when the medium was first invented, as well as contemporary acquisitions from the 21st century.
Entry to the museum is free, but timed-entry reservations must be made in advance. Book your ticket on The Getty’s website. Due to limited capacity, it’s recommended to book as far in advance as possible.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has one of the most recognizable outdoor spaces in Los Angeles — the “Urban Light” sculpture by Chris Burden. Installed in 2008, it comprises restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. It looks great during the day, but of course it’s best after dusk when it lights up and stays lit until dawn.
LACMA houses 150,000 works of art, making it the largest art museum on the West Coast. The art collection includes works ranging from the ancient to the modern. Due to limited capacity, all visitors must reserve a timed-entry ticket in advance; tickets cannot be purchased on-site at this time. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $21 for students and seniors, and $10 for kids between the ages of 3 and 17.
Plan to eat lunch either before or after you tour LACMA. There are amazing food trucks parked right across the street every day of the week. The schedule rotates, but you can rest assured that you’ll be able to get an excellent lunch for under $10 on any day of the week. The food trucks are primarily authentic international cuisine; the last time I visited I struggled to choose among Mexican, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese.
The Broad, which opened in 2015, is a contemporary art museum that’s home to nearly 2,000 pieces of art including the work of Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein and more.
Like The Getty and LACMA, The Broad is temporarily requiring visitors to book timed tickets in advance. Tickets to the museum are free, but certain special exhibitions have a fee. One example of a wildly popular exhibition is Yayoi Kusama’s immersive “Infinity Mirrored Room.” It is temporarily closed but will reopen, so stay tuned.
Then, of course, there’s the Arts District itself, which is full of street art and small galleries everywhere you turn. Don’t miss the famous Hauser & Wirth gallery (or its bookshop). Upstairs at The Last Bookstore is the Spring Arts Collective, which houses galleries of five local artists: Andrea Bogdan, Jena Priebe, David Lovejoy, Liz Huston and Robin McGeough. (Each artist also has their own individual gallery or studio in the city, too.) I visited on a Saturday afternoon and lucked out because, unbeknownst to me at the time, all five artists are present between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
There’s no “right” way to tour the Art District’s street art because it’s ever-changing, but I recommend starting on South Alameda Street and then heading down to East Fourth Place and Merrick Street. Around the corner is Arts District Brewing; from there, go to South Hewitt Street. Be sure to visit Angel City Brewery even if it’s only to see the fun art, including Colette Miller’s angel wings, arguably the most popular street art to pose with for fun photos. Miller’s angel wings can be found at over 20 locations all over the city — so if you’re anything like me, you can take angelic shots at multiple spots.
The Arts District has no shortage of restaurants, but my favorite place to dine is Little Tokyo, which is a five-minute walk from the Arts District. Eat authentic ramen, sushi and other Japanese dishes at restaurants including Marugame Monzo Japanese Udon, Suehiro Cafe, Sushi Gen, Shin-Sen-Gumi and Kinjiro.