If you live in LA or are planning to be here this summer, I would strongly recommend a visit to the newly renovated Getty Villa. It sits atop a small hill just off the PCH in Malibu, so close and yet so far away from the beach traffic down below. J. Paul Getty, flush with oil money, built this as a replica of a 2,000 yr old excavated Roman villa and filled it with his priceless collection of paintings and antiquities. The paintings (among the greats are Monet's Japanese Garden, one of the Haystacks and one of the Rouen Cathedral series - my favorite) have migrated to the new and wonderful Getty Center, which you should also put on your "to do" list, just for the architecture alone. What's left is an impressive (for a private collection) set of Greco-Roman statues, pottery, mosaics, etc, and several exquisite early-man artifacts, some 4.5 thousand years old.
This all sounds quite dry, unless you are an enthusiast of Greek pottery and old Roman busts, but believe me, it's a lovely experience. The grounds are shady and quiet, with gurgling fountains, the faint perfume of roses and the sun playing hopscotch on the mosaic floors. The collection itself is interesting enough and small enough not to become boring or overwhelming, but large and varied enough to keep your interest for an hour or two. The rest of the time you can spend wandering around the gardens, gazing at the ocean and having lunch at a cafe carved into the mountain, which makes you feel as if you are on the site of some extremely well preserved and beautiful Roman excavations.
We spent a couple of very peaceful hours ambling from one room to another, stopping to look at the pieces that happened to catch our eye, smelling one flower or another (ok, that was only me) and dipping our hands into the fountain. Then we stood on the terrace, away from the tourists, and let the ocean breeze cool us off (it was 90 degrees! Summer is officially here). It's a lovely legacy that the Getty family preserves for us, I must admit, and definitely one place I would love to take someone who thinks that LA is all glitz and glamor and Hollywood (*cough**New York people**cough*). Of course, one could argue that as a replica, the Getty Villa fits in with Hollywood perfectly. It's a paradox, but I think that we Angelinos wouldn't have it any other way.
I have to warn you, though -- you need tickets to get in. They are free, except for an $8 parking fee, but a ticket reservation is necessary at least a week in advance. When we drove in and presented our tickets, the security guard (who had the unmistakable whiff of an off-duty-cop) looked us over very doubtfully. "Just the two of you?" he asked, checking out our backseat, as if absolutely certain that we were smuggling some miscreants into the place. I said jokingly: "It's like Fort Knox in here!" He gave me a grim look that instantly silenced me. "I thought I heard something bumping in your trunk," he remarked accusingly. "Nothing but the two dead bodies," A. murmured, driving to the second check point.