Getting Away to LA, Part 1

Even though a serious hip injury's left me hobbling all summer, I decided to stick with our planned getaway this past weekend. Accustomed to traveling extensively with my old job, I was going a little stir crazy being stuck at home. Plus, it's been five years since we moved to Southern California, which is far too long to not be properly introduced to our northern neighbor.

I'd done the whole Hollywood tourist thing years ago while visiting my parents, then living in Huntington Beach. So, first stop was the more high-browed J. Paul Getty Center, a cultural facility full of surprises.

First, it's free. Parking at the base of the hill will set you back $7 -- a steal by Southern California standards. But there is no admission. From the parking structure, you take a 10-minute tram ride to the top of the hill for a full course of famous paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, music, architecture, food, family art projects and gardens. The view (like that in the picture above) also is something to savor.

For another, it's deceptive. Instead of one large museum with multiple "wings," the place is broken up into several two-story pavilions, where paintings are on the top floor and everything else -- including photography and special exhibits -- are on ground level. Wheelchairs for those who run marathons on fractured bones are free, but I figured we'd be done in a couple of hours, so I stuck with my crutches. Five hours later, we were still at it.

Finally, the access is awesome. There are no obvious alarms, no rope barriers between you and the art. Just some hawk-eyed docents in every room to keep you from touching the exhibits. As such, you can walk right up to a Monet or Van Gogh and be inches from each brushstroke. The effect is truly amazing.

Another surprise: the gardens. Again, you can walk up and touch all the flora and fauna that comprise museum sections like the ones photographed here, in the central garden.

We took a breather in the shade of these bougainvilla "trees" that were quite a conversation piece among green-thumbs. First of all, these ubiquitous plants are a bush, but the grounds crew took rebar -- normally used to reinforce flooring in skyscrapers -- to create stalks upon which the flowing branches grow up and outward.

My husband swore he was having a good time. His expression says otherwise. Or could it be this was the 20th picture I'd demanded he be in. ("Wait, stand here and let me take a picture...No, wait, one more -- over here!...")

An unexpected find: An inactive, artificial waterfall and basin built into the base of a stone terrace. The water would otherwise travel down to a stream that emptied into a pond and maze.

As I mentioned before, we were there far longer than I expected. With every exhibit, I wanted to see more. But 90 minutes after a quick, cool lunch break, my wrists ached to the point I needed to give it a real rest before heading out for a night on the town. We hit the 405 freeway with two pavilions left unexplored. Below was the traffic scene as we made our way to our next destination. Guess which direction we were heading in.

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