Getty museums raise parking fees: Still the best bargain in L.A.

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The magnificent museums glittering atop the Santa Monica Mountains and alongside Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu just got a little harder to access. The crown jewels of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Getty Museum and the Getty Villa, have been open to the public for free, less a $10 parking fee.

But with the Trust's $4.2 billion endowment badly dented by the financial crisis -- it lost 27% in the last fiscal year -- cost-cutting measures have had to take place even in these rarified halls. The museums are still free and open to the public, but parking will now set you back $15. The increase will go into effect July 1.

Critics say this is tantamount to an admission fee, and will prevent lower-income families from visiting the sites, which highlight treasures from the Getty's vast art collection. With virtually no public transportation available to either of these sites, visitors have to drive. Space is so tight at the Getty Villa, reservations are required.

I was just at the Getty Villa, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, a few weeks ago, on one of those crystal-clear, 70-degree days that makes everybody want to move here. And I have to tell you that even with parking at $15, it's the best bargain in town.

The buildings themselves are architectural wonders, where no expense was spared. Breathtaking views and spotless grounds, you feel as though you've entered a private park. The Getty Museum, built in Italian limestone in the Santa Monica Mountains is particularly family friendly, with hands-on exhibits geared toward children and gardens and fountains and wide staircases kids can't resist. The cafeteria even sells peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (among other, more grown-up delicacies). I often drive up on a Sunday just to run the kids, who love the place. The parking fee is a small price to pay. Ridiculously, small, actually, considering I could spend upwards of $300 getting us all into Disneyland.

And I haven't even mentioned the art yet.

A service rep at the Getty told me food prices were expected to stay the same, and that no other increases in cost to visitors were expected at this time. And the parking fee is per car, so if you can get all your kids and in-laws into the vehicle, you're still only paying $15. And for a day of beauty and art, that's a small price to pay.
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