Museum Hack: Your Best-Ever Afternoon at LACMA
With more than 128,000 pieces of art in their encyclopedic collection, it can be a task navigating a day at LACMA. Here are some tips from a local on how to best enjoy your outing.
What to See
After stopping for obligatory selfies in front of Chris Burden’s iconic cast iron street lamps known as Urban Light, be sure to check out the artist’s lesser-known but equally impressive Metropolis II, where every hour, approximately 1,000 toy cars race through the dense network of buildings, giving you a playful simulation of what it’s like to deal with L.A. traffic on a daily basis.
Fans of David Hockney will want to pull out their panoramic camera for the impressive, oversize “Mullholland Drive” on the second floor of the Art of the America’s building, where the artist illustrates the color and vibrancy of our city in his largest piece ever created, at nearly 21 feet long.
Angelenos are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Frank Gehry retrospective, where the influential L.A.-based architect’s sketches, some of which have never been seen by the public, will be on display starting September 13.
Where to Eat
Need a pick-me-up? Though C + M might seem like a simple museum coffee shop, they also offer a variety of fun vintage desserts and boozy milkshakes, perfect for refreshment on a hot L.A. afternoon.
Another under-the-radar dining experience at LACMA is the Cur-ATE series, where ArtBites founder Maite Gomez-Rejón connects the dots between food, history, and art by taking guests on a themed gallery tour that concludes with a four-course meal inspired by the evening’s art at Ray’s and Stark Bar. Upcoming themes include Savoring Surrealism, inspired by Salvador Dali’s cookbook “Les Diners De Gala,” and a German feast inspired by the LACMA’s collection of German art.
If you’d rather head outside Museum Row to one of the city’s coolest ethnic enclaves, just a few blocks down Fairfax is L.A.’s Little Ethiopia, where you’ll find dozens of darling restaurants serving up very vegan-friendly African stews on spongy injeera flatbread. It’s hard to play favorites, but Meals by Genet and Melkam are a must.
Thinking Outside The Frame
There’s plenty to do at LACMA beyond cruising the galleries themselves. If you’re a film buff, the weekly screenings put on by the Film Independent, oftentimes complete with actor and director Q&As, are worth checking into.
LACMA also offers free jazz in their courtyard every Friday evening, drawing locals and out-of-towners to listen to live music under the stars. Pull up a seat at the retro Stark Bar and sip one of their fantastic negronis while soaking it all in.
The museum is part of what’s known as Miracle Mile or Museum Row, so be sure to check out other galleries in the area, including the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the world’s most famous fossil localities that’s still a live excavation site. Even if you decide to stay outside the museum, you can walk through the Pleistocene Garden and peer into the massive tar pit, where you’ll see life-size replicas of extinct mammals depict the life that once roamed the Los Angeles Basin.
Also in Museum Row are smaller stops, like the Craft and Folk Art Museum, worth popping your head into for a peek, as well as the soon-to-reopen Peterson Automotive Museum, which will be back December 2015.
Where to Park
The underground parking at LACMA is $12, but if you’re planning on just popping by for a few hours or don't mind coming back to plug in coins, take advantage of the parking meters on 6th Street. They’re shaded under trees and have easy access to the backside of the museum, where Doug Prey’s “Levitated Mass” rock sits. Eventually, the new Purple Line extension will drop you right off in front of the museum, but for now a car is the best way to visit.
When to Go
There’s never really a bad time to go to the museum—except for Wednesdays, when it’s closed—but if you’re after a deal, know that all guests receive free general admission on the second Tuesday of every month, and on select holidays, such as Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, and Memorial Day. And if you take the Metro, you can get $2 off your admission price.
Krista Simmons is a culinary travel writer and native Angeleno; she covers the Southern California beat for Travel + Leisure. You can follow her adventures bite-by-bite on Instagram.