A view from above the outer peristyle at
Robyn Beck  /  AFP-Getty Images file
A view from above the outer peristyle at the Getty Villa Jan. 24, 2006 in Malibu, Calif. The villa reopened to the public after an eight-year, $275 million renovation.
By Travel writer
Special to msnbc.com
updated 8/4/2006 11:49:17 AM ET 2006-08-04T15:49:17

Los Angeles has always been about reinvention. Under the Southern California sky, Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe; the Queen Mary became a Long Beach hotel, and a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim became The Happiest Place on Earth.

These days, the L.A. area is undergoing another renaissance of reinvention. From the reopening of the Getty Villa in January 2006 to the unveiling of the restored Griffith Observatory this fall, there are plenty of reasons to reimagine your next visit. Here’s a look at what’s new, improved, and about to debut in L.A.

Griffith Observatory (www.griffithobs.org/)
Set on the southern slope of Mt. Hollywood, in Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory is expected to reopen between October and December after a four-year closure and $93-million renovation. When it does, it will offer an updated experience at one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Opened in 1935, the facility has long been famous for its rooftop telescope, planetarium shows, and astronomy exhibits, with almost 2 million visitors passing through its doors each year. Millions more enjoyed the surrounding grounds, snapping pictures of the Los Angeles basin, the nearby Hollywood sign, and the on-site bust of James Dean. (Several scenes in Rebel Without a Cause were shot here.)

The renovated Observatory will feature a revamped planetarium with the latest projection technology; expanded galleries with 60 new exhibits; and a 200-seat presentation hall known as the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater. (Mr. Spock’s alter ego is a big donor.) A small restaurant -- the Café at the End of the Universe -- will be available to fill any gustatory black holes.

Slideshow: City of Angels In the meantime, a satellite facility in the park offers a telescope, mini-planetarium, and assorted astronomy exhibits. Admission is free. For more information on current offerings, call (323) 664-1181; for recorded information on the renovation, call (323) 664-0155.

Getty Villa (www.getty.edu/)
While the renovated Griffith Observatory will provide an updated view of the heavens, the Getty Villa, in Pacific Palisades, offers a fresh look at ancient history. Closed since 1997, the museum reopened in January 2006 as a showcase for Roman, Greek, and Etruscan antiquities.

The collection itself -- more than 1,200 pieces on display in 28 galleries -- is all the more impressive thanks to the building itself, which has been reimagined as an artifact in an archeological excavation. The cut-into-the-canyon entry, strata-inspired walls, and terrazzo floors subtly underscore the museum’s original inspiration, a 1st-century Roman villa buried in ash when Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.

Inside, visitors enter a sky-lit atrium and column-lined courtyard surrounded by galleries. Large windows bathe the artifacts in natural light, while outdoor walkways and adjacent gardens provide an al fresco link between the galleries and the great outdoors. Gaze at the nearby Pacific through the surrounding olive trees, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at the Bay of Naples.

The renovated museum also features a 450-seat outdoor amphitheater designed for classical plays and performances. Modeled after those of ancient Rome, the venue will offer its inaugural production, a new adaptation of Euripides’ classic drama Hippolytos, this September.

Admission to the Getty Villa is free, although advanced, timed tickets are required. Parking is $7 per car. Tickets for Hippolytos are $38 with performances presented Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, September 7–23. For more information, call (310) 440-7300.

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The Huntington (www.huntington.org/)
First opened to the public in 1928, the Huntington, near Pasadena, is justly famous for its collection of rare books, impressive art collection, and lush botanical gardens. This summer, visitors can get a preview of the facility’s latest addition, a classic Chinese Garden that will open as a “work in progress” on August 5.

During the preview period, visitors will be able to stroll amid a 1.5-acre lake, canyon waterfall, and hand-carved stone bridges modeled after the traditional “scholar gardens” of Suzhou, China. Eventually, the garden will feature a tea house, pavilions, and 12 acres of “poetic views,” making it the largest of The Huntington’s 13 botanical gardens.

Alas, the preview period will end in February 2007 with second-stage construction expected to continue until fall 2008. Admission, which includes access to the library, galleries, and gardens, is $15. For more information, call: (626) 405-2100.

And keep in mind that the above offer only a glimpse of what’s new or about to debut in Los Angeles. From the urban-renewal renaissance currently remaking downtown to the slew of new museums and theaters projected to open next year, the rebuilding, refashioning, and reimagining will remain an ongoing affair.

In the meantime, you should be able to pick up plenty of information about what’s going on at the Visitor Information Center, which you’ll find next door to the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s set to make its own debut sometime in August.

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