Lost in a labyrinth of lights, encased in a giant latticework of black aluminum and standing outdoors under a massive rock formation, I felt like Alice in Wonderland in an oversized world.

I was actually walking through and under several new installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Chris Burden's "Urban Light," made of 212 cast-iron lampposts powered by solar energy, forms a beacon of light at night on Wilshire Boulevard, while in the main Ahmanson Pavilion, artist Tony Smith's "Smoke" encases its visitors in a giant hexagonal sculpture.

Michael Heizer's ambitious "Levitated Mass," a monolithic rock, creates an archway on the museum's 20-acre campus.

LACMA, which already attracts about 1 million visitors yearly, is undergoing a major 10-year expansion called Transformation. The newest addition, Resnick Pavilion, is the only naturally lit open-plan museum space in the world.

It's one of many transformations taking place in the greater Los Angeles area, which is a real haven for world-class art and design. The region's arts world -- 105 museums strong -- is bursting with renovations, new construction and a strong lineup of shows for 2013. Here is what we are finding new and noteworthy:

Building the Broad

In downtown L.A., the much-anticipated Broad Museum is under construction and slated to open in 2014 with about 2,000 works of contemporary art collected by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. This three-level, 120,000-square-foot space was designed by the world-renowned architects of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Details: www.broadartfoundation.org.

A cultural gem

Across from Union Station stands the city's newest museum, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which is free and a must. The museum takes up two historic buildings next to the first church of Los Angeles (dating back to the late 1700s). Touching testimonials took me on an insightful journey into L.A.'s Mexican-American culture. Every visitor has a chance to have his or her story become part of the living history at this museum, too, by entering the electronic contribution booth where one's photo is taken along with an oral history. This information is transferred to an enormous mosaic touch screen that can be accessed instantly.

Details: www.lapca.org

Coming to LACMA

LACMA is the largest encyclopedic art museum in the Western United States, with 150,000 art pieces spanning prehistoric to the present. It has the most extensive Korean art collection outside of Korea and some of the world's finest Islamic art. The museum also contains an enormous costume and textile collection dating to 100 B.C., which includes the historic Ardabil Carpet, a masterpiece of Iranian craftsmanship, and a vast 18th- and 19th-century European costume collection.

  • Through Aug. 4, visitors can view "Ends and Exits," contemporary art of the 1980s from the LACMA and Broad Art Foundation collections.

    At LACMA in Los Angeles, artist Tony Smith’s "Smoke," a hexagonal black latticework art structure, hangs over visitors.
    At LACMA in Los Angeles, artist Tony Smith's "Smoke," a hexagonal black latticework art structure, hangs over visitors. (Beverly Mann)

  • From March 3 to June 2, a special exhibition of "Ming Masterpieces From the Shanghai Museum" will include 10 artworks of early Ming dynasty court paintings executed in the 15th and early 16th centuries in the Forbidden City.

  • "Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks From the Royal Museum for Central Africa" runs from July 7 through January 2014 and will feature the richness of the Luba people's cultural legacy from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

    Details: www.lacma.org

    Architecture at the MOCA

    Across from the Broad stands the Museum of Contemporary Art, with one of the finest collections of contemporary art in North America -- from abstract expressionism to pop art, from both established and emerging artists. MOCA will celebrate its 35th anniversary in early 2014.

  • Its upcoming exhibition, "A New Sculpturalism," running from June 2 to Sept. 2, will tout the contemporary architecture of Southern California. This is the first extensive examination of L.A. architecture from the 1980s to the present day.

    Details: www.moca.org

    Getty look-ahead

    A modernistic creation of architect Richard Meier, the 110-acre Getty Center highlights both nature and culture with sweeping views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.

    Some works by great European artists will be making first-time appearances this year:

  • On exhibit now is a Dutch masterpiece, Johannes Vermeer's "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter." The painting, on loan from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, will be on view through March 31.

  • From March 5 to June 9, Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens' work and his fascination with Asia will be presented in "Looking East: Rubens' Encounter With Asia."

    Two upcoming exhibitions will highlight Los Angeles and its storied past:

  • "Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990" will chronicle Los Angeles' evolution into one of the most populous and influential industrial, economic and creative capitals in the world. It's on exhibit from April 9 to July 21.

  • "In Focus: Ed Ruscha," running from April 9 to Sept. 29, will display works of this iconic pop-art photographer, emphasizing his largest influences: Los Angeles and Southern California.

    Details: www.getty.edu

    Greats at the Norton Simon

    The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, a 30-minute ride from downtown Los Angeles, has an astounding private collection of 12,000 objects of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, from Rembrandt and Rubens to Van Gogh, Goya and Picasso. Included are more than 100 works by Degas.

    There is a separate collection of South Asian art spanning 2,000 years.

    I enjoyed sitting at the outdoor cafe and sculpture garden with its Japanese-style pond and admiring works of Maillol, Moore and Brancusi.

    Details: www.nortonsimon.org

    New Korean gallery

    L.A.'s smaller, more specialized museums are equally as impressive -- particularly Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum, one of the few art venues in the United States dedicated exclusively to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

    The new Gallery of Korean Art just opened in October.

    Two upcoming exhibitions feature Japanese art:

  • From April 5 to March 30, 2014, "Focus on the Subject: The Art of the Harari Collection" will highlight how Japanese painters and artisans admired the beauty of landscapes, poetry and tea ceremonies.

  • The contemporary photography of artist Takashi Tomo-oka will be showcased from April 19 to July 28. His nontraditional technique uses a digital camera with plants as the main subject.

    Details: www.pacificasiamuseum.org

    Focus on California

    Around the corner sits the cozy Pasadena Museum of California Art, which explores the evolution of California artists and designers.

  • From March 10 to July 28, the exhibition "California Scene Paintings From 1930 to 1960" will document this period in California history through works that depict local city and rural scenes, particularly in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    Details: www.pmcaonline.org

    Huntington renovations

    In San Marino, next door to Pasadena, I explored the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, with its newly renovated European gallery of 18th- and 19th-century British and French art. Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy" and Lawrence's "Pinkie" are on view here.

    This historic library is undergoing a major renovation until the fall of 2013, but its world treasures -- one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, the earliest manuscript of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and rare early editions of William Shakespeare's work -- remain on view.

  • A current exhibit, running through April 15, is "Maurice Merlin and the American Scene (1930-1947)." This is the first exhibition to focus on this under-recognized Depression-era artist, with about 30 paintings, watercolors and prints, including some works of other artists in his circle.

    Most impressive, though, are more than a dozen gardens covering 120 of the 207 acres, including the spectacular Desert, Japanese and Rose gardens. The new Chinese Garden is also worth a visit.

    I could have spent the entire day just roaming this wonderland of flowers and foliage, which would have made Alice truly envious.

    Details: www.huntington.org

    Contact Beverly Mann via travel@bayareanewsgroup.com.

    'Discover the Arts' in L.A.

    For the annual "Discover the Arts" program, about 50 cultural, visual and performing institutions throughout Los Angeles will offer discounted prices to visitors. The promotion, co-sponsored by Wells Fargo, runs through April 30. For details, go to www.discoverlosangeles.com.

    IF YOU GO

    Where to stay:
    These Hollywood hotels are near the Metro subway, which will take you to downtown museums and close to Highway 101 for the drive to Pasadena museums:
    Loews Hollywood Hotel, which is getting a $26 million renovation this spring. 1755 N. Highland Ave. www.loewshotels.com.
    W Hollywood, 6250 Hollywood Blvd. www.whollywoodhotel.com.
    Where to eat:
    LACMA, MOCA, the Norton and the Huntington all have outdoor cafes to enjoy both the scenery and surrounding art. This includes LACMA's new Ray's and Stark Bar.
    Sadie Kitchen and Lounge serves creative fare. Dinner only. 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave., Los Angeles. 323-467-0200; www.sadiela.com.
    Tortilla Republic is a popular new Mexican grill and margarita bar with an island twist. 616 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. 310-657-9888; http://tortillarepublic.com.
    More arts info:
    Check out www.discoverlosangeles.com.

    -- Beverly Mann