Los Angeles is a destination widely known for it’s perfect weather, endless coastal access, Hollywood glitz, and mind-bending traffic. But our city should also be regarded for other things, most especially the incredible variety of unique architecture that calls L.A. home. Whether it’s mansions in the hills built by architectural legends or skyscrapers that define the downtown skyline, there are many architectural attractions that even locals haven’t taken the time to investigate (and they should!).
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of some of these must-see landmarks and cool Los Angeles buildings for all the We Like L.A. readers out there. Hopefully this list will inspire you to explore, discover, and realize in the end that in Los Angeles there’s always more to uncover (if you know where to look!).
Enjoy the rundown!
The Bradbury Building
One of L.A.’s oldest commercial buildings and most unique spaces, The Bradbury is located at 304 S Broadway in downtown L.A. A visit to the interior is like stepping back in time over a hundred years seeing open cage elevators, marble flooring and stairs alongside the intricate iron rail details. Also, you may recognize the location from numerous feature films including Blade Runner and 500 Days of Summer.
First opened in 1935, the domed structure is one of L.A.’s most high profile Art Deco buildings. Visited by locals and tourists from all over the world, Griffith Observatory is a must-see for angelenos old and young alike. Located in Griffith Park, it’s popular for the variety of space, science related displays (which are free!), and incredible views of the L.A. skyline, the Hollywood sign and even the Pacific Ocean (if you’re there on a really clear day!). The Observatory w
Million Dollar Theater
Sitting directly across from the Bradbury Building in Downtown L.A., this building is one of the first movie palaces built in the U.S. during the 1920s. The theater was constructed by Sid Grumman, who was also the force behind Grumman’s Egyptian Theater and Grumman’s Chinese Theater, both located in Hollywood. Today, this building is just an empty space used for filming but occasionally screens fund-raising movies for the L.A. Conservancy.
Located in Beverly Hills at 201 Doheny Road, the Greystone Mansion is often overlooked since its tucked away in the hills. Built in 1927 by oil tycoon Eduard L. Doheny, this well preserved Beverly Hills mansion on 18.3 acres of land is uniquely historic site and the gorgeous gardens are some of the most exquisite in the city. The mansion’s interior can be viewed during private small group tours while the exterior grounds and garden are open to the public daily.
L.A. Central Branch Library
This is a downtown Los Angeles landmark and the mother branch of all public libraries in LA, an absolutely must see! The central library dates back to 1872, housing over six million book on it’s 8 floors. Perhaps the most significant design feature is the Grand Rotunda within the library that offers a mural depicting the history of California and a globe chandelier that is guaranteed to mesmerize you.
The Getty Villa
Off the Pacific Coast Highway, nestled in the hills of the Pacific Palisades overlooking the ocean is the Getty Villa, an art museum modeled after a first-century Roman country house, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy. The Getty Villa houses the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of approximately 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, including over 1,200 works in 23 galleries devoted to the permanent collection, and five additional galleries for changing exhibitions. Beyond that, a visit will include the incredible gardens, and a gorgeous view of the Pacific ocean. And of course if you love the villa, be sure to check out the Getty Center as well!
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Home to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, The Walt Disney Concert Hall is located on a hill in Downtown L.A. overlooking the Historic District. First opened in 2003 and designed by architect Frank Gehry in the style of deconstructivism, the building is not only one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world, but also visually stunning.
The LAX Theme Building
Built in the Googie architectural style from the 1960s, the key feature of the Theme Building is the two distinct overhead arches that light up the night sky. The building is the former home to Encounter Restaurant where many people were able to grab a bite before their flights while watching the planes take off but sadly the restaurant is closed forever and all that remains is the must-see building.
Eastern Columbia Building
Located at 849 S. Broadway, this thirteen story building in the Broadway Theater District of Downtown L.A. is a prime example of Art Deco architecture in LA, and particularly unique for the bright turquoise exterior. Although presently housing a collection of condominuims, you can still swing by to snap a photo from the outside.
This distinctive golf ball looking theater from the 1960s was designed specifically to present windscreen films, which back then was a new concept and design for movie theaters. The theater remains mostly unchanged till this day except for the improvements to the acoustics of the structure. The Cinerama Dome is located in Hollywood on Sunset Blvd near Vine and is one of the only three such structures in the world. Plus, if you visit it’s just another great excuse to see a movie!
Also known as La Miniatra, the Millard House is located in Pasadena and was built in 1923 and designed by iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the first of four houses he created in the“textile block” style in L.A. county between 1923 and 1924. In his autobiography, Wright mentions he tried to take the cheapest and ugliest materials to create something new. Today, this house has become one of LA’s most significant landmarks known and a great example of early 20th century American architecture.
This is another textile block house built by Wright that features patterned concrete blocks on both the interior and exterior of the structure, and was purportedly influenced by the design of ancient Mayan temples.
Also known as Case Study #8, this residential house is located at 203 North Chautauqua Boulevard in Pacific Palisades and is an example of modern architecture in L.A. It was one of about two dozen homes built as apart of The Case Study House Program between the 1940s and 1960s. The study was a challenge to create homes to express life in the modern developing world. Eames House was designed in 1945 and faced the challenge of not destroying the nearby meadow and to also be as efficient as possible, maximizing the use of minimal materials.
Stahl House aka Case Study House #22
Built in 1959, the Stahl House is a modernist style home and considered to be an iconic representation of modern L.A. architecture during the 20th century.
Also known as Malin House, this iconic landmark house was designed in 1960 by American architect John Lautne. This modernist house is particularly unique because of a 5ft wide concrete pole that is nearly thirty feet high holding up the 2200 square foot octagon shaped house. Once called “the most modern home built in the world” by the Encyclopedia Britannica, this structure has survived earthquakes and heavy rains that have destroyed many homes in Southern California over the years. Although privately owned, you can still swing by for a clear view of the exterior.
The Gamble House
This house is both a National and California Historic Landmark as well as an operating museum located in Pasadena. Originally created as a winter home, this house has become an iconic example of American Arts and Crafts architectural style with and infusion of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Both the interior and exterior of the house were taken into mind to create a space focused on the use of natural materials, great attention to detail, and craftsmanship. Not only is the house and example of this architectural style but the interior includes well-preserved furniture which can be viewed on one of the many tours offered. Also, this was Doc Brown’s 1950’s house in Back to the Future. 🙂
The Hollyhock House
Built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall and another one of Frank Lloyd Wrights creations, this house is located in East Hollywood and was commissioned years before Wright’s “textile block” constructions. The home is a great example of Wright’s attempt to create regionally specific southern California architecture. Wright himself referred to it as California Romanza, using a musical term meaning “freedom to make one’s own form”. Today the house is at the center of Bransdall Art park, complete with an art complex, a theater and beautiful gardens. As of writing of this article, The Hollyhock is closed for restoration, but worth checking out once it re-opens.
Did we miss your favorite building in Los Angeles? Let us know what local architectural landmarks you love (and that you recommend to visit!) in the comments below.