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The Most Iconic Buildings in California
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The Most Iconic Buildings in California

Check out the most iconic buildings in California along with the masterminds and history behind them.

Natasha Kouyoumjian

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4 min read

August 26, 2022

Disclaimer: California.com is not receiving any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Famous architects have long considered neighborhoods of California their home. From Los Angeles, to San Francisco and Marin County, they've sketched the skies with their creativity. Most of the most iconic buildings in California aren’t simply buildings, but carry a narrative, history, and purpose as well. What is most transcending about these establishments is the way they can take you on a visual journey through the diversity of architecture in California.

1. Transamerica Pyramid

Enjoy a view of the Transamerica Pyramid, from everywhere in San Francisco.

Location: 600 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Style: Futurist Architecture
Architect: William Leonard Pereira
Function: Office buildings – Computer Industry

If you’re ever in San Francisco and wondering what to see, then you must add this creation to your itinerary. As the second tallest building in San Francisco, the Transamerica Pyramid is 48-stories high and encompasses the entire San Francisco city block. Designed by William Pereira, this is one of the most recognizable California skyscrapers. The famous architect’s futuristic design is distinctively spotted from the city’s skyline with lights gleaming at the top of its narrow tower at night. With over 3,000 windows, the Transamerica Pyramid is an actual pyramid-shaped building with shimmering white quartz cladding. Its shape was accurately designed to allow ample natural light and airflow.

If you’re visiting the Painted Ladies of San Francisco from Alamo Square, you can easily spot this S.F. landmark, especially on a less foggy day. Completed in 1972, Transamerica Pyramic is one of the legendary buildings in California, summing up a cost of $32 million. Since it's an active office building, you may be denied access due to security reasons, but you can still get a look up close. The entrance to Redwood Park is located right at the bottom of the building. The park grants a quick esacpe to nature and away from the busy city streets. Visit in the daytime and enjoy a line of redwood trees imported and planted from the Santa Cruz mountains. Don’t miss out on the fountain and pond with the m impressive bronze sculpture – a tribute to Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calaveras” sitting beneath one of California’s tallest skyscrapers.

2. Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the most famous structures in Los Angeles.

Location: 111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Style: Deconstructivism
Architect: Frank Gehry
Function: Concert hall

As if Disney needed any more excuses to be admired. Passing by or just glancing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall will leave visitors awestruck. As a tribute to the legendary Walt Disney, architect Frank Gehry designed this unique structure inspired by deconstructivist architecture.

With a carefully designed acoustic setting, the construction was fully accomplished in 2003 and it immediately became one of the most famous buildings and concert halls in California. Home to a vast variety of concerts and events featuring an endless number of talented artists, the venue is also host to the spectacular Los Angeles Philharmonic. Curious about the interior? We don’t blame you. The interior is just as jaw-dropping as the exterior. By focusing on the three main elements of an ancient Greek stage, the halls will absolutely transport you into a magical experience when catching a show. The audience, orchestra, and skene are the most prominent components of the hall, drawing in more visitors to this building in California. At night, this divine formation indulges the passerby with a fashion show of colors – no wonder it cost $130 million.

3. Hearst Castle

Did you know that the pool of the Hearst Castle has served as a beautiful music video location for Lady Gaga?

Location: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
Style: Spanish Colonial Revival
Architect: Julia Morgan
Function: Museum

If we’re talking iconic architecture, we can't go far without noticing California's century-old beauty casually sitting in San Simeon. Hearst Castle, otherwise known as La Cuesta Encantada, was built between 1919 and 1947 by one of the most famous California architects. And yes, she was a woman. Named after William Randolph Hearst himself, the once lavish home now functions as a glamorous museum. If you’re ever in San Simeon, be sure to book a tour that will set you in a very different time and place – you can even book a night tour for an especially transportive experience!

4. Griffith Observatory

Make sure you check out the stars when you visit the Griffiths Observatory.

Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
Style: Art Deco, Greek
Architect: John C, Austin, Frederick M. Ashley
Function: Observatory

In addition to being one of the oldest buildings in California, this magnificent and elegant beast sleeps on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood. Embracing a view of the city to the southeast, you can easily spot the L.A. skyline and to the west, a refreshing vista of the Pacific Coast. We know you'll recall the Observatory that was featured in La La Land, where the co-stars sang and danced to “A Lovely Night”. Whether you’re a La La Land fan or not, this Art Deco structure will swoon you. The Observatory bears a vintage white shade and is recognizable by it rotund rooftops. Though it's tough choosing between this observatory and the national treasure that sits in Balboa Park, this site is definitely worth visiting – especially since its renovation cost a whopping $93 million.

5. Marin County Civic Center

Location: 3501 Civic Center Dr, San Rafael, CA 94903
Style: Modern Architecture
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Function: Miscellaneous

If you’re looking for the tallest buildings in California, there are plenty.  But there’s only one enormous Cruise-shaped construction sitting between three separate hills, waiting to blow your mind. The Marin County Civic Center was designed by none other than the visionary Frank Lloyd Wright. Ever been on a cruise? This man-made formation will make you feel like you are floating on the Pacific with its circular cut-out windows and balconies letting down golden spheres from their rooflines. Now hosting various functions, visual arts galleries, and the Marin County Fair Production, this Center is one of the most famous buildings in the state. Unfortunately, the ingenious Mr. Wright didn’t live to see his most iconic production materialize – but you'll find a tour by his name when you visit the center that does him justice.

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