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The Tallest Buildings in California
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The Tallest Buildings in California

If these towering skyscrapers have made an impression on you from afar, wait till you see them up close; they’re truly a feast for the eyes.

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5 min read

September 27, 2021

California’s natural landmarks are definitely its most dazzling features, but its architectural marvels come at a close second. The tallest buildings in California—mostly concentrated in Los Angeles and San Francisco—are not amongst the world's tallest due to the state’s active earthquake zones, but a few do make it on the top 60 list. If these towering skyscrapers have made an impression on you from afar, wait till you see them up close; they’re truly a feast for the eyes.

All of the buildings and structures taller than 500 feet are located in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Tallest Buildings in California

The mid-century movement in Palm Springs, Spanish red-tile roofs in Santa Barbara, and more prominent features and patterns have made California a trailblazer in the world of architecture. While skyscrapers aren’t the first thing that come to mind when you think of the Golden State, the significance of these noteworthy buildings cannot be overlooked. Go on a little road trip to discover the tallest buildings in California and see their grandiosity in person. Heads up, an Alice in Wonderland “Drink Me” potion is about to hit you in full effect. 

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The Wilshire Grand Center is the tallest structure in the Los Angeles skyline, adding to the rich cultural and economic revival of downtown.

1. Wilshire Grand Center

Location: Los Angeles
Height: 1,100 feet

Topped out in 2016 and officially opened in June 2017, the Wilshire Grand Center is the tallest building in Los Angeles and on the West Coast. This grand structure is located in the Financial District of Downtown Los Angeles and includes observation decks, a shopping mall, office complexes, and the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel from floors 31 to 73. Wish to admire the views from the top? Head up to Spire 73—the tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere.

Upon its completion in 2018, the Salesforce Tower became the tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline with a top roof height of 970 feet.

2. Salesforce Tower

Location: San Francisco
Height: 1,070 feet

Standing just a few feet shorter than Wilshire Grand Center, the second tallest building in California is the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. In fact, if the decorative spires at the top of the Wilshire are excluded, the Salesforce Tower actually stands taller. Formerly known as Transbay Tower, this eye-catching skyscraper is a mix of office, transportation, retail, and residential spaces—it’s also the last project designed by iconic architect César Pelli to be completed in his lifetime.

U.S. Bank Tower is one of the most recognizable buildings in Los Angeles, and often appears in establishing shots for the city in films and TV shows.

3. U.S. Bank Tower

Location: Los Angeles
Height: 1,018 feet

The U.S. Bank Tower, also known as the Library Tower and formerly as the First Interstate Bank World Center, is another one of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles, California. The tower is the only one in the state with a roof that exceeds 1,000 feet. If you think this building looks very familiar without having seen it in person yet, it’s because it often appears in establishing shots for Los Angeles in films and TV.

Aon Center is the third tallest building in Los Angeles, the fourth tallest in California, and the 58th tallest in the United States.

4. Aon Center

Location: Los Angeles
Height: 858 feet

The Aon Center was the tallest building constructed in Los Angeles back in the 1970s. While many other skyscrapers have grown taller than this 62-story Modernist office in California, it’s still quite a remarkable sight to see. Sadly, the most prominent event in the building’s history is a 1988 fire that began on the 12th floor and destroyed about five floors, causing severe injuries, a death, and about $400 million in damages. Following this incident in one of the tallest buildings in California, codes were modified and all high-rises in L.A. were required to be equipped with fire sprinklers moving forward.

Designed by architect William Pereira and built by Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company, the Transamerica Pyramid stands at 853 feet.

5. Transamerica Pyramid

Location: San Francisco
Height: 853 feet

As a 48-story futuristic skyscraper, the second tallest building in San Francisco’s skyline, and the eighth tallest building in the world at the time of its completion, the Transamerica Pyramid is iconic in more than one way. While it was commissioned to be built by the then Transamerica CEO, the building no longer houses the headquarters of the corporation. However, the building is still associated with the company since it’s depicted on its logo.

6. 555 California Street

Location: San Francisco
Height: 779 feet

555 California Street, formerly known as Bank of America Center and colloquially referred to as “Triple Five” or “Triple Nickel,” was the tallest building constructed in S.F. in the 1960s and currently, the sixth tallest building in California. Apparently, the building was designed to display the wealth, power, and importance of Bank of America. That concept struck a chord with many film and TV producers considering how many appearances it has made—Dirty Harry, Towering Inferno, and An Eye for an Eye to name a few.

Two California Plaza is a 751-foot skyscraper located in the Bunker Hill District of Downtown Los Angeles.

7. Two California Plaza

Location: Los Angeles
Height: 750 feet

The seventh tallest building in Los Angeles is part of the California Plaza project, which consists of two unique skyscrapers, One California Plaza (the 24th tallest building in California) and Two California Plaza. There’s a lot to do and see inside this towering structure—the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Los Angeles Omni Hotel, and Colburn School of Performing Arts are just a few examples.

8. Gas Company Tower

Location: Los Angeles
Height: 749 feet

The Gas Company Tower is a beautiful skyscraper on Bunker Hill in D.T.L.A., located on the north side of Fifth Street between Olive Street and Grand Avenue, across the Biltmore Hotel. Not only is the Gas Company Tower impressive for being one of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles, California, but it’s also considered a class-A office building, with plenty of high-end tenants occupying its spaces.

Sutro Tower is the second tallest structure in S.F. by ground-to-tip height, though its mountain location overlooks the city's downtown skyscrapers.

Honorable mentions

Sutro Tower

Location: San Francisco
Height: 977 feet

While the Sutro Tower stands at a prominent 977 feet, it doesn’t make the official list of tallest buildings in California because it technically isn’t one. However, it is, in fact, the tallest tower in California, rising on a hill between Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro near Clarendon Heights. Since Sutro Tower sits atop a hill, it actually reaches a massive height of 1,814 feet above sea level.

One America Plaza

Location: San Diego
Height: 500 feet

While One America Plaza only shows up on the list of the tallest buildings in California as entry number 43, it deserves a shoutout for being the tallest building in the state outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco. As the tallest building in San Diego, One America Plaza is a prominent landmark in the waterfront district of Downtown San Diego and a pretty striking structure to see in general.

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