Don’t let the stocky skyline fool you: Los Angeles is full of beautiful buildings. We’d like to think that what we lose in height we make up for in diversity, from 18th-century missions to 21st-century institutions. Though it was no easy task, we narrowed down L.A.’s finest Googie gas stations, Art Deco towers and midcentury masterpieces to just 30 of our favorites. Of course, some of the city’s most dazzling designs are locked away behind wrought iron gates and hidden among the celebrity-filled hills—we decided instead to focus on buildings that you can feasibly visit or tour without raising any alarms.
Start the countdown to find out our picks for the 30 most beautiful buildings in Los Angeles, and when you’re finished, let us know if you agree or disagree, see what L.A.’s architecture experts had to say and scope out some of the city’s ugliest edifices.
The most beautiful buildings in L.A.
Paul J. Pelz, 1874
With all of the flak Los Angeles gets for being a hostile environment, we take solace in the fact that the city’s southernmost border greets the ocean with a humble, wood frame lighthouse from the 1800s. One of a half-dozen similar Victorian structures across the state, Point Fermin is like an idyllic East Coast export with all the natural beauty of the South Bay.
Arnold A. Weitzman, 1927
This Hollywood Hills fixture has barely changed over the decades—and that’s a good thing. The hotel still attracts the brazen and the beautiful, offers a quintessentially glamorous L.A. experience and promises its guests absolute discretion. There may be finer French-inspired chateaus, but none have quite the same superficial allure and storied past.
There’s not a whole lot to see around the exterior of baseball’s third-oldest stadium; with Chavez Ravine’s terraced parking lots, every level is practically on the ground. Its charms—enhanced with recent renovations—are best seen from the inside, with a Dodger Dog in hand; the zigzag outfield shades and hexagon scoreboards are the perfect foreground for a sunset against the San Gabriel Mountains.
C. Howard Crane, Walker & Eisen (1927)
Step inside this Gothic-flourished movie palace (and now hotel and theater) and you’ll find an over-the-top auditorium that looks like it’s been dripping from the ceiling of a cave. Though our admiration for the Broadway beauty lies with original architect C. Howard Crane, we have to hand it to the Ace Hotel for sparking so much excitement again about a nearly century-old building.
Elliott, Bowen and Walz, 1929; Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates, Gruen Associates 2003
This gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre has been hosting concerts since the LA Philharmonic first played here in 1922. Nestled in an aesthetically blessed fold in the Hollywood Hills, the 18,000-seat venue can bring out the romantic in the terminally cynical. The Bowl started as a natural amphiteatre called Daisy Dell with a simple stage and wooden benches. Lloyd Wright designed two shells in 1927 and 1928 that only lasted a year each, but aspects of his design were incorporated into later revisions. In 1929, Allied Architects put in the Bowl’s original shell, which was in place until 2003, when it was replaced by a larger shell with better acoustics.
Frederick Roehrig, 1893-1903
There are plenty of buildings that evoke old Hollywood glamor, but nothing conjures an air of Gilded Age mystery and elegance quite like this former hotel in Pasadena. The original building in the three-part complex was demolished in the ‘30s, but the more impressive Moorish-meets-Victorian central annex still stands behind a curtain of lush gardens.
Various architects, 1880s
How could we pick just one? The dozen or so towering Victorians that line Carroll Avenue collectively form one of the most picturesque spots in the city. The wooden turrets and shaded portraits feel frozen in time, calling back to a post-Spanish, pre-Hollywood way of life that feels like a secret part of L.A. history.
Frank Hudson and William A.D. Munsell, 1913
The original Beaux Arts building at the Natural History Museum has only gotten better with age. The native, modern landscaping now frames the museum’s distinguished exterior, while the interior has finally found exhibits fit for its marble walls. Its domed and colonnaded rotunda commands all of your attention as you walk through Exposition Park—but we’re certainly not complaining.
Richard Meier, 1997
Indulge us and let’s consider the entire Getty campus as a single “building.” Los Angeles’ hilltop acropolis is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that resembles a kind of monastic retreat designed for James Bond. The moment you debark the tram and climb those cascade-lined steps, you’ve entered the closest thing L.A. has to utopia.
Frank Lloyd Wright, 1921
Thanks to a gift from its oil heiress proprietor, this Mayan-inflected mansion is the only one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s L.A.-area houses that’s open to the public (though this one is currently closed for renovations). Its intended design as a theater complex never came to fruition and its concrete and stucco facade is as gorgeous as it is impractical—but the house is still a monument to the ambition of Barnsdall Park.
See more about L.A.’s most beautiful buildings
The rest of L.A.’s most beautiful buildings
Rafael Moneo, 2002
When the Northridge earthquake devastated the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana—a stunning sanctuary in its own right—the Catholic Church needed to find a new home in L.A. The result is a deconstructed fort with an imposing but quietly beautiful interior that’s fit for ancient kings—thanks to a budget as soaring as its faceted ceiling.
Simon Rodia, 1921-1954
These 17 towers’ construction, by a single pair of hands over a 33-year span, are part of their legend. But so is their wan, spectral beauty: They reach for the sky in an elaborate network of spindly, curved tendrils, connected with equally playful, decorous webs of lustrous found objects. The result is part folk art, part edifice and completely beautiful.
Craig Ellwood, 1976
You won’t find any roads atop the “bridge building” at the Hillside Campus, but you will find one underneath it; the school’s driveway winds underneath the ravine-spanning steel-and-glass structure. Its hillside location, stealthy profile and modernist aesthetic makes the building a top candidate for a supervillain lair, but that’s kind of a spectacular quality to possess, isn’t it?
Welton Becket and Associates, 1956
This cylindrical tower is so closely tied with postcard pictures of sunny California that it’s hard to separate the building from the lore. (It looks like a stack of records? Purely a coincidence.) But that’s also part of its appeal; whenever you see its blade-like spire rising above the 101, its cool, white shades make you feel like you’re living the dream.
Michael Maltzan, 2008
Michael Maltzan’s design for this educational arts campus looks more like a Palm Springs hideaway than a school in Skid Row. But its clean, white walls speak to the power of creativity and, paired with the talented children that fill its classrooms, act as an inspirational oasis for the area.
Thom Mayne, 2004
There’s a reason that this building—easily spotted by its street-facing “100” sign—has found its way into seemingly every car commercial. Simply put, it looks like the future we’ve been promised in movies, from its mechanical, glass and aluminum shell to its concrete courtyard, inset with horizontal neon bars.
Pereira & Luckman Architects, 1961
With the Encounter Restaurant closed, the Theme Building has nothing left to do but sit there and look pretty. Well, it’s doing a pretty good job at that; its swooping, flying saucer-like shape is a product of jetsetting culture, a future that never was and one that could still be.
Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, 1926
The city’s main library is worth a look even if you’ve no interest in borrowing books. The exterior is an Egyptian and Mediterranean beauty, topped with a dramatic, tiled pyramid tower and decorated with bas-reliefs. The most stunning features, though, reside in the second floor rotunda, with its deco-meets-arabesque dome, California history mural and globe chandelier.
Lloyd Wright, 1951
Though part of an obscure sect of Christianity (the Swedenborgian Church of North America), this glass church serves nature first and foremost. While some brides-to-be flock here simply for the oceanfront views, plenty appreciate the serene space for its impeccable construction; its faceted shell hugs the trees and drinks in sunlight to create an enchanting and intimate environment.
Greene and Greene, 1908
This graceful house, originally built for one of the heirs of the Procter & Gamble fortune, remains one of the best examples of Greene and Greene’s Craftsman designs. Its earthy exterior is a beauty in its own right, but the handmade touches in the living spaces, from the art glass doorway to wood-trimmed chandeliers, demand closer inspection—thankfully there’s plenty of public programming to do just that.
John and Donald Parkinson, 1929
High-end department stores have dwindled, Westlake is no longer the lap of luxury and the copper turret on the Bullocks Wilshire has since tarnished green—but none of that diminishes the elegance of this Art Deco landmark. It was a department store built for the car, and even though its cash registers have been shut for two decades (now it’s a law school), its poise and strong vertical lines still catch motorists’ eyes.
Pierre Koenig, 1960
Even if you’ve never seen it in person, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the Stahl House (Case Study House #22 for you modernist fanatics) and its twinkly vista. There’s barely more to it than a roof, floor-to-ceiling windows and a swimming pool, but the Hollywood Hills house emits that magic that so many of us have found—or spend our lives chasing—in Los Angeles.
A.C. Martin & Associates, 1965
The Department of Water and Power’s headquarters feels light, as if the entire building is floating. It practically is; the entire office is surrounded by a fountain-dotted moat. The building especially shines at night, when its two most stunning features—running water and clean light—remind us of the miracle that this natural resource-hungry city can even exist.
Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, 1949
Designing couple Charles and Ray Eames were known for their intelligence and their joie de vivre, both of which are apparent at the Eames House (Case Study House #8) nestled in the Pacific Palisades. With its color-block exterior, environmentally-sensitive siting and impeccable interior style, it’s no surprise this modernist darling has remained one of Southern California’s most beloved residences.
Austin Parkinson and Martin, 1928
Though dwarfed in size by its contemporary neighbors, this grand, white concrete tower has stood tall as a city icon since 1928. Say what you will about the city government, but the building itself is dignified but never flashy—a noble goal in L.A. Its beauty is visible both inside and out, from the stately Spring Street courtyard to the tiled third floor rotunda, but we think it’s best experienced from above: The free observation deck on the 27th floor is an asset.
Claud Beelman, 1930
As Broadway continues to bounce back, the Eastern Columbia Building stands as a reminder that the Downtown street has always been beautiful. The stunning Art Deco tower never seemed to make its way into L.A. iconography, but since a major 2004 renovation it’s become a beloved landmark for Angelenos. The turquoise finish, terra cotta sunburst over the entrance and the blue glow of the clock tower are all headturners.
George Wyman, Sumner Hunt, 1893
The Bradbury Building's nondescript (but still good-looking) brick exterior belies any sense of significance—the lingering smell of Subway doesn’t exactly scream “architectural gem.” Walk through the archway entrance on Broadway, though, and you're greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. From the amber glow to the wrought-iron grillwork, that first glimpse inside is simply awe-inspiring.
John C. Austin, Frederick M. Ashley, 1933
“If all mankind could look through that telescope,” declared Griffith J. Griffith, “it would change the world.” We think a simple trip to the hilltop scientific sanctuary is enough to do the trick; the dignified building exudes quiet and calm as Los Angeles twinkles below. Back at ground level, the illuminated white building and its trio of copper-clad domes is an inspirational landmark—what other modern metropolis can boast an observatory as a focal point of its skyline?
Frank Gehry, 2003
As the $274-million acoustically perfect crown jewel of the Music Center, Disney Hall opened in 2003 to rave reviews. The novelty hasn’t yet worn off: Both inside and out, it’s a twisty explosion of Frank Gehry’s imagination. Stroll through the Blue Ribbon Garden as it hugs the reflective metallic exterior or listen to the LA Phil in the whimsically wooden auditorium; the Disney Hall dazzles in every way imaginable.
John & Donald B. Parkinson, 1939
Union Station was the last of the great American rail stations to be built, at a cost at the time of $11 million. Train travel has gone in and out of fashion, but the station is just as handsome as the day it opened: Its Mission-style exterior opens up into a grand waiting area with marble tiles, faux wood beam ceilings and Art Deco touches. For a city built around the car, Union Station feels like the most distinctly and classically Californian gateway to Los Angeles. Wander through its halls and courtyards and you’ll find a building rich with history, locomotion and—with the eventual arrival of high speed rail and a new concourse—progress.
Read our love letter to Union Station.