Any design lover already knows California is beloved for its mid-century modern savvy, classical structures and defining architects. From Los Angeles to the hills of San Francisco and then down to Palm Springs, here are our favorite under-the-radar California architectural gems.
IN LOS ANGELES: FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, NEW AGE SHRINES AND MOD CALI DREAM HOMES
Because it’s not all about Tinseltown in the city of Angels.
- For a touch of new age, Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, sits on 10-acres with a lotus archway, lush flora and spring fed lake.
- Atop a cliff with views of the Pacific Ocean, the landmark modern home and studio of Ray and Charles Eames, Case Study House # 8, sits among giant trees and aside a meadow. Available for self-guided tours (reservations required).
- After a four-year restoration, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s temple-style Hollyhock House has reopened as a museum and marks what is known as Southern California modernism.
- In Hollywood Hills, The Stahl House smacks of modern Cali dream homes compliments of Pierre Koenig with its mesmerizing floor-to-celling glass and stellar aerial views of the city.
- The light-filled Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by Spanish Pritzker Prize winner Jose Rafael Moneo is a geometric feat with a giant cross built into the façade’s central window
- Designed by Richard Meier, The Getty Center houses paintings, decorative arts and a Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin.
IN SAN FRANCISCO: BEAUX ARTS, VICTORIAN TREASURES AND FRENCH NEOCLASSICAL.
While the Golden Gate Bridge is still San Fran’s most recognizable landmark, there are plenty of surprises to be found.
- In Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum was an architectural collaboration between local architects Fong & Chan and Herzog & de Meuron. Inside, galleries feature thousands of American works while back in the gardens, the lovely Ocher sculpture collection displays James Terrell’s Three Gems. On a clear day, climb the observation tower for stellar views, no museum tickets needed.
- The French neoclassical structure, The Legion of Honor was inspired by the replica of France’s Palais de la Légion d’Honneur and inside showcases an impressive collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art.
- Spend a morning or early afternoon soaking up San Francisco’s classic Victorians vis-à-vis a free walking tour from City Guides. Cheerful volunteer guides lead mini urban hikes through some of the city’s most stunning neighborhoods, offering architectural know-how and historical anecdotes at every corner. Bonus: donations benefit the city’s public libraries.
- Outside the city, the neo-classical Cliff House is blessed with sweeping views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Afterward, Lands End Trail offers a nice stroll with stellar views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- The narrow, copper-green Sentinel Building is a magnificent flatiron-style structure that film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola now owns. And fun fact: around Prohibition, it’s said to be where the Caesar salad was first created. Stop by Café Zoetrope downstairs for antipasti and a glass of locally made vino from Coppola’s winery.
IN PALM SPRINGS: OLD GAS STATIONS, CHURCHES AND WHERE HOLLYWOOD BUILT HOMES
No stranger to midcentury design, a leisure drive around Palm Spring’s many sights is worth the trip.
- At the entrance to Palm Springs, you can’t miss the Albert Frey designed Tramway Gas Station with its soaring geometrical roof and currently home to the Palm Springs Visitors Center.
- Downtown in an old 1960’s savings-and-loan building, the recent addition of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center is a sleek glass and steel dwelling with rotating exhibits.
- With its uniquely upward triangle, Theresa Catholic Church, designed by William Cody, also features curved concrete, stained glass and reflective courtyards.
- Drive by Richard Neutra’s sleek horizontal, Kaufmann House. Made of steel, glass and stone, this dwelling helped put modern architecture on the map. It’s also where society photographer Slim Aarons shot his famed “Poolside Gossip” image.
That’s not all. Some of the best living examples are the homes built during the 1940s-1960’s from architects like Albert Frey, E. Steward Williams for famous Hollywood types from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe. Every February, a “Modernism Week” gives amazing access to some of these landmarks.