Architecture in California, A Guide for the Casual Traveler

Michael Graves Designed Disney Corporation Headquarters in Burbank, California where Snow White's dwarfs are holding up the building
Photo by George Rose/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images

California and the long Pacific coast of the Western United States is a territory of changing landscapes and wild diversity—in both lifestyles and architectural styles. California is a land of "fire and rain" and of tsunamis and drought. Although from north to south its climate changes dramatically, California has a constant element that affects all building codes—the San Andreas Fault. In the links and resources on this page, you will find simple adobe homes of early Spanish colonists, glitzy homes of Hollywood movie stars, groundbreaking modernist architecture, playful amusement park buildings, wacky googie structures, historic bridges and stadia, and many other interesting and unusual building types.

Visiting the San Francisco Area

Along the Coast of California

Visiting the Los Angeles Area

Los Angeles is an architectural kaleidoscope. As you explore the warm, southern California city, you'll find odd contrasts. No matter. The sun of Southern California has attracted odd bedfellows, both in the movie industry and architectural practices. Here is just a taste of LA architecture:

Visiting the Palm Springs Area

Within two hours of Hollywood, Palm Springs became the famous getaway for the movie elite. Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and other movie stars built homes here in the 1940s and 1950s, the height of Mid-Century Modernism. Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and others invented what became known as Desert Modernism.

Visiting the San Diego Area

  • Balboa Park, site of the influential Panama-California Exposition of 1915. San Diego architect Irving Gill carried out the Mission Revival and Pueblo styles decided on by the organizers, but it was New Yorker Bertram G. Goodhue who gave the buildings the Spanish Baroque detailing known as Churrigueresque. Exposition buildings such as Casa de Balboa and Casa del Prado ignited a Spanish Renaissance throughout the American Southwest.

Well-Known Sports Venues in California

Architects of California

Many of today's larger architectural firms have multiple offices, which often include California. For example, Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP has an office in Los Angeles. The following list of architects, however, are often associated with beginning their careers in California. They made their mark and settled in California.

Learn More with these Books

  • Wallace Neff, Architect of California's Golden Age by Alson Clark, 2000
  • Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts and Crafts Architects of California by Robert Winter, University of California Press, 1997
  • Irving J. Gill: Architect, 1870 - 1936 by Marvin Rand, 2006
  • Five California Architects by Esther McCoy and Randell Makinson, 1975
  • On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century by Richard Longstreth, University of California Press, 1998
  • California Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by David Gebhard, 1997
  • California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood by Neil Jackson, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002
  • Spanish Colonial Style: Santa Barbara and the Architecture of James Osborne Craig and Mary McLaughlin Craig by Pamela Skewes-Cox and Robert Sweeney, 2015
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Craven, Jackie. "Architecture in California, A Guide for the Casual Traveler." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, Craven, Jackie. (2021, July 29). Architecture in California, A Guide for the Casual Traveler. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "Architecture in California, A Guide for the Casual Traveler." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).