From sleek mid-century modern design to ornate Spanish Colonial Revival style, Southern California has birthed some of the most influential movements of the 20th century. Whether you’re an armchair architect or simply a lover of beautiful things, you’ll enjoy this structure-centered road trip. We’ll start with ambitious landmarks that define Los Angeles, then work our way east to the pastel paradise of Palm Springs before ending with a mix of iconic art and rich history in sunny San Diego.
Stop one: The Getty Center
Start your trip with a tram ride up to this pearly white campus on a hill. High atop West Los Angeles, this modernist masterpiece, which opened to the public in 1997, is marked by travertine buildings and pristine gardens. Distance to next stop: 18 miles
Stop two: Walt Disney Concert Hall
In Downtown Los Angeles, this sweeping stainless steel structure is a must-see. Inspired by his love of sailing, Frank Gehry designed the hall with a whimsical, wind-whipped feel. Next stop: 56 miles
Stop three: Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
Drive east on I-10 to Riverside to find the marvel Will Rogers once dubbed “the most unique hotel in America.” Look for the medieval touches mixed in with Mission Revival style. Next stop: 54 miles
Stop four: Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
This Palm Springs estate is where Priscilla and the King enjoyed postnuptial bliss. Book a tour to view the fascinating interior—there’s isn’t a single rectangular room in the three-story house. Next stop: 13 miles
Stop five: Sunnylands
Head to Rancho Mirage to see this stately example of mid-century modern design. Half a dozen presidents have stayed under the estate’s pale pink roof, leading to its one-time nickname of “Camp David of the West Coast.” Take the scenic desert route through Borrego Springs to pass the roadside metal sculptures of artist-welder Ricardo Breceda. Next stop: 165 miles
Stop six: The Salk Institute
Drive southwest to the coastal hamlet of La Jolla. Often considered the defining work of mastermind Louis I. Kahn, the institute’s design will take your breath away. Towering buildings dotted by teak-framed windows feel simultaneously immense and intimate; the property’s quiet fountain seems to pour into the sea. Next stop: 16 miles
Stop seven: California Tower
Constructed in 1915 to mark the entrance to the Panama-California Exposition, the California Tower is San Diego’s most famous structure. The tower is now a part of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park. The ornate building mixes old-world European style with Mexican influences—much like the city itself.