30 Famous California Landmarks You Must See

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A tall rock formation with a waterfall with some greenery at the base on a sunny day
The beautiful Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park

California can be found on the West Coast of the United States, with Sacramento as its capital (although, if you thought that title belonged to Los Angeles, you're certainly not alone).

With a population of around 40 million people, it is by far the most populated state. Yet, thanks to 840 miles of coastline stretching from Mexico and along the Pacific Ocean, there's so much of California waiting to be explored.

A state boasting stunning cliff-lined beach towns, rocky national parks, and brilliant things to do, these are the most famous California landmarks worth adding to your famous landmarks bucket list. A map of California landmarks can also be found below, so you can easily plan your trip.

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30 Famous Landmarks in California

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The facade of the TCL Chinese Theatres, one of the famous California landmarks
The TCL Chinese Theatres are one of the most famous California landmarks

TCL Chinese Theatres, Los Angeles

Located at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles is easily recognizable thanks to its impressive facade. It is home to over 50 events a year, including movie premieres and festivals.

The theatre was opened on May 18th, 1927, with Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings as the first premiere. Although the outside is impressive, the inside of the cinema palace is even more breathtaking, with elegant velvet seats and an opulent ceiling display.

☂️ Visit the TCL Chinese Theatre on a tour

A silver futuristic-looking building along a street with cars going by on a nice day
The Walt Disney Concert Hall has hosted a variety of performances since 2003

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Frank Gehry is responsible for the unique design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. It is currently the home of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Walt's wife, Lillian Disney, gifted 50 million dollars in 1987 for a performance venue to be built as a tribute to Walt's devotion to the arts and the city of LA. The concert hall finally opened in October 2003, after extensive planning.

Attending a concert here is a brilliant way to spend an evening in LA; performances range from classical operas to orchestral film music concerts.

☂️ Visit the Walt Disney Concert Hall with a tour

Side view of white buildings facing a garden with colourful shrubs and greenery
The Getty Center was founded in 1997 at a cost of $1.3 billion

The Getty, Los Angeles

The Getty is an iconic institution in Los Angeles. It's both a museum and a cultural center, as well as an excellent spot for a beautiful view over the city. The center cost $1.3 billion to build and first opened to the public on December 16, 1997.

The Getty's rotating exhibitions range from classic artwork collections to more avant-garde photography from up-and-coming creatives. The permanent collection features work by Rembrandt, Cézanne, Van Gogh, among a range of other household names.

☂️ Explore The Getty on a tour

Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

Whether you're an avid thrill-seeker or just fancy a day of family-friendly fun, Universal Studios in Hollywood is the best place for both. Visiting a theme park while in Los Angeles is one of the best things to do when here after all!

Those who want to scream loudly can enjoy Jurassic World or The Mummy Rollercoaster. Or, if you would like something more gentle, opt for Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem or the newly opened The Secret Life of Pets dark ride.

This theme park also has lots of character meeting opportunities and brilliant themed food. You will need to spend at least a day here to do everything.

☂️ Visit Universal Studios Hollywood on a tour

A white building with three black domes on top of a tree-covered mountain
The Griffith Observatory is a famous landmark and a perfect spot to watch sunsets

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Located next to Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory is easily one of the most interesting landmarks in California. Made famous after appearing in the Hollywood blockbuster La La Land, this is described as the 'gateway to the cosmos' and a wonderful place to catch the sunset.

You can look through telescopes and explore several exhibits relating to science and the stars, with live talks from inspiring professors and experts. Or, head to Griffith Park for a spot of stargazing - one of the best things to do in Los Angeles at night!

Bottom view of vintage street lamps under a blue cloudless sky
The LACMA has a rich collection of art, including works from Picasso and Diego Rivera

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Although the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was originally part of the wider Museum of History, Science and Art, this museum branched off in 1961 and made a name as a separate art gallery.

With a broad collection of art spanning the globe and many eras, this is one of the best places in California to see work from the renaissance, post-modern, and surrealism movements. Artists whose art is displayed here include Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera.

☂️ Visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a tour

Big and white Hollywood sign on a dry mountain under a partly cloudy sky
The Hollywood Sign was placed in Mt Lee, Griffith Park in 1923

Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles

As one of the most photographed landmarks in North America and the USA, the Hollywood Sign is usually top of many people's bucket lists when visiting Los Angeles.

You can spot the sign adorning Mt Lee in Griffith Park from different locations, but to snap the best photo, you should head to either Canyon Lake Drive or Griffith Park.

The sign was placed on the mountain in 1923 and originally read 'Hollywoodland,' although 'land' was removed in 1949 after the area changed its name.

It was first erected to help promote real estate in Hollywood, but it was decided that the sign could stay after it became a symbol of Golden-age Hollywood.

☂️ Visit the Hollywood Sign with a tour

A black-tiled street with rows of inlaid stars with names in gold on it
The Walk of Fame opened in 1960 and has a series of stars with celebrity names

Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles

The Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most iconic landmarks in Los Angeles. A series of stars with celebrity names inside line the street, ranging from glamorous actors to great sports stars, including Muhammed Ali.

The Walk of Fame was officially opened in 1960 when a star dedicated to Joanne Woodward was unveiled after she won an Academy Award for The Three Faces of Eve.

Generally, to get a star on the Walk of Fame, a celebrity must have had high levels of fame for at least five years and have been involved with something charitable.

☂️ Experience the Walk of Fame with a tour

A modern white building under a blue sky from below
The Broad is a contemporary art museum built in honor of Eli and Edythe Broad

The Broad, Los Angeles

Located next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Broad in Los Angeles is a vibrant art space that showcases some of the most exciting works. The museum is named after the philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, who paid the $140 million that it took to complete the building.

Work from John Ahearn, John Baldessari, and Cy Twombly are on display here, along with hundreds of other names. The Broad also hosts several rotating exhibitions, so make sure to catch one while you are there.

A street lined with palm trees and buildings with shops under a clear blue sky
Rodeo Drive is an iconic shopping center with luxury designer brands

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

One of the most popular landmarks in California and a shopping-lovers paradise, Rodeo Drive is a street in Beverly Hills filled with luxury designer brands.

Stretching from Beverwil Drive to the incredibly famous Sunset Boulevard, this is a bustling spot that is always busy with tourists and locals.

Expect all the iconic brands at Rodeo Drive: Audemar Piguet, Gucci, and Jimmy Choo, among others. There are also plenty of pop-ups, so even if you don't want to splash the cash, it's worth walking this iconic street for food and celebrity spotting alone.

Aerial of a long red bridge over water, ending on a coastline with greenery
The Golden Gate Bridge, built in 1937, connects San Francisco to Marin County

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

One of the most iconic Californian landmarks is the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Marin County over the Pacific Ocean. It is an absolute must on any San Francisco itinerary!

Johan Strauss was the man in charge of creating this bridge, and he oversaw the project until it was finally completed in 1937 after four years of construction.

At 4,200-ft long, this red art deco bridge is relatively small, although it is very impressive and draws huge crowds each year. The bridge is an iconic photo opportunity, and you shouldn't visit San Francisco without seeing it.

☂️ Explore the Golden Gate Bridge with a tour

A plaza with a skating rink in the center and a tall monument surrounded by trees
Union Square was a sand dune until 1850, but is now a plaza with shops and bars

Union Square, San Francisco

Union Square refers to a commercial district of San Francisco, filled with shops, bars, and brilliant things to do. Union Square was actually a sand dune until 1850 when it was transformed into the area's central hub. Today the square is filled with pop-up art exhibitions as well as street performers.

The Dewey Monument stands in the center of the square, with the Greek Goddess Nike as the focus. She represents the victory of Manila Bay, which took place during the American-Spanish War and was spearheaded by Admiral George Dewey.

☂️ Join a tour to see Union Square

A small hilly island with structures, surrounded by ocean and mountains in the back
Alcatraz Island was a military base and one of the toughest prisons in the US

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

As one of the most historic places in California, Alcatraz Island has a long and intense history behind it. Situated just over a mile from San Francisco Bay are the remains of a military base and one of the US' toughest prisons, which incarcerated people between 1934 and 1963.

During this period, around 36 men tried to escape in 14 masterminded plots. All were found, except for three men who evaded recapture: Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and his brother John Anglin. If dark tourism excites you, a visit to Alcatraz Island is a must.

☂️ Visit Alcatraz Island with an excursion

Exploratorium, San Francisco

San Francisco's Exploratorium is an exciting science museum that combines historical exhibits with mad-scientist experiments and interactive fun.

Some of the most famous artwork on display at the Exploratorium include Archimedes by Douglas Hollis, Albert by John Billingsley, and plenty of futuristic pieces by Ned Kahn.

Six indoor and outdoor galleries navigate the links between art, science, and human perception. It's done in a way that is suitable for any age, although they famously open after dark on Thursdays for adults, allowing you to grab a drink and explore in your own time.

☂️ Visit the Exploratorium with a tour

Sea lions resting on wooden pier planks on water
Pier 39 is a shopping center with restaurants, shops and lots of street performers

Pier 39, San Francisco

Pier 39 is a famous landmark in San Francisco with a shopping center, an abundance of restaurants, and an aquarium. There are also many street performers in the area, making it a fun place to grab an ice cream and explore in the evening.

If you head to Pier 39 in the summer, you will be able to spot the sea lions that live there before they migrate in the winter months. It's also common to see expert naturalists hanging out nearby answering questions about the creatures.

☂️ Visit PIER 39 on a tour

A steep, zigzagging street with plants and colorful flowers in between buildings
Lombard Street is known for having a very steep street with 8 hairpin turns

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Lombard Street is one of the most iconic Californian landmarks that has featured in popular culture throughout history: a steep stretch of road famous for its eight hairpin turns. The top of the street also has brilliant views of the surrounding areas.

Especially beautiful in the evening, when the street lights illuminate the pink houses and flowers decorating the road, you can drive (or walk, if you prefer) down Lombard Street yourself. Be careful, though - it is very, very steep.

☂️ Explore Lombard Street on a tour

A red bridge over mountainous land covered in greenery with the sea at the back
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area houses more than 2,000 plants and animals

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mill Valley

Next on this famous California landmarks list is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, located just north of San Francisco near the bridge of the same name.

This is one of the best places to view the bridge (if you're not driving over it), as well as a perfect spot for picnics, hikes, and learning about indigenous culture.

The park features 19 ecosystems containing more than 2,000 plant and animal species, so it's also a brilliant place to spot wildlife.

A slither of sand and shingle can be found to the south of the park at Rodeo Beach, which is where you can enjoy the gorgeous sunset.

☂️ Visit the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with an experience

A body of water in front of rocky cliffs with trees and greenery at the base
Yosemite National Park is home to giant sequoias and has a rich wildlife

Yosemite National Park

California's Yosemite National Park, a landmark of America's natural beauty, welcomes millions each year. The popular West Coast national park is known for its stunning waterfalls, giant sequoias, abundant wildlife, and incredible cliffs, such as Half Dome and El Capitan.

Yosemite will provide the perfect spot for anyone looking to take an adventure vacation or just want to relax in nature. You can even camp here, which is a brilliant experience for anyone brave enough.

☂️ Visit Yosemite National Park with an experience

A tall tree surrounded by dry bushes and tall rocks in a desert on a nice day
Joshua Tree National Park is named after the unique trees found in the area

Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree National Park features rugged mountains, abandoned gold mine ruins, and desert plains with unique trees. It is one of the most famous landmarks in the USA.

The Joshua Tree National Park is located at the ecological crossroads where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. This marriage produces fantastic desert flora, including the distinctive namesake trees (actually a kind of yucca).

The area is a paradise for stargazers. The vibrant sunsets melt into a night filled with stars, making it a beautiful place to be.

Joshua Tree National Park is approximately 140 miles north of Los Angeles, making it a popular destination for people looking to take long weekend trips outside of the city.

☂️ Explore Joshua Tree National Park with a tour

Disneyland Park, Anaheim

Walt Disney's vision was of a tourist attraction to be built near his Burbank studios to entertain those who wanted to visit.

However, he quickly realized that the proposed location was too small, so Disney purchased a 160-acre site in California in 1953. The park's construction began in 1954, and the park was officially opened on July 17, 1955.

Disneyland Park is made up of nine themed lands. When Disneyland Park opened in 1965, the first lands were Main Street, U.S.A. Frontierland Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

Over time more lands have been introduced, and as the Disney company adds more narratives to its roster, we can expect them to expand and introduce new lands.

Tall tree trunks with green leaves behind fallen tree trunks on a sunny day
Redwood National & State Parks is famous for having the tallest tree in the world

Redwood National and State Parks, Crescent City

Carefully looked after by the US National Park Service, the Redwood State Parks that are dotted across northern California are the best place to see the impressive redwood trees.

You can actually see Hyperion in the Redwood National State Parks, which takes the title for the tallest tree in the world. There are also plenty of trails waiting to be explored and camping opportunities in the state parks.

A wooden pier with a colorful amusement park with a Ferris wheel facing the ocean
Santa Monica Pier offers a a variety of activities, including an amusement park

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier is one of the most famous piers in the world, and a Californian landmark that thousands of tourists flock to each year.

Boasting shops, an aquarium, and even an amusement park, there's so much to do here that the whole family can get involved with—all while waves from the Pacific Ocean lap at the sand below.

As well as this, there are lots of spots where you can grab a bite to eat, including the popular Bubba Gump Shrimp, which serves up delicious southern-inspired seafood and fun cocktails.

☂️ Visit the Santa Monica Pier with an experience

White sand dunes with rocks, with mountains in the distance
Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places in the world during summer

Death Valley National Park

As one of the many natural landmarks in California, Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on Earth during the scorching Californian summer. The national park is a desert stretching from the Mojave desert, crossing into Nevada near the Las Vegas area.

The highest temperature to be recorded on the Earth's surface was at a point known as Furnace Creek. This is also where the museum and visitor center for Death Valley National Park is located. If you can stand the heat, this is a unique spot to visit in California.

A pond with a small bridge, surrounded by a green lawn with plants and colorful trees
The Huntington Library was built in 1919 and is also a 120-acre botanical garden

The Huntington Library, San Marino

Despite its name, The Huntington Library also boasts an art museum and breathtaking botanical garden at its San Marino location in California.

The institution was first established in 1919 by Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, and specializes in 18th and 19th-century European art.

Interestingly enough, actor Steve Martin gifted $1 million to The Huntington Library to help them acquire and exhibit American artwork. This proved to be crucial to the library, as they have since run many incredibly popular exhibitions.

The botanical garden features over 120 acres of landscaped greenery, including a "Japanese Garden," the "Desert Garden," and the "Chinese Garden" areas.

White statue overlooking the ocean with a cloudy sky in the background
The Cabrillo National Monument is dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego

The Cabrillo National Monument is a large part of the National Park in San Diego and is dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. It is one of the famous landmarks in San Diego, California.

Juan Rodriguez arrived as the first European on the West Coast of the USA in 1542 after a long and exhaustive journey from Spain, and is commemorated with a giant stone statue in the park.

There are many things to explore here, from the actual monument itself to the tidepools below and the Old Point Lighthouse. Spend an afternoon fully exploring the park and its rich heritage.

☂️ Discover the Cabrillo National Monument on a tour

A Spanish-style building surrounded by plants and palm trees facing a cross
The Old Mission Church was built during the Spanish Era to establish Christianity

Old Mission Church, Santa Barbara

The Old Mission Church in Santa Barbara was originally built during the Spanish colonization of the Americas; it would have been used to influence natives to make the switch to Christianism. The church that still stands in Santa Barbara is the perfect example of these communities.

The building is a beautiful place to explore; its colonial architecture makes for a stunning photo. Or, go inside and delve deeper into the controversial history of the old missionaries in California.

☂️ Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara 1786 on a tour

A close-up of a giraffe with trees and greenery out of focus at the back
Santa Barbara Zoo is one of California's smallest zoos, with over 500 animals

Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the smaller but very popular zoos in California. Boasting over 500 animals in naturalistic habitats, this is an excellent place for the whole family to visit. There's also a train that circles the zoo and a giraffe-feeding platform where you can try your hand at being a keeper.

The zoo also hosts a 'Zoofari' bonanza in the summer each year, where the zoo is transformed into a fancy dress party complete with raffles and brilliant prizes. It is one of the highlights in Santa Barbara every year.

Lotusland, Montecito

Lotusland was opened in Santa Barbara in 1993 after Madame Ganna Walska - a famous Polish opera singer - spent over forty years of her life growing the garden. She sadly passed away in 1984, and afterward, Lotusland became a not-for-profit botanical garden, rated as one of the best in the world.

The garden has a varied collection of exotic plants, from wild cacti to rare Japanese plants not found outside of Japan. The collection is spread throughout many different gardens, spanning 37-acres and reflecting Walska's love for all things dramatic.

A luxurious Roman-style pool with graphic tiles and white statues surrounding it
Hearst Castle was an elegant estate but is now a museum with luxurious pools

Hearst Castle, San Simeon

What was once an elegant property with a powerful publishing headquarters inside is now a castle-turned museum. It was first built because William Hearst wanted a decadent estate overlooking the San Simeon area for him and his wife to run their company from.

With pools inside (yes, you can even swim in them) and opulent rooms with low-hanging chandeliers and gold accessories, you will feel like you have stepped straight into The Great Gatsby as you roam the halls at Hearst Castle.

☂️ Experience Hearst Castle with a tour

A wall covered with used chewing gum
Bubblegum Alley was built in the 1970s and was featured in lots of TV shows

Bubblegum Alley, San Luis Obispo

One of the more unique Californian landmarks can be found in San Luis Obispo. This slightly gross but fascinating landmark dubbed 'Bubblegum Alley' features a small walkway completely covered in chewed bubblegum.

Nobody is quite sure who started the trend, but experts believe it was likely a result of rivalry from two nearby schools. By the 1970s, the alley was fully established, and despite multiple clean-up attempts, still stands today.

More recently, the alley has featured in lots of TV shows, including MTV's Call to Greatness and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. If you're in the San Luis Obispo area, it's well worth checking out Bubblegum Alley (and even add to the collection).

In Summary

The Golden State is the perfect place to visit for those looking for sea, sand, and a whole lot of adventure. These famous California landmarks are just some of the thousands of things to do in the US' most populous state.

Whether you want to explore Santa Monica Pier, seek thrills at Disneyland, or take your chances in Death Valley National Park, this is a state that has so much variety. There's something for everyone in California.

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Written by Lauren Kendrick

lozkend WRITER Lauren is a travel-obsessed writer from the UK. She is usually dreaming about all the different cuisines she has yet to try…

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