Famous California Landmarks: 27 Must-See Spots

The Hollywood sign, Painted Ladies, and Coronado Island share a notable commonality: they’re among California’s most famous and stunning landmarks.

This sun-kissed US state on the west coast boasts glamorous cities, awe-inspiring coastlines, and diverse national parks teeming with remarkable flora and fauna.

California caters to various tastes, whether you prefer urban excitement or outdoor adventures.

Our carefully curated list of California landmarks offers a delightful blend of popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations, from iconic attractions like the Hollywood Sign and Golden Gate Bridge to hidden gems such as Hearst Castle and San Francisco’s Ferry Building.

Prepare for a few surprises as our definition of “landmarks” expands beyond typical monuments and structures.

Iconic San Diego Landmarks

Balboa Park: Stretching over 1,200 acres, this urban park is home to 17 museums, gorgeous gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. It has been a gathering place since 1868 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

The USS Midway Museum: This historic aircraft carrier is moored at the Navy Pier and offers visitors an immersive experience into naval aviation history. With 29 restored aircraft onboard, it’s a must-visit for aviation enthusiasts.

La Jolla Cove: Known for its crystal-clear waters, this small cove is perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming. Seals and sea lions often sunbathe on the rocks, making it a popular spot for wildlife viewing.

The San Diego Zoo: With over 3,500 animals from more than 650 species, the San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most respected zoos in the world. Its lush, naturalistic habitats and conservation efforts make it a leader in the zoological community.

Old Town San Diego: This historic area recreates life in early San Diego from 1821 to 1872. Visitors can enjoy adobe buildings, Mexican restaurants, and live mariachi music, all while learning about the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Iconic LA Landmarks

Discover the City of Angels’ Essence: Los Angeles boasts an array of renowned landmarks, each offering a unique glimpse into the city’s cultural tapestry and historical significance. Uncover the best that LA has to offer with our curated selection of famous landmarks and hidden gems.

Stargaze and Hike: Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park are must-visit destinations for breathtaking views of the city, the famed Hollywood sign, and celestial exploration. With free admission to the observatory, visitors can engage in hands-on exhibits, observe the cosmos through telescopes, and attend public star parties.

Artistic Masterpieces Await: The Getty Center, perched in the Santa Monica Mountains, houses an extensive collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. Wander through stunning gardens, indulge in panoramic city views, and attend lectures, concerts, and family events.

SoCal Fun in the Sun: The historic Santa Monica Pier and Beach epitomize the laid-back California lifestyle. Enjoy the bustling amusement park, iconic Ferris wheel, and diverse dining options, or relax on the soft sands while watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Blockbuster Adventures: Universal Studios Hollywood offers an immersive theme park experience, bringing your favorite movies to life with thrilling rides, shows, and behind-the-scenes tours. Don’t miss the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Simpsons, and Jurassic World attractions.

Architectural Marvel: The Bradbury Building, a National Historic Landmark, showcases intricate Victorian-era design and ornate ironwork. The building’s stunning atrium, open-cage elevators, and skylit interior have been featured in numerous films and television shows.

Contemporary Art Haven: The Broad, a contemporary art museum, boasts an impressive collection of postwar and contemporary works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. General admission is free, making it an accessible and engaging cultural experience for all visitors.

California’s Stunning Natural Landmarks

California is home to an awe-inspiring variety of natural landmarks. From the majestic mountains to the picturesque coastlines, the state offers a visual feast for nature lovers.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, one of the country’s oldest and most popular parks, boasts breathtaking waterfalls, towering sequoias, and diverse wildlife. The park’s granite cliffs and stunning vistas have made it a favorite destination for hikers, climbers, and photographers.

The Redwood Forests

California’s redwood forests are a living testament to the state’s rich natural history. These ancient trees, some over 2,000 years old, tower above the forest floor, creating a unique and enchanting ecosystem.

The Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the country, winds along California’s rugged coastline, offering stunning views of the ocean and the cliffs. The highway is a must-see for anyone visiting the state.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, the hottest and driest place in the country, is a stark and beautiful landscape. The park’s vast salt flats, towering sand dunes, and colorful badlands offer a unique and otherworldly experience.

The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea, a large inland lake in the southern California desert, is a fascinating example of nature’s resilience. Despite its high salinity and declining water levels, the sea supports a diverse and thriving ecosystem.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The lake’s crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain backdrop make it a popular destination for swimming, boating, and hiking.

California’s natural landmarks are a testament to the state’s diverse and breathtaking beauty. From the majestic redwoods to the sparkling blue waters of Lake Tahoe, these landmarks offer a unique and unforgettable experience for all who visit.

Iconic San Francisco Landmarks

The Golden Gate Bridge: A symbol of San Francisco and a marvel of modern engineering, this bridge spans the Golden Gate strait and is one of the most internationally recognized structures in the US.

Alcatraz Island: Known for its historic federal prison, Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination with frequent ferry services from San Francisco. The island also contains remnants of a military fort and the first lighthouse on the West Coast.

Lombard Street: Famous for its steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns, Lombard Street is a must-see for tourists and locals alike. Often referred to as “the crookedest street in the world,” it offers stunning views of the city and the bay.

Fisherman’s Wharf: A bustling waterfront district, Fisherman’s Wharf is home to numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the famous sea lion colony at Pier 39 and the USS Hornet Museum at Pier 3.

Chinatown: One of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown covers 24 blocks and is a vibrant, culturally rich neighborhood with unique shops, restaurants, and historic sites such as the Fortune Cookie Factory.

Coit Tower: Located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, Coit Tower offers panoramic views of the city and the bay. The tower’s interior is adorned with murals painted during the Great Depression, depicting life in California during that time.

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