Although relatively young by East Coast standards, Los Angeles has plenty of history to share. These top historic sites and buildings trace the city's heritage from its pre-colonial period to Spanish missionaries to water barons and oil magnates.Less
Featured in countless movies and TV shows (including The Big Lebowski), this 1927 Tudor Revival mansion was designed by Hoover Dam architect Gordon Bernie Kaufmann. It was a generous gift from oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny to his son Ned and his family. In 1929 the oil heir was found with a bullet in his head along with his male secretary in an alleged murder-suicide – a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.
L.A.'s landmark 1935 observatory opens a window to the universe from its perch on the slopes of Mount Hollywood. Its planetarium claims the world’s most advanced star projector, while its astronomical touch displays explore some mind-bending topics, from the evolution of the telescope and the ultraviolet x-rays used to map our solar system to the cosmos itself. Then, of course, there are the views, which (on clear days) take in the entire L.A. Basin, surrounding mountains and Pacific Ocean.
A molten blend of steel, music and psychedelic architecture, this iconic concert venue is the home base of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but has also hosted contemporary bands such as Phoenix, and classic jazz musicians such as Sonny Rollins. The 2003 concert hall's visionary architect, Frank Gehry, pulled out all the stops for this building, a gravity-defying sculpture of heaving and billowing stainless steel.
Architect Claud Beelman's extraordinary 1930 Eastern Columbia Building is a masterpiece of art moderne architecture. Clad in turquoise-and-gold terracotta tiles, the 13-story tower originally housed two clothing companies belonging to industrious Polish immigrant Adolph Sieroty. Now home to luxury lofts, the building features a striking gilded sunburst entrance that's especially impressive when lit after dark.
Until 1966 no L.A. building stood taller than the 1928 City Hall, which appeared in the Superman TV series and 1953 sci-fi thriller War of the Worlds. On clear days you’ll have views of the city, the mountains and several decades of Downtown growth from the observation deck. On the way up, stop off on level three to eye up City Hall's original main entrance, which features a breathtaking, Byzantine-inspired rotunda graced with marble flooring and a mosaic dome.
Swansong of prolific architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Downtown's showpiece public library opened in 1926. Head straight for the second floor to gasp at its basilica-like rotunda, surrounded by extraordinary Technicolor murals. Executed by Dean Cornwell in 1933, the murals depict four eras of California's history: European immigration, the construction of the missions, and the inception of modern industry and the arts.
Debuting in 1893, the Bradbury is one of L.A.'s heritage jewels. Behind its Romanesque-lite facade lies a whimsical galleried atrium that wouldn't look out of place in New Orleans. Inky filigree grillwork, rickety birdcage elevators and yellow-brick walls glisten golden in the afternoon light, which filters through the peaked glass roof. Such striking beauty hasn't been lost on Hollywood – the building's star turn came in the cult sci-fi flick Blade Runner.
A short stroll northwest of Union Station, this compact, colorful district is where L.A.’s first colonists settled in 1781. Wander through narrow Olvera Street’s vibrant Mexican-themed stalls and check out the area's free museums, the best of which is L.A. Plaza, offering snapshots of the Mexican–American experience in Los Angeles. Free guided tours of the area leave from beside the Old Plaza Firehouse; no reservations necessary.
Paradisiacal landscaping, vainglorious tombstones, and epic mausoleums set an appropriate resting place for some of Hollywood's most iconic dearly departed. Residents include Cecil B. DeMille, Mickey Rooney, Jayne Mansfield, punk rockers Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, and Golden Girls star Estelle Getty. Rudolph Valentino lies in the Cathedral Mausoleum (open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), while Judy Garland rests in the Abbey of the Psalms.
Mammoths, saber-toothed cats and dire wolves roamed L.A.'s savanna in prehistoric times. We know this because of an archaeological trove of skulls and bones unearthed here at the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the world’s most fecund and famous fossil sites. A museum has been built here, where generations of young dino hunters have come to seek out fossils and learn about paleontology from docents and demonstrations in on-site labs.