See This, Not That: Lesser-Known Architecture Gems in the U.S.

There are some lesser-known beauties that should be on your list

Los Angeles Exteriors And Landmarks - 2020
GC Images / Getty Images

We’re dedicating our August features to architecture and design. After spending an unprecedented amount of time at home, we’ve never been more ready to check into a dreamy new hotel, discover hidden architectural gems, or hit the road in luxury. Now, we’re excited to celebrate the shapes and structures that make our world beautiful with an inspiring story of how one city is restoring its most sacred monuments, a look at how historic hotels are prioritizing accessibility, an examination of how architecture could be changing the way we travel in cities, and a rundown of the most architecturally significant buildings in every state.

While the most iconic, recognizable, and archetypal buildings in America are definitely worth seeing, there are some lesser-known beauties (with fewer tourists) that should be on your list as well. Whether notable for their innovative design or historical influences, the following picks are snapshots of some of the most compelling structures to add to your next itinerary.

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Instead of the Empire State Building, Try The Dakota

The Dakota Apartment Building Central Park West NYC 1774

Brecht Bug / Flickr

1 W 72nd St, New York, NY 10023, USA
Phone +1 212-362-1448

Featured in hundreds of television shows and movies, the Art Deco Empire State Building is popular for its height, observation decks, and history. But The Dakota, a cooperative apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is no less impressive. Built in the 1880s, it too has been featured in dozens of movies and television shows, including "Rosemary's Baby" and "Vanilla Sky." Home to famous artists, musicians, and actors like Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland, the archway of this building is where John Lennon was murdered. Adjacent to The Dakota is Central Park, where you’ll find the John Lennon Memorial and Strawberry Fields.

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Instead of Willis Tower, Try Adler Planetarium

88 Seconds of the Adler Planetarium (Matty Wolin) / Getty Images
1300 S Dusable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Phone +1 312-922-7827

Chicago’s Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is well-visited for its Skydeck viewing platform and The Ledge glass boxes. Another beautiful building that offers skyline views from its property is the Adler Planetarium. Opened in 1930, it was the first planetarium built in the United States and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Today, it's part of Chicago’s well-loved Museum Campus. See the city's most iconic buildings, as well as their reflection in Lake Michigan, from the lawn, or view the stars from the Doane Observatory.

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Instead of Fallingwater, Try Fonthill Castle

Courtesy of Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle

525 E Court St, Doylestown, PA 18901, USA
Phone +1 215-348-9461

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is one of the most famous architectural marvels in Pennsylvania. Henry Chapman Mercer’s Fonthill Castle, built between 1908 and 1912, is also a stunning property with 44 rooms, more than 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces. See Mercer’s handcrafted tiles, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, and original furnishings on a tour before visiting the on-property Mercer Museum. Fonthill also contains more than 6,000 books, many of which have notes and annotations from Mercer himself.

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Instead of The White House, Try the National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

8th St NW & G St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Phone +1 202-633-8300

Our country’s most famous house, the White House, can also be the toughest to access due to the logistics and advanced planning required for a tour. Instead, visit the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, where you can view presidential portraits inside a National Historic Landmark Building. One of Washington’s oldest public structures, this building is a shining example of Greek Revival architecture. The building has a sandstone and marble façade and was used as a hospital during the American Civil War.

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Instead of The Gateway Arch, Try Wainwright Building

St. Louis Cityscapes And City Views
Raymond Boyd / Getty Images
Wainwright State Office Building, 111 N 7th St, St. Louis, MO 63101-2105, USA
Phone +1 314-340-6801

The Gateway Arch is the most identifiable structure in St. Louis. Another building worth a look-see is the city’s Wainwright Building, a 10-story terracotta skyscraper built between 1880 and 1891. Named after local financier Ellis Wainwright, this National Historic Landmark has tiny round windows at the top that are encircled with intricate carvings and designs. Set for demolition, the Wainwright Building was rescued by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and later acquired by Missouri for use as state offices.

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Instead of Space Needle, Try Smith Tower

Bird's Eye View Of Smith Tower Washington USA
folgt / Getty Images
506 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104-2336, USA
Phone +1 206-624-0414

The Space Needle, with its observation deck and rotating restaurant, is one of the most identifiable buildings in America. Another building in Seattle with exceptional views is the Smith Tower. Built in 1914, it was the first skyscraper in the city and designated a Seattle landmark in 1984. Situated in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, this building is popular among locals and known for its neoclassical architecture, though it's lesser-known with folks outside the state. Visit the Observatory, the 35th-floor bar, and the ground-floor retail center. You’ll ride in an old Otis elevator and have the opportunity to sit in the “Wishing Chair,” which some believe will help you get married within the year.

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Instead of Walt Disney Concert Hall, Try The Broad

The Broad, L.A.

Courtesy of The Broad

221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Phone +1 213-232-6250

Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of the most popular buildings to visit in downtown Los Angeles, recognizable for its metal façade. Another futuristic contemporary building worth seeing is The Broad, known for its “veil-and-vault” design. Visitors can see the storage process of the art as well as wander through grand exhibits where art is on display. Located on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, The Broad is adjacent to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and stands out in contrast due to its intricate honeycomb design. The roof also has a high-tech design, with 318 skylight monitors that let in diffused sunlight. Be sure to dine in the free-standing restaurant on the plaza, Otium, which is also beautifully designed with steel, glass, and wood.

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Instead of Flatiron Building, Try Solar Carve

High Line Park View of Glass Clad Office Building - New York
Michael Lee / Getty Images
40 10th Ave, New York, NY 10014, USA

The triangular shape of New York City’s Flatiron Building has allured photographers and visitors since it was built in 1902. Of course, New York City is full of buildings created with interesting angles and curves. You’ll love seeing the city’s Solar Carve, located between the High Line and the Hudson River, where the sun’s rays have influenced the building’s spectacular design. Built in 2019 by Jeanne Gang's firm Studio Gang, this innovative building was intended to positively impact its environment.

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Instead of Transamerica Pyramid, Try the Ferry Building

San Francisco
Lisa-Blue / Getty Images
1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
Phone +1 415-983-8000

The Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco’s Financial District is one of the most iconic buildings in the city. But if you're getting hungry, head straight east to the Ferry Building, where you’ll find an on-foot marketplace full of farmers markets, artisan shops, and cafés. Built in 1898, you’ll see a large clock tower in the center of the building. Wear good walking shoes and bring cash for purchasing foodstuffs and market goods.

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Instead of The Alamo, Try Villa Finale

Villa Finale historic mansion, San Antonio, Texas
Buyenlarge / Getty Images
401 King William St, San Antonio, TX 78204-1409, USA
Phone +1 210-223-9800

San Antonio's most famous building complex is the Alamo Mission, a historic Spanish mission and fortress. For another example of a long-standing architectural wonder, visit Villa Finale, a home built in 1876 during the city’s Spanish period. Located near the River Walk, not far from The Alamo, Villa Finale’s restored building and gardens are a must-see. View the museum and see fine art, antiques, and photography.

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Instead of Philadelphia City Hall, Try Fisher Fine Arts Library

Pennsylvania State University
tupungato / Getty Images
220 S 34th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3807, USA
Phone +1 215-898-8325

While Philadelphia City Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, the ornate and intricate Fisher Fine Arts Library is another architectural beauty worth visiting. Located on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, you’ll notice the 1890s-era building right away for its red sandstone, brick, and terra-cotta outer walls. This is the type of building that you can whittle away hours reading books or journaling.

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Instead of Trinity Church in Boston, Try the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Gardner Museum Names Peggy Fogelman New Director
Paul Marotta / Getty Images
25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Phone +1 617-566-1401

The Trinity Church in Boston, with its murals, organs, and multi-hued stained glass, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. For a truly magical experience, though, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is best viewed from the interior plant- and flower-filled courtyard. You’ll see stone arches and stairways, sculptures, and a garden full of colorful blooms. Inspired by Italian architecture, Isabella Stewart Gardner brought back columns, windows, and doorways from Venice, Florence, and Rome to adorn the museum.

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See This, Not That: Lesser-Known Architecture Gems in the U.S.