The 8 Most Recognizable Places in Los Angeles

The Hollywood Sign above the Hollywood hills
Tim Hawley/Getty Images

These eight places are all so well-recognized that photos of any of them evoke Los Angeles in the viewer's mind. You may not recognize some of them by name, but you'll no doubt remember them all as you see their pictures.

01 of 08

Recognizable Places in LA - The Theme Building, LAX

Theme Building, LAX
Corbis/Getty Images

The first recognizable building to top this list is the Theme Building at LAX.

Where Have You Seen the LAX Theme Building Before?

This space-ship-shaped building usually shows up in films when someone is flying into the Los Angeles airport. You know the scene: the plane lands, then you see the building - and immediately you know where they are.

What Is the LAX Theme Building?

Built in 1961 as part of the Jet Age Terminal Construction Project, the Theme Building's futuristic design belongs to a style of architecture that's sometimes called Googie, created by architects Paul R. Williams, Pereira & Luckman, and Robert Herrick Carter.

Inside the Theme Building was once is a restaurant named Encounter and a bar called Genesis, designed by Walt Disney Imagineering and opened in 1997. The theme was pure futuristic fantasy, serving cocktails with whimsical names like The Black Hole and The Jet Set. Unfortunately, it closed in 2015 with no plans to reopen it.

Why It's Iconic

Built in the 1960s when everyone's focus was toward space and the future, the Theme Building has such a unique design - and you've seen it so many times in the film - that everyone knows where it is. It's an icon not only of the city but also of the times.

Go See It

The official address of the Theme Building is 209 World Way, Los Angeles CA. It's right in the middle of the u-shaped terminal area. Go in on the arrivals level (lower) and drive until you see the sign for Encounter.

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02 of 08

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Disneyland

Disneyland Castle at Night
Spencer Goad/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You've seen this castle in so many Disneyland advertisements and friends' photos that you probably can't count them.

What Is Sleeping Beauty's Castle?

The centerpiece of Disneyland in Anaheim has been there since the day the park opened, its design based Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany's Bavaria. Sleeping Beauty's Castle is not the biggest castle in a Disney park, but it has the distinction of being the first, its size tempered by Walt Disney's desire not to overwhelm his guests. The drawbridge has been pulled up only twice, during Disneyland's opening in 1955 and again in 1983 for the Fantasyland re-dedication.

Why It's Iconic

The shape of the castle is so distinctive that it's used in the Disneyland logo - and how many times have you seen an animated Tinkerbell fly past it?

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03 of 08

Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign
Betsy Malloy Photography

Credit for the name Hollywood goes to the wife of early Los Angeles resident Harvey Wilcox, who heard someone talking about their Florida summer home "Hollywood." She liked the name, suggested it to her husband and it stuck.

The Hollywood Sign started out as a big billboard for a housing development: Hollywoodland put up in 1923. Originally, it lit up in sections: Holly... wood... land - and finally a giant period.​

Go See It

It's located on Mount Lee, the tallest peak in Los Angeles just above the Hollywood neighborhood. It measures 450 feet long and each letter is 45 feet tall. It was supposed to last just a few years, but 9 of its original 13 letters are still there decades later.

Why It's Iconic

The association of a word with a place is an obvious kind of icon, but even the arrangement of the letters is recognizable. It's an icon not only of the town that it sits above but also of the entire film industry that was born there.

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04 of 08

Los Angeles City Hall

Los Angeles City Hall
Nicole Corpuz/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you don't recognize it instantly, City Hall is on every Los Angeles policeman's badge. It was also the office of detective Joe Friday (Dragnet), the Daily Planet building in the 1950s version of Superman, and has appeared in more films than many Hollywood actors.

What Is the Los Angeles City Hall?

This one is pretty obvious. It's the seat of the Los Angeles city government. Built in 1928, it was the tallest building in Los Angeles - at 32 stories - until 1964.

Why It's Iconic

After holding a place as the high point of the Los Angeles skyline for nearly four decades, City Hall is an iconic part of the city's early history. Its depiction on the policeman's badge and association with Dragnet make it an icon of law enforcement in Los Angeles as well.

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05 of 08

Lifeguard Truck at Venice Beach

Lifeguard Truck in Venice Beach
Dani/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Think 1990s-era television series Baywatch, which ran for 9 seasons before moving to Hawaii.

Why It's Iconic

After appearing for so many seasons on one of the most popular television shows ever created, the yellow lifeguard truck with the surfboard on top is inextricably linked to the ​Los Angeles beaches. It also evokes the stereotype that Los Angeles weather is always sunny and its residents always sexy.

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06 of 08

Grauman's Chinese Theater

Grauman's Chinese Theater
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

Have you watched celebrities arriving for a Los Angeles movie premiere? Seen footage of the current hot star putting their hands and feet in cement. Maybe you remember the street scene in The Italian Job, the one where the armored truck suddenly drops through the street? These scenes all feature Grauman's Chinese Theater.

What Is Grauman's Chinese Theater?

It's a real, honest-to-goodness movie theater, built in 1927. Its over-the-top Chinese decor make it one of the most fun places in LA to see a film - and who can resist those swishy red curtains opening as the film begins?

Outside in the courtyard are the famous hand- and footprints of Hollywood stars stretching back into the 1920s.

Why It's Iconic

Grauman's unique architecture is an icon of a time when movie theaters gave as much entertainment as the films they screened, the forecourt is full of reminders of filmdom's icons and its looks are so distinctive that you couldn't mistake it for something else.

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07 of 08

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Performing Arts Center and Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Betsy Malloy Photography

In the few years since it was completed in 2003, this Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall has appeared in scores of television commercials, starting to show up only months after it opened.

What Is the Walt Disney Concert Hall?

First and foremost, it's home to the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, but they aren't the only ones who perform there. Its acoustics make listening to any kind of musical performance as much of a treat for the ears as the exterior is for the eyes.

Why It's Iconic

The rapidity with which this unusual structure started showing up is a hint. It's designed by a local architect of world-class fame, situated in a part of downtown Los Angeles that is slated to become the new face of LA. We think it's an icon of the future of the city.

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08 of 08

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory
Tom Benson/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Perhaps the Griffith Observatory's most famous star turn was in the final shootout scene of the classic film Rebel Without a Cause, but that's far from the only one. It's also been seen in Jurassic Park, Queen of the Damned, The Terminator, Melrose Place, and Star Trek: Voyager.

What Is the Griffith Observatory?

A lot of cities have them. It's a planetarium, with space-oriented displays and a star show.

Why It's Iconic

Sitting above downtown Los Angeles, the observatory offers some iconic views, but it's also an icon of the area's technological side: Cal Tech is nearby and so are USC and UCLA - and just outside the city on Mount Wilson, astronomer Edwin Hubble (whose name you may have heard) made some of the greatest early discoveries in astronomy.

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