The Strangest Structures in SoCal

From houses of worship to sci-fi museums, forget what you know about SoCal

Southern California is famous for many spectacular things, but world-class architecture isn't one of them. There are some practical reasons for this, such as the region's proneness to earthquakes, which makes function necessarily more important than form.

If you know where to look, however, you'll find several notable pieces of architecture, from Anaheim to Venice Beach and everywhere in between. The next time your travels take you to the Los Angeles area, look past Hollywood and Disneyland for a moment to appreciate these truly wondrous structures.

  • 01 of 05

    Crystal Cathedral

    Crystal Cathedral
    Nepenthes via Wikimedia Commons

    The first surprising thing about Crystal Cathedral is that it's an actual church. This is surprising because you don't think of Southern California as a hotbed for religion.

    The second surprising thing about this megachurch, which gets it name from the fact that it's made almost entirely from glass, is just how convenient it is to the popular attractions of Orange County. It's just a few minutes' drive from Disneyland. Plan to visit the Crystal Cathedral at off-peak times, or you'll spend your time in its pews praying for light traffic on your way back!

  • 02 of 05

    George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

    Lucas Museum
    Lucas Museum Free License

    Although the final "Star Wars" movie will have been out for two years by the time the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art opens, entering the museum will surely make you feel like you've stepped into a galaxy far, far away. You don't need to be a "Star Wars" fan to appreciate the truly otherworldly design of the museum, which looks like something more suited to traveling through space at hyper speed rather than rising above an otherwise ordinary part of Los Angeles.

    It remains to be seen where any of the sequel trilogy films, which weren't Lucas' works and haven't been particularly well-received, will be represented in the museum.

  • 03 of 05

    Walt Disney Concert Hall

    Walt Disney Concert Hall
    Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons

    When the Lucas Museum finally opens, the Walt Disney Concert Hall will look almost normal in comparison. That's not to say, however, that the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic isn't otherworldly in its own right. The hall is a towering structure of curved metal pieces and almost resembles the head of Mickey Mouse if you look at it the right way or if the orchestral notes of "Fantasia" happen to be spilling out onto the streets from inside. (Or rock anthems belted by former Disney channel stars who've become pop icons in their own right, as it were.)

  • 04 of 05

    California Scenario

    California Scenario
    Wikimapia

    More than a single building, California Scenario is a small-scale representation of California's physical manifestations. This site is in Costa Mesa, a stone's throw from John Wayne Airport and, depending on traffic, not too far from downtown LA on the 405.

    If you want to see more of California but simply don't have time for a grand Golden State road trip, this is a particularly great destination for you. It showcases all the landscapes of California, from the forests of the north to the deserts of the southeast to the various bodies of water throughout the state.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    The Geisel Library in San Diego

    Geisel Library San Diego
    Ben Gunsford via Wikimedia Commons

    If you expand the definition of "SoCal" a bit further south, you can visit a structure that is not only incredible to look at, but has a story that's sure to make you smile. Indeed, the most special detail about the the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego isn't its having been designed by famous architect William Pereira, or the fact that it has a massive biomedical library.

    Rather, the name of the library comes from Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel, the latter of whom is better known as "Dr. Seuss." The Library, as it's more commonly called, looks cool too, but is that really surprising? Have you ever read a Dr. Seuss book? No wonder on how many Loraxes live near the library, though it's probably safe to assume any local cats wear hats.

    Of course, even if you don't venture south of Los Angeles County, the architectural appeal of Southern California doesn't at the Hollywood Sign. Whether you explore the more adult side of Orange County while the younger members of your family delight in Disneyland or you take a design-oriented detour in downtown LA, you'll be surprised at the structural integrity of SoCal.