Rustic buildings along Broad Street in Nevada City, California. Image credit Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

These 10 Towns in California Have Beautiful Architecture

Lovingly known as the Golden State, the great state of California has some of the most beautiful examples of architecture within the continental United States. Either through some quaint, historic downtown areas or even singular architectural buildings, there is something for every person inside these small California towns. From the town of Yreka and W. Miner Street, situated just south of the Oregon border, to the small town of Julian, located only a few miles east of the city of San Diego, the architecture of many of these buildings will take your breath away over and over.


Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Image Credit oliverdelahaye via Shutterstock

Located in Monterey County, south of San Jose, the pastoral town of Carmel-By-The-Sea has some of the most beautiful architecture along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The Comstock Cottages, designed and built by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s, have displayed a whimsical side to life in Carmel for an entire century. Similarly, the nearby Tuck Box is a lovely restaurant housed in a 1927 cottage, offering a blend of vintage ambiance and delicious food. Nearby, the Tor House, another excellent example of excellent architecture in Carmel, was the residence of Robinson Jeffers and his family from 1919 to 1999. After exploring the intricate tales throughout town, visitors can book a room at the Carmel Cottage Inn, which boasts five individual cottages set within their own private gardens. Moreover, it is only a block from Carmel Beach, where one can sunbathe, swim, and relax in this lovely town.


Buildings in downtown Yreka, California.
Businesses lined along downtown Yreka, California. By Chmee2 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The town of Yreka, located about twenty miles from the Oregon border in Siskiyou County, is best known for its West Miner Street historic district. This district dates back to the California Gold Rush and the middle of the nineteenth century, and tons of historical architecture abound. For example, the 1856 Chamberlain-Stimmel Building, the 1855 Franco American Hotel, and the 1867 Robert Nixon Jr. Home are all hotspots. Whether it is intricate brickwork or simple Italianate design, these buildings are full of unique details. Along with sixty other houses and buildings, Yreka is an entertaining destination, with spots like the Rain Rock Casino for gambling and Jefferson’s Roadhouse for a meal.


Windmill and Danish buildings in Solvang, California.
Windmill and Danish-style businesses along a street in Solvang, California.

Located in Santa Barbara County, just a few miles from the city of Santa Barbara itself, the town of Solvang has experienced a thick Danish influence from its start in 1911. With many buildings in town sporting wooden facades over their lower halves, Solvang brings visitors to a mini-Denmark in America. Among the attractions, the Mission Santa Inés is among the most influential and one of the best-preserved of California’s 21 missions. There are even several windmills located in town, with many of them within a few yards of each other. Though none of these windmills are currently in operation, except for Wuff’s Windmill, built in 1922 by J.C. Wulff, they still provide an intimate connection to Denmark and its Danish influence.

San Simeon

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San Simeon, California

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse near San Simeon, California

San Simeon is a town in San Luis Obispo County, just a few miles north of the San Simeon Hearst State Park, which is inundated with some great architectural pieces. Most prominent on this list would be Hearst Castle, built in Hearst State Park by architect Julia Morgan over 30 years in the 20th century for a media mogul named William Randolph Hearst. Today, this wondrous example of historical architecture is well worth visiting. Other exciting destinations in San Simeon include Sebastian’s General Store, which began serving mercantile goods to whalers, fishermen, and ranchers in 1852 and is still open to this very day, and San Simeon State Beach, which first opened in 1937.

Sutter Creek

Barn in Sutter Creek, California.
A rustic barn in the town of Sutter Creek, California.

The town of Sutter Creek, located in Amador County, is most famous for being the site of many gold mines during the California Gold Rush of 1848. Currently, Sutter Creek is the permanent residence of 2,500 people. It first received its name from John Augustus Sutter, a Swiss immigrant and millwright. Along with the buildings and areas integral to the discovery of gold surviving to this day, like Miner’s Bend Historic Gold Mining Park, Sutter Creek is home to some other architectural establishments unrelated to the Gold Rush. These include several galleries, wineries, and Knight Foundry, established in 1873 by Samuel Knight, where guests can experience America’s last operating water-powered foundry and machine shop. Visitors looking for more views can walk along Main Street, lined with rustic designs and eccentric businesses.


Aerial view of Julian in California.
Aerial view of Julian and surrounding forests in California.

Hidden away to the northeast of San Diego, Julian is best known for its connection to the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, William Heise County Park, and Cuyamaka Rancho State Park. Yet, this quaint town of less than two thousand people has a great historic side as well as an excellent naturalistic one. Julian is also home to the Julian Pioneer Museum, which showcases the town’s Gold Rush history, and the Julian Stage Line Museum, which houses a 1912 Mack Stage and a 1924 Cadillac Bus. Moreover, the town is a California Historical Landmark, and plenty of vintage architecture styles await at each corner, especially in the Julian Historic District. Thus, one can always take the family on a self-guided tour down historic Main Street to engross themselves in local designs.


Avalon harbor on Santa Catalina Island.
Avalon Harbor along Santa Catalina Island along the coast of California.

Situated on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California, the quaint town of Avalon is currently home to around 3,500 welcoming residents. Also home to the Green Pleasure Pier, Wrigley Botanical Gardens, and the Catalina Museum for Art & History, this small town possesses more great architectural pieces than many towns twice its size. The Green Pleasure Pier, first constructed in the early 1900s, is now one of the best places along the Pacific coast for fishing. Wrigley Botanical Gardens is home to the Wrigley Memorial, which honors William Wrigley Jr., the founder of Wrigley’s chewing gum. Lastly, the Catalina Museum offers visitors historical knowledge on everything from musical performances to silent documentaries.

Nevada City

Nevada City, California: A Gold Rush-era town in Northern California.
Downtown Nevada City, California. Image credit EWY Media via

Hidden away in Nevada County, Nevada City claims a population of just over three thousand permanent residents. Situated just under 150 miles northeast of San Francisco and just under 90 miles southwest of Reno, this quaint California town is close enough to the hustle of the bigger cities. Yet Nevada City has its own attractions, especially in the architectural sense. Being one of the more famous Gold Rush towns, Nevada City has a history like several other towns in the Sierra Nevadas. Some hotspots include the 1851 Pioneer Cemetary and the Nevada City United Methodist Church, the county’s first denominational church.

Apart from these sites, Nevada City has a historic district that is equal to almost any other mining town on the West Coast, beginning as early as 1917 and now sixteen acres in size. Further out from the town, Empire Mine State Historic Park is located in nearby Grass Valley, and South Yuba River State Park is in nearby Penn Valley.


Amtrak station in Dunsmuir, California.
The historic Amtrak Station in Dunsmuir, California. By Visitor7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Titled the “home of the best water on Earth” and located in Siskiyou County, the town of Dunsmuir is currently home to less than two thousand people. This does not prevent this picturesque town in the northern California mountains from possessing some of the best pieces of architecture on the West Coast. Along with several natural attractions, like Hedge Creek Falls, the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens, and Mossbrae Falls, the town of Dunsmuir is also home to the Siskiyou Art Museum. Plus, even though the town started in the early 1900s, the Siskiyou Trail allowed people to live and survive in the area for almost five thousand years, providing architectural pieces from several different times.


The Pythian Castle in Arcata, California.
Unique architecture of the Pythian Castle building in Arcata, California.

The town of Arcata, located in Humboldt County along the Pacific coast, is a hidden oasis between several large cities. Close to Clam Beach County Park, a Community Forest, and their marsh and wildlife sanctuary, Arcata truly has a flair for natural attractions. Yet this town of less than twenty thousand also has a historical side worth checking out. The downtown historic district and several other locations around town provide ample opportunity for visitors to experience the true heritage of those who first lived there. The Phillips House Museum even allows for a taste of that heritage, showcasing how the first settlers survived there. The Phillips House is also currently the oldest building in Arcata, dating back as early as the 1850s.


These ten towns within the great state of California possess some of the best historic districts, as well as singular architectural buildings, along the West Coast of America, and some of best architectural downtowns in the continent of North America. From Carmel-By-The-Sea and its quaint, picturesque cottages to Sutter Creek and its claim to be the “Jewel of the Mother Lode” to Arcata and its Phillips House Museum from the 1850s, these ten towns possess something for everyone and a little special something for each person individually.

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