Vibrant Main Street in Solvang lined with buildings showcasing unique architecture. Editorial credit: HannaTor /

These 9 Towns in Southern California Have Beautiful Architecture

Southern California is riddled with world-class attractions that draw visitors from around the country. From pristine beaches to sprawling national parks and buzzing nightlife, there is no shortage of exciting experiences for all types of travelers. But beyond the crowded Los Angeles metropolis, the best-kept secret in SoCal lies in its small towns. Their storied history, cultural diversity, and relaxed rural setting provide a fresh experience in the region's true heart and soul.

One of the reasons these small towns in Southern California appeal to tourists is the gorgeous historic architecture decorating the downtown corridor. Strolling through their vibrant main streets feels like a journey back in time, revealing antique buildings with ingenious architectural aesthetics from eras gone by. If you are on a Southern California itinerary, remember to stop by these towns for their architectural charm.


View of the Danish village in Solvang, California.
European architecture on display in the Danish Village of Solvang, California. Editorial credit: Bill Morson /

Driving into this quaint Santa Ynez Valley town feels like being transported to a tiny historic village in rural Denmark. Solvang conspicuously stands out for its old-world European architecture, evidenced by the Solvang Visitor Center. As the first stop for newcomers in the town, this is where you get all the information you need, from the top attractions and lodging options to the best wine and dine spots. Among the most notable points of interest is the Mission Santa Inés from 1804. The building represents one of the best-preserved missions on the West Coast and showcases authentic Spanish colonial architecture.

Solvang promises visitors a rich cultural experience, which you can get a feel for inside the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art. The center displays a range of artifacts that bring out the town’s Danish heritage. Meanwhile, Hans Christian Andersen Park invites the public for laidback picnics in a green outdoor space.

San Juan Capistrano

The Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano, California.
The historic Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano, California.

San Juan Capistrano’s history dates back to 1776, when the Spanish founded it. While many tales have washed away with time, there are still a couple of historic sites to showcase local heritage. Considered the cradle of Orange County, Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of the most visited landmarks in the town, unique for its old Spanish architecture. Walking through the Los Rios Street Historic District introduces visitors to California’s oldest neighborhood, where a cluster of over 30 historic structures housing different types of businesses provides an interesting look into the past.

But history is not the only thing that will get you hooked on San Juan Capistrano. The town has plenty of outdoor opportunities across the sprawling expanse of Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park. From camping and hiking to biking and wildlife watching, the 8,000-acre nature space is a hub for all outdoor enthusiasts.


 Aerial view of the Catalina Casino and Avalon Harbor in Avalon, California.
Aerial view of the Avalon Harbor and Catalina Casino in Avalon, California. Editorial credit: Unwind /

Avalon is a tiny resort town that takes travelers from the California mainland to the beautiful Santa Catalina Island. The town gets about 1 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular destinations in the state. Aquatic-based adventures dominate activities in Avalon, with local outfitters like Catalina Adventure Sailing entertaining guests with remarkable sailing excursions and wildlife viewing opportunities. In the heart of the town, you will come across the Catalina Museum for Art & History, which not only delights with its charming architecture featuring Spanish Mission style fused with art deco effects from the 1920s but also harbors interesting exhibits dating back over eight millennia. The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden is another notable point of interest in Avalon, situated a short distance from downtown. It honors the legacy of chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. via an art deco memorial and features a 38-acre garden with exotic desert plant species.


View of the Post Office and lively street in Ojai, California.
The historic Ojai Post Office along a lively street in Ojai, California. Editorial credit: shuttersv /

Settled in the mid-1800s, Ojai exudes old-world vibes with its conspicuous Spanish revival architecture, best exemplified by the Ojai Arcade. This 1917 landmark is intertwined with local history, making it a tourist hub in the little town. Ojai is an artsy community, evidenced by the impressive collection of galleries and art centers, such as the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts. Also, the Ojai Valley Museum offers an interesting perspective of the town's past through a collection of historical and cultural artifacts set in a former church.

Beautiful natural surroundings, punctuated with the peaks of the Topatopa Mountains and the canopy of Los Padres National Forest, allow outdoor enthusiasts to feel right at home in Ojai. The scenic backdrop also ensures exciting adventure opportunities in areas like the Ojai Meadows Preserve, offering an insight into South Carolina’s flora.

Santa Paula

Old train station in Santa Paula, California.
The historic Train Station in Santa Paula, California.

Proclaiming itself as the "Citrus Capital of the World," Santa Paula lies in the picturesque Santa Clara River Valley, dotted with sprawling orchards. Its historic downtown is a must-visit and features a charming skyline of long-tenured buildings with varied architectural styles. The Santa Paula Art Museum stands out as the focal point of the local art community, exhibiting different pieces by local and regional artists. The museum takes space in two renovated buildings, one of which is the 1924 Limoneira Building.

On the other hand, enthusiasts who prefer theatrical art can head to the 1917-built mansion and National Register of Historic Places listed Santa Paula Theater Center to catch different forms of enthralling live performances. Hand in hand with the performances, the rustic ambiance and charming architecture will keep anyone entertained for hours. A few blocks away, Santa Paula's agricultural prowess through the years is well documented inside the Museum of Ventura County's Agriculture Museum, which displays diverse farming artifacts in a 19th-century mill building.


Street view of rustic buildings in the old town area of Julian, California.
View of rustic buildings lining a street in old town Julian, California. Editorial credit: littlenySTOCK /

Designated a California Historical Landmark, Julian is one of the few towns in Southern California with a gold rush heritage. Its colorful history comes to life when walking down its quaint Main Street, where 19th-century buildings offer a window into its gold mining heydays. Eateries like the Julian Cafe & Bakery shine, pulling travelers into an era of the past. Similarly, a stop by the Julian Pioneer Museum presents guests with a broader perspective of life in the town throughout its history, with an opportunity to browse diverse artifacts from the early settler days.

Julian hosts a bustling winery scene, with multiple establishments, including Volcan Mountain Winery, offering oenophiles a chance to sample the best crafts from the region. Beyond the downtown limits, adventurers can find nice nature trails throughout the Volcan Mountain County Preserve, which also rewards breathtaking desert views.


The Verbal Building in Claremont, California.
Intricate architecture on display at the Verbal Building in Claremont, California. By Sdkb - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

This quaint Los Angeles suburb is known for hosting several colleges that not only inject a youthful vibrance but also elevate its local art scene. A collection of venues, including the Claremont Lewis Museum of Art and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, makes Claremont a must-visit for art enthusiasts. The town's cultural diversity is palpable in the Folk Music Center, which houses hundreds of musical instruments from various parts of the world.

Claremont has a walkable downtown, ‘Claremont Village,’ corridor lined with 150+ historic buildings that charm visitors with their European-style 20th-century architecture. Meanwhile, those who want to stray beyond the town center can find fantastic hiking opportunities across the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park.


View of downtown Monrovia, California.
View of a church in downtown Monrovia, California.

Monrovia boasts beautiful natural surroundings in the foothills of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains, accompanied by historic tales. This legacy is consolidated by Old Town Monrovia, a charming historic district with several landmarks and cultural attractions. Here, unique architecture styles encompass visitors, offering plenty of Instagrammable spots. One can delve deeper into the town's captivating history at the Monrovia Historical Museum, which chronicles landmark moments throughout its existence, including its role during the First and Second World Wars.

Monrovia Farmers Market is a must-visit for those looking to experience the town's cultural diversity. The eccentric market offers an opportunity to interact with bubbly locals and shop for cute handmade crafts.

San Dimas

View of the historic downtown area in San Dimas, California.
Historic downtown buildings on Bonita Avenue in San Dimas, California. Editorial credit: Matt Gush /

San Dimas is another beautiful town in the San Gabriel Valley, located a short drive from Los Angeles. It offers a relaxed suburban atmosphere with plenty of green spaces, such as the San Dimas Canyon Park and Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park. But beyond its lovely outdoors, the town hosts a historic downtown area with structures dating back to the 1800s. Conveniently explorable on foot, tourists can walk down Bonita Avenue to experience its rustic charm, where antique buildings housing restaurants, boutique stores, galleries, and other businesses give the area a lively vibe.

Notable stops to make while exploring the historic neighborhood include Walker House (San Dimas Hotel). With a gorgeous Queen Anne-style architectural design, the structure was constructed in 1887 as the second building in San Dimas to attract migrants coming from the east.

Wrapping Up

There is a lot to learn about these historic towns in Southern California. This is especially true when you explore the well-preserved antique buildings, portraying the original character of the town through unique architecture. Whether a history buff or not, more attractions across the towns make for exciting adventures. From endless outdoor activities in the backcountry and lovely shopping opportunities in the town center, tourists can look forward to something suitable for their taste in these Southern California gems.

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