One of the most unquestionably enticing elements of travel is feasting your eyes on the buildings that populate your favorite cityscapes. Beyond New York City’s soaring skyline, San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, and Savannah’s iconic oak trees lie city streets lined with skyscrapers, mansions, monuments, and more.
Architectural enthusiasts enamored with rich histories, intricate designs, and enlightened aesthetics are bound to fall in head over heels. For those looking to revel in the best of the best, be sure to add these 10 cities to your must-see American architecture bucket list.
Palm Springs, California
What was once a bustling resort town in the early 1900s has become one of the most iconic cities in California. Palm Springs was the hot spot where early Hollywood elites would escape from Tinseltown and unwind in their beautiful, mid-century modern homes. Today, Hollywood’s playground now stands as a mecca of modernist architecture. A visit to this sleepy yet spectacular town is a must.
Designed to be the first building people encounter on their way into Palm Springs, the Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center, delivered a sharp taste of the modernist vibe that takes full shape just miles down the road. Designed by architects Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers, this cantilevered, wedge-shaped canopy is impossible to miss.
Erected in 1962 as part of famed architect Donald Wexler’s experimental prefab home development plan, the Wexler Steel Houses were meant to multiply into a subdivision of nearly 40 homes. Made entirely of steel, concrete, and glass, rising material costs put a halt to Wexler’s plan. Today, seven steel houses stand and are viewable from the 3100 block of Sunny View Drive and the 300 block of East Molino Road.
Though Twin Palms is a neighborhood and not a single building, this tree-lined part of Palm Springs is home to some of the most outstanding mid-century modern architecture. Indulge in all of the breezeways, butterfly roofs, and clerestory windows your heart desires.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a city filled with gilded histories that tell centuries worth of stories through its many prevalent architecture types. From Creole and Greek Revival to Queen Anne and Edwardian, there is no shortage of architectural abundance in the bayou.
Designed by Paris-born architect, Jacques de Pouilly, in the height of the antebellum Louisiana, the St. Louis Cathedral stands as one of the most grandiose cathedrals in the U.S. Distinguished by its castle-esque appearance and three steeples, this towering French romanticist chapel is a New Orleans must-see.
It’s thanks to the Baroness, Micaela Almonester Pontalba, that we are able to gaze upon the ever-emblematic, parisian-style Pontalba buildings. Occupying two sides of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, the red-brick Pontalba buildings are a staple on any NOLA Instagram photo op list.
Back in 1913, Paul Doullut, a steamboat captain, designed a home for his son resembling the steamboats he once guided up and down the Mississippi river. The Doullut Steamboat homes feature Japanese pagoda-style roofing that makes these homes truly one-of-a-kind.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is home to one of the most rapidly-evolving urban landscapes in America, making it a hotspot for architectural buzz. Despite the electrifying and exciting pace of growth this California city boasts, there’s plenty of established charm to complement the rising modernity.
When it comes to greenhouses and botanical gardens, few compare to the glory of the Conservatory of Flowers. This Victorian greenhouse features some of the most awe-inspiring structural intricacies: domes, dormers, peak roofs, columns, rotundas, and more, all bound together by 16,800 glass windows.
Built as a slightly-undersized reproduction of the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, The Palace of the Legion of Honor’s greatness can instantly transport you to another world.
Built in 1972, William L. Pereira and Harry D. Som’s vision of the Transamerica Pyramid skyscraper came to life. Standing as San Francisco’s second-tallest building, this futurist leviathan scales 48 floors and features an outstanding 212-foot decorative aluminum spire.
Did you know that Chicago is the birthplace of the world’s first skyscraper? Who would have known that 1885’s Home Insurance Building would inspire an architectural trend that would cross continents? Beyond its deep dish pizza, record stores and blustery weather, Chicago has an earned reputation of being one of the most architecturally-rich cities in the country.
Architect Bertrand Goldberg’s vision of Marina City came to fruition in 1968. This brutalist residential complex was the first of its kind to integrate innovative amenities such as an on-site grocery store, a bowling alley, restaurants, and a private marina. These cylindrical towers fostered a revived interest in urban living.
No trip to Chicago is complete without a pit stop to The Rookery. As one of the most beloved buildings by architecture fans, the Rookery’s dramatic spiraling cast iron staircase is also one of the most photographed places in the Windy City.
When you look at the Chicago skyline, you see The Willis Tower. Towering over the city at 108 stories, this 1,450-foot skyscraper in Chicago is the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
Southern charm is best embodied by the spirit of Savannah, Georgia. This romantic city is a living relic of the past: its streets decorated with every 18th and 19th century architectural style you can name. As you traverse Savannah’s cobblestone streets and tree-lined parks, you’re bound to be enchanted.
Glittered with Greek Revival townhouses, Italianate mansions, and Late Victorian homes, Savannah’s historic district is where the heart of Savannah beats. As the largest national historic landmark district in the country, architecture lovers will have a field day with all of the many museums, churches, mansion, forts, and monuments that fill this spellbinding space.
Forsyth Park is one of the most captivating examples of landscape architecture in the United States. 30 acres of recreational land and greenery (plus fountains, monuments, gardens, and intertwining walking paths) all within the Savannah Historic District.
Take in the grandeur of the French-Gothic style Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. This iconic symbol of Savannah graces the skyline with its unmistakable pointed arches and steeples.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Ahh, the great American Southwest. Santa Fe, New Mexico has been long known for its vibrant culture and colorful arts scene, but its place on the architectural map has been underrated for years.
Home of the miraculous staircase, the Loretto Chapel has been shrouded in mystery since its 1878 opening. This Gothic Revival-style chapel’s spiral staircase is one of the architectural world’s greatest puzzles. It features two 360-degree turns without any support—a construction thought to be virtually impossible in its day, and now.
What once served as Spain’s seat of government is now New Mexico’s state history museum. The Palace of the Governors is a beautiful blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and Pueblo Revival architecture, marked by parapets, porticoes, corbels, and latillas.
Built around 1610, San Miguel Mission is known to be the oldest church in the United States. Although the church has been rebuilt twice, it is absolutely worth a visit for those fascinated by adobe structures.
New York City, New York
New York, New York, yourfnewreputation precedes you. From your Statue of Liberty and 840 acres of Central Park to your Empire State Building and 665 miles of underground transportation, you are indeed the City of Dreams. Especially for architecture and design lovers!
Hidden within the gorgeous acreage of Fort Tryon Park lies a metropolis of medieval architecture and art: The Cloisters. Designed by architect Charles Collens, The Cloisters feature some of New York’s most stunning Romanesque and Gothic interior and exterior architecture.
The most recognizable feature living within New York’s skyline, the Empire State Building gazes upon the city. Designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon during the late 1920s, this Art Deco skyscraper is an emblem of the city a century later.
There’s a reason why Grand Central Station is one of the most visited destinations in New York City. Although functioning as a bustling train station, Grand Central is an immaculate example of Beaux Arts architecture. The list of elaborate details is lengthy, but be sure to look up when you visit—the celestial ceiling mural is a sight to behold.
No list of architectural greatness would be complete without Boston, Massachusetts. When you mix New England charm with colonial history and top it off with a rapidly-growing cultural scene, the result is an eclectic city that takes shape in old and new architectural styles. You name it, Boston’s got it.
The unassuming brick building surrounded by glossy glass skyscrapers is bound to catch your eye when touring Downtown Boston. This Georgian beauty is a well-maintained colonial relic with a history almost too extravagant to believe. The Old State House served as the site of the Boston Massacre, as well as the location where the Declaration of Independence was first read.
If you plan on journeying towards Cambridge, you can’t miss the Ray and Maria Stata Center. Designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most notable contemporary architects of our time, this Deconstructivist academic complex sits on MIT’s college campus.
As the birthplace of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Trinity Church’s brilliance speaks for itself. As outstanding as the exterior is, the interior is even more breathtaking. If you’re looking for a fun and budget-friendly first date idea in Boston, pack a picnic, sit on the green, and gaze up.
Newport, Rhode Island
Seaside-set Newport, Rhode Island is famed for its opulent mansions, beautiful beaches and upscale shopping. Though quaint and quiet, there’s glittering gold within this unassuming New England city.
If you’re looking for a shining example of extreme wealth and extravagance, look no further than The Breakers. Commissioned by the Vanderbilt family to serve as a summer home, this Italian Renaissance-style palazzo features an astounding 70 rooms decked out in imported marble, gold paneling, and Greek and Roman architecture as far as the eye can see.
Another home commissioned by the Vanderbilt family, the Marble House was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Built between 1888 and 1892, this imposing mansion is one of the earliest representations of Beaux-Arts architecture in the U.S.
Modeled after the Grand Trianon of Versailles, the romance of the Gilded Age comes to life at Rosecliff. This French, baroque-style mansion features one of the most unforgettable staircases these Gilded Age homes have to offer.
Los Angeles, California
The New York City of the West Coast, Los Angeles is arguably the hippest and most happening city in the Western Hemisphere. In the architecture department, LA lives up to the hype. Though the buildings are newer in age than other American cities on this list, the elegance, aesthetic, and history is nonetheless captivating.
Sitting atop Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory is the gateway to the constellations. This public observatory is an Art Deco jewel that offers sublime views of the city.
When it comes to architectural landmarks in Los Angeles, the Bradbury Building never disappoints. Not only is it the oldest commercial building remaining in the central city, but it is also one of the most extraordinary edifices in the country. Designed by George H. Wyman, the Bradbury building features a transcendent, light-filled Victorian court lined with ornate iron railings, marble staircases, and golden trim.
Nestled within ritzy Beverly Hills, the historic Greystone Mansion and Park is one LA’s most distinctive hidden gems. This Tudor Revival home was the most expensive home in the city when it was completed in 1928.