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Top 10 Famous Buildings in San Diego

The second-most populous city in California is located in the utmost southern part of the state. San Diego straddles the Mexican border and is home to nearly 1.4 million inhabitants.

This place also has the most extensive history on the West Coast of the United States because it’s here where the first Europeans settled. Before that, the Kumeyaay People lived in this area, a native American tribe sometimes referred to as Diegueños.

Although the first Spanish arrived at San Diego Baby in 1542, they didn’t map the area until 1602. They arrived on a ship called “San Diego.”

This isn’t why the city is now referred to as San Diego, though, because it was named the area in honor of Catholic Saint Didacus, also known as “San Diego de Alcalá.”

The first settlement that would become the major city we know today was established in 1769. What’s remarkable is that it became part of Mexico in 1821 as a town in Alta California.

It wasn’t until the conclusion of the Mexican–American War of 1846–48 that Mexico ceded the area of Alto California which included San Diego to the United States. In 1850, California finally became part of the U.S.

Below, we have compiled a list of some of the most famous buildings in San Diego.

1. Mission San Diego de Alcalá

The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the second mission that the Spanish founded in the Californias, the newly established province of New Spain at the time. This famous building in California was founded by a Spanish friar in 1769 in a region that was then inhabited by the Kumeyaay people.

The original building burned down because of an uprising that happened in 1775. One of the friars that were killed during this event lies buried beneath the floor of the mission’s chancel. The building that still stands today is the fifth in this location and was completed in the early 19th century.

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Official website: Mission San Diego

Mission San Diego de Alcalá
Mission San Diego de Alcalá / Marelbu / Wiki Commons

2. Geisel Library

The Geisel Library is one of the most stunning buildings in San Diego. It’s located in the center of the Campus of the University of California, San Diego, and serves as the university’s main library. It features a remarkable neo-Futuristic design with elements of Brutalist architecture.

The building was named in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his nickname Dr. Seuss, and his wife Audrey. He was a children’s author who sold hundreds of millions of copies of his books worldwide. The design of the building resembles hands that are holding up stacks of books.

Official website: Geisel Library

Famous buildings in San Diego Geisel Library
The Geisel Library / O Palsson / Wiki Commons

3. Old Point Loma Lighthouse

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse that is located on the Point Loma Peninsula of San Diego Bay. This fascinating lighthouse isn’t operational anymore but is open to the public because it serves as a museum as part of the Cabrillo National Monument.

What’s interesting about this lighthouse is that it was constructed in 1855. This means that it has no relationship to the Spanish or Mexican eras of San Diego and was commissioned by the United States Government. This happened shortly after California became a U.S. state in 1850, although it took 5 years before the structure was finally completed.

Official website: Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Old Point Loma lighthouse
Old Point Loma lighthouse / Ctorbann / Wiki Commons

4. Whaley House

The Whaley House is another historic building in San Diego that was completed shortly after California became part of the United States. It was constructed in 1857 and served as the home of Thomas Whaley, one of the first settlers in San Diego. It was so used as the family’s general store.

This wasn’t the only purpose that this building has served throughout its history, though, because it also served as San Diego’s second county courthouse and as the home of the first theater in the city as well. Another remarkable fact about this house is that it’s the oldest brick building in Southern California.

Official website: Whaley House

Whaley House San Diego
Whaley House / Joe Mabel / Wiki Commons

5. One America Plaza

San Diego has a nice skyline, but there aren’t a huge number of tall skyscrapers located in this city in Southern California. This becomes clear by the fact that One America Plaza is the tallest building in the city at about 150 meters (500 feet) and has been since it was completed in the year 1991.

The building is one of the most stunning landmarks on the Waterfront of downtown San Diego and features a distinctive obelisk-faced design. One of the main reasons that no taller buildings can be constructed in downtown San Diego is because of the proximity to San Diego International Airport.

Official website: One America Plaza

One America Plaza in San Diego
One America Plaza / Raman Patel / Wiki Commons

6. Santa Fe Depot

Santa Fe Depot is a union station and historic landmark in San Diego. This amazing railway station was completed in 1915 and features the distinctive Spanish Colonial style design that is integrated into many buildings in the city.

This building was constructed to replace an even older Victorian-style building that was completed in 1887 to serve the growing demand following a real estate boom in the city. This old depot was completed in 1887 and replaced by this building that was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Official website: Santa Fe Depot

Santa Fe Depot in San Diego
Santa Fe Depot / Tristan Loper / Wiki Commons

7. San Diego California Temple

The San Diego California Temple was the 47th temple in the United States that was constructed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It took almost 9 years to complete the building from the time it was announced in 1984 t the time it was dedicated in 1993.

The building features two large spires that are surrounded by 4 smaller spires at their bases. The eastern spire is topped by a statue of Angel Moroni. The spires reach a maximum height of 52 meters (169 feet) and the building features a total floor space of 6,700 square meters (72,000 square feet).

Official website: San Diego California Temple

San Diego California Temple
San Diego California Temple / Beyond My Ken / Wiki Commons

8. Keating Building

The Keating Building is also referred to as the Keating Hotel and is a luxury hotel that features 35 rooms. It was designed in the Romanesque Revival style which was derived from medieval Romanesque architecture. The sturdy towers and rounded windows are distinct characteristics of this style.

The building was completed in 1890 and originally served as an office building. It was one of the most revolutionary buildings in San Diego at the time because it featured steam heating and a wire cage elevator. The building was named in honor of its architect George J. Keating who passed away during construction.

Official website: Keating Building

Keating Building in San Diego
Keating Building / Bernard Gagnon / Wiki Commons

9. El Cortez

El Cortez is a huge hotel building that is located n top of a little hill in the northern part of downtown San Diego. It was constructed between 1926 and 1927 and stands 94 meters (310 feet) tall. This made it the tallest building in San Diego upon completion and the most notable landmark in San Diego’s skyline for multiple decades.

The distinctive El Cortez sign on top of the building was added in 1937 and it became a symbol of the city. Unfortunately, the business declined and the building was threatened with demolition in the 1990s. Luckily, this remarkable historic building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Today, it’s a residential tower that features condominiums.

El Cortez in San Diego
El Cortez in San Diego / Nehrams2020 / Wiki Commons

10. San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art is a museum dedicated to fine art that is located at 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park. This is an immense historic urban park that was the home of 2 world fairs and which features many interesting attractions, including the most popular museum in the city.

The museum was established in 192 and offers an amazing collection of art from a wide variety of artists. The most notable collection is that of Spanish artworks. The building of the museum features a distinctive entrance that was designed in the Plateresque architectural style which means “in the manner of a silversmith.”

Official website: San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Arts
San Diego Museum of Art / Bernard Gagnon / Wiki Commons