San Diego Architectural Styles, Designs, & Examples




Lys Thibault

From Victorian styles to Modern styles, you will find a very diverse range of beautiful home architecture in San Diego. Enjoy this list of SoCal house styles you’ll find in our fine city.

As local luxury interior designers in San Diego, we have a deep passion for architecture and architectural history.

In this post, we’ll be highlighting the amazing exteriors and architecture that can be found throughout the region.

Southern California architecture has a history that showcases the population’s unique culture. You will find many types of architectural styles like glorious Mediterranean style mansions, but also conservative craftsman homes built for middle class families.

Please take a moment to enjoy this list of our research on the splendor of San Diego architecture and the characteristics of each local design style. Let us know if we missed any in the comments.


6 Architectural Design Styles in San Diego, CA


1. Victorian Style Architecture in San Diego

Although not the first architectural style that comes to mind when you think of Southern California, San Diego is actually speckled with quite a bit of Victorian style architecture.

One of the most iconic examples of Victorian style architecture in San Diego is the Hotel Del Coronado. A celebrity favorite, this beautiful historic hotel is a symbol of San Diego and the Coronado Island on which it is built.



Victorian Styles in San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Architecture

The Gaslamp District (or Gaslamp Quarter to be more accurate) is also mainly comprised of Victorian style buildings (94 to be exact), most of which house active restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

Heritage Park, a residential development near Old Town San Diego, is also home to several restored residences that have all been relocated to the park. Some are open to the public for tours, but many are private.



Victorian style architecture is a period architecture that refers to the time period of 1837-1901, in which Queen Victoria reigned in Britain. Much of the style actually consists of the interpretation and revival of several historic styles, but the most prominent and influential style on the era was the Gothic style.

Other influencing styles that came out of the era were the Queen Anne Style and The Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Victorian style was fueled by the Industrial Revolution, which allowed for cheap and quick production of goods now available (even to the lower classes) for the first time. New technologies that rose out of the Industrial Revolution allowed for new and vibrant paint colors and the easy transport of materials not previously available to certain regions.


Characteristics of the Victorian Style Include:

  • Non-traditional and asymmetrical shapes
  • Decorative and highly elaborate trims, usually of different colors
  • Steeply pitched roofs and gables
  • Towers, turrets, and dormers
  • Wide wrap-around porches
  • Wood or stone exteriors
  • Vibrant colors
  • Varied window shapes and sizes
  • Stained glass

So next time you’re downtown or driving around San Diego, keep your eyes open for the Victorian style homes that are peppered throughout the landscape.


2. Mission Style Architecture in San Diego

Mission style architecture is unique in that it was influenced mainly by the Spanish missions and monasteries and no other architectural style.

In 1769, the first mission was established by Father Junipero Serra as Mission San Diego de Alcalá, pictured below. The goal of the Spanish missions were to convert the Native Americans in California to Catholicism and also gain presence in the area so that other rival countries to Spain did not try to settle the land.



San Diego de Alcalá is the first of the 21 California Missions and marks the birthplace of Christianity in the west coast of the United States.

Once the Native Americans converted to Christianity, they lived in the missions to continue their religious education. They were also required to perform labor such as farming and building the missions and homes.

Native Americans used all-natural building materials such as stone, timber, adobe, and mud bricks to build the mission structures. The use of these materials is what defines many characteristics of the mission style.

The walls were usually built very thick because of the nature of mud and adobe bricks, which were used as walls. Plaster was often used on the exterior and the interior and was juxtaposed against large, dark beams in the ceilings. Missions were also usually built around patios that contained fountains and gardens.


Characteristics of Mission Style Architecture Include:

  • Natural plaster, stucco, or stone exterior
  • Red tile roof
  • Interior patios with fountains and gardens
  • Natural materials such as clay, mud, stone, and timber
  • Stark interiors with deliberate areas of brightly colored tiles/textiles and dark beams
  • Quatrefoil windows or arched windows
  • Arched entryway or arch near the entryway
  • A small bell tower of some sort
  • Plain and minimalistic style with little embellishment

The style was very minimalistic based on the nature of the materials used and also the function of the missions in which the style was influenced by.


3. American Craftsman Architecture in San Diego


The Arts and Crafts movement in Britain developed in response to the Industrial Revolution, which with it’s assembly-line vigor, no longer valued the individual craftsman and his craft. The Arts and Crafts movement therefore cherished handwork over mass production. Unfortunately, this type of skilled labor was costly and only available to a wealthy clientele.


The American Craftsman movement also developed in response to the Industrial Revolution and somewhat gaudy style of the Victorian Era, taking influence from the British Arts and Crafts movement.

The difference between the American and the British movements, was that the American movement had the goal of making this style available to the growing middle class, as opposed to just the wealthy, especially with the Craftsman Bungalow. Because of this, several adjustments needed to be made to accommodate a middle-class mother who was doing most of the housework and also caring for the children. For example, the kitchen and butler’s pantry were moved into the heart of the house so mothers could work and still keep an eye on the kids.


Characteristics of Craftsman Style Include:

  • Low pitched roof lines
  • Deep overhanging eaves
  • Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
  • Front porch beneath extension of main roof
  • Tapered, square columns supporting the roof
  • Double hung windows with mismatched casements
  • Design motifs of Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Handcrafted stone or wood work
  • Mixed materials throughout the structure
  • Symmetry

With a new layout, a new clientele, and an emphasis on craftsmanship, several distinct characteristics of the style emerged.


4. Modern Home Architecture in San Diego

Modern architecture developed in the late 1800s in response to new building technologies and a desire to break away from classical styles.

With the use of cast iron, plate glass, and reinforced concrete, structures were able to be built lighter, stronger, and taller. Large plate windows, the curtain wall, our first skyscrapers, and other magnificent buildings such as the Eiffel Tower arose from these technologies.



In America, Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the Modern movement. Although he refused to be categorized in any particular style, he did design with geometric shapes, strong horizontal lines, and an emphasis on the blending of architecture with nature, which were all characteristics of the Modern architectural style.

Modern home architecture officially emerged with the Case Study House Program, which was launched in 1945 by the “Arts and Architecture” magazine. This program commissioned eight architects to design homes for the post-war man. The program hoped to find a solution for a home that would be best suited for man’s life in the post-war modern world using war-born techniques and technologies. Since most new construction technologies were reserved for public buildings, this was the first introduction of the Modern style in residential architecture and interior design.


Characteristics of Modern Architecture Include:

  • The use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete
  • “Form follows function”
  • Minimalism/Rejection of ornament
  • Open interior floor plans
  • Straight or angled lines
  • Integrating the outdoors into the interior

A break away from classic styles by integrating the outdoors into the interior, open floor plans, geometric shapes, and strong horizontal lines.


5. Mediterranean Revival Architecture in San Diego

Mediterranean style homes are actually based off of Mediterranean Revival architecture, which was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s.

Mediterranean Revival architecture pulls from Spanish Renaissance, Spanish Colonial, Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, and Gothic architecture. As Americans became enamored with European palaces and seaside villas, this style gained popularity, especially on the coasts of Florida and California.



There are many different types of Mediterranean style homes, since the style pulls from so many different architectural styles. In general, the more ornate homes with a large scale, columns, and round arches tend to pull more from the Italian Renaissance. And homes that are less ornate with cleaner lines tend to pull more from Spanish Revival.


Characteristics of Mediterranean Revival Architecture Include:

  • Rectangular floor plans
  • Massive, symmetrical facades
  • Stuccoed walls
  • Red tiled roofs
  • Arched or circular windows
  • One or two stories
  • Wood or wrought iron balconies
  • Pronounced door surrounds
  • Lush gardens
  • High ceilings

Today, modern Mediterranean architecture can blend characteristics from all styles (Italian and Spanish) and usually has an emphasis on modern comforts such as indoor/outdoor living and open floor plans.


6. The California Tower at Balboa Park in San Diego

The California Tower of the California Building at Balboa Park gets its own category. It is a truly unique piece of architecture that blends many different architectural styles together.

Although it is not of a specific style of architecture in itself, it is still worth noting, since it is one of the most iconic structures in San Diego.

The Tower is a hybrid of Baroque, Plateresque, Churrigueresque, Rococo, Spanish-Colonial, and Gothic architectural styles.



It was designed by Bertram Goodhue, a celebrated architect in Southern California best known for his work in Gothic Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Some characteristics we can see in this architecture reminiscent of the hybrid of styles are intricate ornamentation, arched arcades, carvings, busts, and colorful tiles on the tower and adjacent dome.


Best Local San Diego Architectural Styles

You will find so many variations of architectural styles in San Diego that even within one neighborhood you can find the majority of these designs. With a diverse background of cultures, it is not surprising that 5-6 common styles can be found throughout the city. From modern architecture in San Diego to classic buildings in Balboa park, you’ll just have to explore the city further to find the design styles that fit your personal style best.


Don’t Forget the Architecture! – Planning Inside and Out with an Interior Designer

Regardless of the size, scope and scale of your design project, when you are committed to achieving excellence, it is important to ensure that you select a design professional who can best help you achieve your desired results. Some design professionals rely heavily upon decoration to improve the appearance of interior and exterior living spaces but overlook the importance and impact of other, essential elements of successful design such as space planning, flow, lighting, landscape/hardscape and of course architecture.

Architecture can and should be a critical reference for your interior design project. Ideally, your home’s architecture should inform and support your design and decoration choices in order to create cohesion between structure and living space. Selecting a professional interior designer with a passion for architecture, who is also committed to designing spaces that are both beautiful and functional, is vital in order to create a home that is truly optimized for living well.


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