Arguably the Most Beautiful Campuses in California

With the 2009 admissions process fast upon us, it might be a good time to escape from the torments of applications, and take a brief moment to consider some of the most beautiful college campuses in the world. An appealing campus isn't, by any means, the sole criterion to guide college selection but, all things being equal, a pleasant campus setting can enhance studying, working, and living.

If you like redwoods, then UC Santa Cruz, with its 2,000 acre expanse, interlaced with bike paths and hiking trails, and strewn with meadows and redwood stands, might be appealing.  Back in the early 1960s, when the then UC President Clark Kerr was building the Santa Cruz campus, he modeled the ten residential colleges along the lines of building 'a series of Swarthmore's' (one of the more picturesque and top liberal arts colleges in the country) within a redwood forest. The campus buildings are mainly Mediterranean and Japanese architecture, which aptly complement the natural surroundings.

Just north of Santa Cruz is the venerable Stanford campus, situated right on top of several major earthquake faults. With 8,183 acres, it is the largest contiguous university campus in the world.  What was once Leland Stanford's horse farm is now known as just 'the Farm.'  While the Mission Revival architecture, with its red tile roofs and white washed stucco walls, might give Stanford the look and feel "of the world's biggest Mexican restaurant," (p. 621, Fiske Guide to Colleges 2009) the campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the landscape architect of Central Park in New York and over 350 universities, colleges, and schools including Yale, UC Berkeley, Smith College and Johns Hopkins). With its own nature reserve, lake, and golf course, Stanford feels more like a vacation resort, than a top rated research university. That's the magic, and certainly the appeal, of Stanford.

Southern California also holds some beautiful campuses: Pepperdine University and Loyola Marymount University are two. Pepperdine, which was originally located in the Vermont Knolls district of South Central, Los Angeles, where it was, at one time, almost destroyed in the Watt's riots, moved its campus to its current location in Malibu in 1972. Now it rests on 830 acres, a mere 20-minute walk to the ocean. Pepperdine's architecture is, like Stanford's, mostly Mediterranean (red tile roofs, white stuccoe walls, and large tinted windows.) The buildings rise high in the Santa Monica Mountains with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Catalina Island, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Such a daily diet of panoramas must be intoxicating.

Loyola Marymount University wants to become the Georgetown of the West Coast. The current president, a former dean from Georgetown, couldn't have selected a more beautiful site to pursue his objective. The campus sits atop a bluff in the Del Rey Hills, awash in Mediterranean architecture and spectacular views.  It overlooks the Los Angeles basin, Marina del Rey and the Pacific Ocean.  There is, also, a Disneyland-like quality to this campus. When I toured, there wasn't a scrap of paper on the ground, or a blade of grass out of place. If you cherish such an immaculate setting, this might be just the spot to settle for four years.

Although campuses and their architecture are but superficial marks of a university, a good looking campus does contribute to a student's quality of life. A gorgeous campus cannot help but make one proud just to share the beauty with fellow students and visitors.  Though such beauty might not bring Nobel Prizes, it does bring certain nobility to scholarship, and probably a bit of joy as well.