worship in southern California

It’s Sunday morning, and you’re looking for a place to worship. You live in southern California, so this is a pretty big decision. There are more than 1,000 churches in the area! That’s an overwhelming number of choices.

If you’re looking for a new church to call home, we’ve got 15 of the best churches in Southern California. From traditional Episcopalians and Catholics to more modern Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalists, these churches offer something for everyone. 

1. All Saints Church- Pasadena

Its Sunday service is at 8 a.m., but All Saints Church also has a Saturday evening choral Eucharist that’s open to the public. It’s a traditional, Episcopal church with a touch of modernity – expect contemporary music and relaxed services. The church was founded in 1882, and it moved to its current location in 1909. It looks like a castle! 2131 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91106  

Father Daniel R. Lewis has been the Pastor of All Saints Church Pasadena for the past three years. For many decades, the congregation has been open to all people regardless of their social, racial, or theological background.

2. St. James the Apostle Catholic Church- Newport Beach

This is a traditional Catholic church where you can expect to find votive candles, old-fashioned confessionals (weird to see in person!), and lots of gold trim. It’s one of the oldest churches in Newport Beach – it was built as a schoolhouse for sailors’ children in 1927 before being consecrated as a Catholic place of worship eight years later.

In 1969, St. James School opened next door. So if you’re looking for a powerful sermon on Sunday morning, check this place out!

3. First Congregational Church of Los Angeles- Mid-Wilshire

You may not realize it, but the area around the church used to be a Japanese American community before WWII forced them out of their homes. One member was onboard one of the buses that took 120,000 Japanese Americans from L.A. County to internment camps in Arizona, New Mexico, and California.

The church itself is pretty fascinating – designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son Lloyd Wright at his father’s friend Paul Williams (who would later found Habitat for Humanity). You can see both architects’ signature styles here: beautiful geometric stained glass and a meandering floor plan.

4. All Saints Church- Beverly Hills

All Saints Episcopal Church is located in the heart of Beverly Hills, and it’s marked by its gold spire that stands out among the skyscrapers. There are a lot of great programs here for young people – including a group called Faith Builders for kids aged 5 to 12, which encourages them to explore their faith through stories and activities.

The congregation is pretty diverse, but what makes this place shine is its music program, led by organist Leo Sowerby. His weekly services on Wednesday nights attract many concertgoers from all over L.A., who line up to hear his immaculately performed hymns and classical music. 

5. First Presbyterian Church- Santa Ana

First Presbyterian Church is located in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, which used to be known for its crime rate and blighted buildings. Now it’s becoming a popular spot for shopping and living, thanks to the farmers market that takes place each Wednesday afternoon.

The church itself has undergone some significant changes: In 2010, a new sanctuary opened with a modernist design that doesn’t look like a typical church. An alumnus from nearby Chapman University designed some pretty cool stained glass windows.

6. The Basilica of St. Mary- West Adams

  This vast church is located about ten miles south of downtown L.A. on Adams Blvd., near Loyola Marymount University. Its towering spires are meant to evoke the image of an Old World cathedral – hence its nickname “The Cathedral of the West.”

It’s also one of Los Angeles’ most important examples of Byzantine Revival architecture, thanks to its domed roof and ornate gold medallions that decorate the exterior. The entire church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places!

7. St. Anne Catholic Church- Pico-Union

    Since L.A.’s early days, St. Anne’s has been around as a Spanish mission, but it moved to its current location downtown in 1925. After WWII, it became an essential part of L.A.’s Jewish community when many Holocaust survivors settled in this neighborhood. There are several memorial plaques inside recognizing this history – including one for Rabbi Jacob Pincus Kahn. He was one of the first rabbis ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati before moving to Los Angeles and founding Temple Beth Hillel in 1922.

The church is also known for its beautiful stained glass windows that light during the day – especially the rose window over the front entrance. They were designed by Charles Jager, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Glastonbury Abbey Museum of Art.

8. St. Vibiana- Downtown

      An earthquake damaged St. Vibiana’s original location on Main Street in 1884, so it moved to its current spot at Main and 2nd Street in 1891. This might be L.A.’s oldest cathedral still standing! It’s also famous for being one of only two churches ever used as a filming location for Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923). DeMille chose St. Vibiana’s because it resembled the actual ancient ruins of Thebes, Egypt.

The cathedral is currently undergoing renovations that are expected to last until 2020. Still, if you visit now, you can see some beautiful mosaics added during a major restoration project back in the 1950s.

9. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles- Historical Monument

     When Father Francisco Dumetz first got permission from Governor Pedro Fages to build this church next to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, he probably couldn’t have imagined how important it would become to the Mexican community. It was built on what used to be Rancho San Rafael – which was given to a retired Spanish soldier as a reward for his military service. 

The church was restored during the 1990s, but it’s still pretty much in its original condition – including its wooden benches and red bricks from the 19th century. It’s also one of only four surviving adobe churches from L.A.’s Mexican period, making it unique.

      Several other markers throughout El Pueblo point out important sites related to early Los Angeles history, including Where the city’s first schoolhouse stood (it’s now a Starbucks), Where Gaspar de Portolá established the city’s first vineyard (it’s now an office building) and Where California’s first theater opened.

10. Green valley church- San Fernando Valley

    The green valley church was built by a group of African American farmers from Texas lured to the San Fernando Valley by James Edmonds with promises of suitable land and sunshine. Instead, he doled out 320 plots for “homesteads” to those who joined his congregation at New Hope Baptist Church, which eventually became known as the First African Methodist Church.

Edmonds ended up being forced out of town after being accused of attempted bribery, but that didn’t stop this small community from building a schoolhouse next door in 1918 – it’s also still standing! 

The current structure you see now began construction in 1936 and finished almost ten years later – most likely because these families were impoverished and couldn’t afford to pay the workmen amid the Great Depression.

11. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints- Pasadena

      This beautiful Gothic Revival church has been at its current location on El Molino Avenue since 1916. It’s also L.A.’s oldest LDS temple still in use by the sect that initially built it! That means this will fall into the “off-limits” category when it comes to visiting. Still, regardless you can get some insight into what goes on here pretty quickly by searching for videos online or strolling through their interactive museum.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was even named a California Historical Landmark back in 1956 – so both sites are well worth checking out. 

12. The Church of God in Christ for All Saints- Boyle Heights

      This proud African American church was built by a congregation that split off from another church in the 1890s to make its own spiritual home. Pastor William W. Hunter and his followers wanted to worship in a building without racial segregation, so they decided to build their brand new venue here on Indiana Street. Construction took almost eight years and cost $6,000 (or about $150,000 today). Unfortunately, it is close to the L. A river, this place is often flooded after heavy rains – which is why many locals say that “The devil lives there.”

13. Temple Adat Ari El – Sherman Oaks

     Temple Adat Ari El was founded in 1945 as a synagogue for Sephardic Jews, but today it acts mainly as a place of worship for the city’s Mexican Jewish community. It can seat 1,000 people and has been at its current location on Tampa Avenue since 1955.

Several other buildings on this site make up the temple:

  • The caretaker’s house (which dates back to 1930).
  • A classroom building (which was built in 1960).
  • An auditorium where plays and concerts often take place.

The temple is listed on L.A.’s Historic-Cultural Monument list and won an award from Los Angeles Conservancy for helping to preserve historic buildings.

      Temple Adat Ari El, the Hebrew Union College campus, The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Park La Brea are clustered together on this block in Hancock Park.

14. Temple B’nai B’rith – Hancock Park

         This temple is the oldest Jewish house of worship in Los Angeles, built here on South Fairfax Avenue between 1934 and 1937. The congregation has occupied this site ever since, but they were forced to board up the windows after World War II after anti-Semites called in several bomb threats.

Once inside, you’ll find a gorgeous sanctuary full of art nouveau elements. But things are looking pretty sparse inside these days – only one Shabbat service takes place here per month!

15. Congregation Beth Israel – Boyle Heights

     Beth Israel was initially founded as Adath Jeshurun back in 1892 when its founding members wanted to move away from Temple B’nai Jehudah in Downtown L.A. due to racial discrimination. The group purchased this plot on Brooklyn Avenue back in 1906, but disagreements over the architecture of the building have caused construction delays until 1927!

The temple is listed on both the California Historic Landmark and the National Register of Historic Places, so it’s worth a visit even if you can’t get inside. 

Conclusion

There’s a pretty diverse selection of faith-based sites to check out on this list, but there are plenty more waiting for you in the rest of L.A.!

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