Los Angeles is a design and architecture nerd’s sun-drenched paradise. Here, lookie-loos can find examples of everything from historic Spanish Mission Revival apartment houses to midcentury-modern homes to dazzling art deco theaters. But perhaps one of L.A.’s most iconic and well-known architectural styles is also one of its most unusual: Googie. 

The term “Googie” gets its name from the erstwhile coffee shop, Googies, that was once located on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in West Hollywood. Designed by inventive architect John Lautner, Googie’s was frequented by Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Dennis Hopper. But even though the shop was a hit among locals and Hollywood’s heavy hitters, not everybody was a fan. The New York-based architecture critic Douglas Haskell felt the ultra-modern building was simply a reflection of the “tackiness” of Hollywood, and in a 1952 issue of House and Home magazine, he wrote: “After all, [the designers] are working in Hollywood, and Hollywood has let them know what it expects of them.” 

Despite the negative press, Googie’s futuristic design soon garnered a reputation as Southern California’s signature architectural style—it was fun, colorful, eye-catching, and frequently utilized natural materials like stone and wood. “Critics didn’t consider it to be serious architecture,” says architect, historian, and preservationist Alan Hess, who has written multiple books on the subject, including Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture. “And that’s what intrigued me about it. As I studied it more, I realized it was real, modern architecture.”

Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about Googie architecture: