In U.S. News and World Report’s 2023 List of the 15 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America, California colleges took three of the top 15 spots. California itself is a stunning state, with a golden, sandy coast, lush and green wine country, and bustling cityscapes to which dreamers flock. And with 658 colleges, the most of any state in the United States, there are a ton of gorgeous, well-known universities to choose from.
Three different schools may have made it onto the list of the most beautiful, but only one can come out on top. Keep reading to discover which university takes the coveted top spot of the most beautiful college campus in California.
The Most Beautiful College Campus in California
The most beautiful college campus in California is Pepperdine University. Situated on the West Coast, abutting the Pacific Ocean, it’s hard to find another university in the United States with such an incredible view.
Located in Malibu, California, Pepperdine University ranks among the top 100 in the U.S. News and World Report for several esteemed titles, including:
- The best study abroad program (12).
- The best undergraduate teaching (26).
- The best colleges for veterans (27).
- The best first-year experience (42).
- The best value schools in the United States (49).
- The nation’s overall best universities (55).
The campus, the history, and the student life make Pepperdine University not only a beautiful place to live, but a stand-out educational institution worth its tuition price.
Pepperdine University’s beauty sits in the 830-acre Malibu campus. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Pepperdine looks more like a 5-star resort to vacation at than it does a college. Buildings have a Mediterranean style, complete with red tile roofs and stucco walls.
At the Malibu campus, students stroll through palm trees on the front lawn under the shadow of the Phillips Theme Tower. There’s a main academic plaza that houses most of the staff’s offices and student lecture halls. The library, campus center, and an art museum also sit within the main academic plaza. Across the way to the northwest, students have both undergraduate housing (where they must live for the first two years of their four-year degree) and various athletic facilities.
Lower on campus is Alumni Park, which lies next to the Pacific Coast Highway. Most of the area is landscaped green space for students to enjoy. The school uses Alumni Park for commencement, some graduations, and other large-scale events that need a wide open space.
Finally, the Drescher Graduate Campus (built in 2003) sits to the northwest of the central campus and houses most of the buildings for the graduate schools of business, education, psychology, and public policy. It also has housing options.
Pepperdine’s history began in 1937 when Christian businessman George Pepperdine opened the George Pepperdine College in Vermont Knolls (a subdivision of Los Angeles). His original mission was to create a higher learning institution that “would provide the best education possible, managed by administrators and taught by professors who would support students in their Christian belief.“
Today, the university’s mission statement reflects the original intent, with a commitment to “the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.“
From 1937 until his death in 1962, Pepperdine remained active in building, cultivating, and endowing the college with more resources. He frequented the chapel, board meetings, functions, and sporting events with his wife.
After a significant donation of land — 138 undeveloped acres in Malibu — in 1968, the college decided to expand. Four years later, the Malibu campus welcomed its first class and the Malibu campus. Other factors contributed to the move decision, including general growing pains, racial tensions in the Vermont Knolls neighborhood, and riots spurred by a campus officer’s murder of a Black teenager.
From the mid–1970s to the present, Pepperdine University stuck to its vision of continual innovation, growth, and the pursuit of excellence for Christian students. The addition of international programs in the early 2000s, along with the expansion of extracurricular initiatives and academic programs, have solidified Pepperdine’s place in California’s academic history.
When Pepperdine founded the school in 1937, students voted to pick the official school colors of blue (representing the Pacific Ocean) and orange (representing California). The school also hosts several annual, campus-wide signature events known as “Seaver traditions.”
- Songfest. Stretching all the way back to the 1970s, students form groups that create, choreograph, and perform 12-minute musicals.
- Waves Weekend. The campus welcomes new students, and welcomes back alumni, for a three-day homecoming/family-weekend hybrid. It features carnival games, performances, food trucks, and more.
- Step Forward Day. Keeping with the spirit of service at the school, September’s Step Forward Day is a global day of service in which Pepperdine students, faculty, staff, and alumni choose places in the community to which to lend their time.
General student life on campus remains unique in a special way — not many colleges offer freshman dorms that provide views of a sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. The dining halls, extracurricular activities, and atmosphere on campus strive for inclusivity, diversity, and excellence.
Freshmen and sophomore students must live on campus for their first two years. As such, seven different housing options exist for the young adults on Pepperdine’s campus, including suite-style houses, apartment complexes, and two dormitory halls.
Activities on Pepperdine’s campus vary widely depending on what an individual student’s interests lie in. For students interested in sports, Pepperdine competes in the West Coast Conference Division I for many intercollegiate sports (save volleyball and water polo).
For those with a heart for volunteering, Pepperdine fosters a strong spirit of service in its student body. Its “Waves of Service” initiative, which began in 2009, provides ongoing and annual opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to come together to complete meaningful service projects for the community.
Pepperdine University is home to hundreds of clubs, organizations, and Greek life. The clubs vary widely in interest and purpose, with diverse opportunities in:
- Identity-based groups.
- Academic and honors societies.
- Service and social actions.
- Professional organizations.
- Fraternities and sororities.
- Special interests.
- Arts and entertainment.
Flora and Fauna
The Center for Sustainability has sought to protect the native vegetation on Pepperdine’s Malibu campus since its inception. Thanks to the campus’s unique location on the Pacific Coast Highway and at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, the office has the opportunity to preserve a diverse environment. It seeks to guide the campus to make as little of a footprint on the surrounding biomes as possible.
Malibu has a Mediterranean climate, which removes the need for many maintenance actions, like fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticides. This enables the Office of Sustainability to reduce the school’s air pollution and increase the water quality. Furthermore, 500 of the Malibu campus’s 830 acres are specifically designated for conservation.
Pepperdine’s landscape management team uses reclaimed water to irrigate all the landscaping. They also use electric power tools and equipment when possible, which produce no toxic emissions (unlike gas-powered tools).
Some of the most common plants, trees, and shrubs students see on campus include:
- Moreton Bay fig.
- Tree aeonium.
- Sacred fig.
- Silk tree.
In addition to flora, there’s a plethora of wildlife on campus. Thanks to the 500 acres of nature preserve, animals find their habitats in and around campus. The wildlife urban interface places students within the same spheres as benign animals like newts, birds, and various insects. However, campus safety prepares students for the possibility of an encounter with more dangerous animals, including rattlesnakes, coyotes, and mountain lions.
Waves of Beauty from the Pacific Coast
Pepperdine’s stunning campus — filled with palm trees, flowers, and other native vegetation — overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Unlike any other university’s view, Pepperdine is often considered the most beautiful campus in California, and some would even say the United States! During your or your loved one’s college hunt, the private four-year institution on the water might just offer the best views and education for their future.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock.com
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