The community was founded in 1923 by Alphonzo Bell. Bell owned farm property in Santa Fe Springs, California, where oil was discovered. He bought a large ranch with a home on what is now Bel Air Road. He subdivided and developed the property with large residential lots, with work on the master plan led by the landscape architect Mark Daniels. He also built the Bel-Air Beach Club in Santa Monica and the Bel-Air Country Club. His wife chose Italian names for the streets. She also founded the Bel-Air Garden Club in 1931.
Together with Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills, Bel Air forms the Platinum Triangle of Los Angeles neighborhoods.