On December 2-3, the Museum of Us will be closed 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for December Nights. Learn more about adjusted operating hours and closures.

An image of the California Tower against a blue sky. White text, overlayed, reads, "Climb the California Tower".

Join us for a uniquely-San Diego experience! The California Tower is one of our city's most iconic historic landmarks. Make the climb on a guided tour that highlights the origins of Balboa Park and the histories of some of the many diverse communities that call the region home. All tours culminate in breathtaking 360-degree views of San Diego from the Tower’s eighth-floor viewing deck—from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Cuyamaca Mountains in the east, and beyond.

About the Tour

California Tower tours are managed by timed tickets, similar to theater or airplane tickets. Group tours accommodate up to six (6) people to promote social distancing. Each ticket is issued for a specific date and start time, and tickets will only be honored according to the date and time printed on them.

California Tower tours are 40 minutes long and are offered four times daily (10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00PM and 4:00 PM). Guests must have California Tower tour tickets to be admitted, and must be accompanied by our knowledgeable tour guides at all times.

Guests must arrive at least 10 minutes before their tour start time so that they can stow belongings in a locker and join the queue of other visitors who have tickets for the same tour. Guests who are late will not be able to join their tour, and their ticket(s) will not be refunded or exchanged.

Tour Guidelines

Learn more and prepare for your California Tower tour using the guidelines below.

  • California Tower Tours accommodate up to six (6) people.
  • Facemasks are encouraged but not required for your visit to the Museum and Tower.
  • Handrails and other surfaces throughout the museum are frequently sanitized for your safety.
  • Guests may buy tickets at the Museum lobby or purchase their tickets in advance online.
  • California Tower tour tickets are non-refundable.
  • Guests must be at least six years old to enter. All guests must be able to make the climb up the Tower unassisted.
  • Guests must arrive at the Museum at least 10 minutes before their tour starts. Tours will not wait for late guests and late guests will not be allowed to join a tour that has already begun. Tickets will not be refunded or exchanged for guests who are late for their tour.
  • Arrive at Balboa Park early to allow plenty of time for parking and getting to the Museum. Find more information about parking and directions here.
  • Guests will need to sign waivers for themselves and any minors accompanying them.
  • Tours last 40 minutes, including 10-15 minutes on the viewing deck.
  • The tour goes to the first viewing deck of the Tower. It does not include the second and third viewing decks, which are the top two levels of the Tower.
  • It is recommended that guests wear flat-soled shoes that cover the whole foot.
  • Bring your point-and-shoot or smartphone cameras! There are lots of great pictures to take.
  • We offer free lockers where guests can store personal items while on a California Tower tour. No bags of any kind (no matter how small or large or fanny-packed) are permitted on the tour. Flying devices, large video cameras, or large photography gear are also not allowed, and other items may be forbidden at the discretion of Museum staff. If in doubt, please ask! We recommend you leave big or valuable items at home. The Museum is not responsible for items placed in lockers.
  • Guests are not permitted to climb the California Tower tour on their own. Guests must stay with their group and be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. Any guests who do not stay with the group will immediately be escorted out of the California Tower.
  • For more information, please read our Frequently Asked Questions below.

The Views

Have your camera ready for these epic views.

To the North, the criss-crossing green cars of the San Diego Zoo’s Skyfari catch your eye as they glide over the canyon landscape just beyond the Old Globe Theater. You can see a bird aviary and sometimes hear animal calls. Beyond that, there’s the North Park water tower and the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distant northeast.

To the West is the Cabrillo Bridge, Banker’s Hill, downtown San Diego, the massive spur of Point Loma, and the glimmering San Diego Bay and Pacific Ocean, dimpled by the movements of sailboats and military vessels going about their business. To the northwest — just a few feet away — you see the brightly-tiled California Dome, the sister landmark to the California Tower. Look to the northwest over the dome and you may see Mount Soledad and the taller buildings of Hillcrest.

To the East, you see the ever-evolving heart of Balboa Park with beautiful buildings, the Plaza de Panama, and the sports fields and trails. All this is set in front of the backdrop of the Laguna Mountains and the antenna-covered peak of San Miguel Mountain. You may even see helicopters land at the Naval Medical Center.

To the South, you see the curving arc of the Coronado Bridge, busy shipbuilding yards, glittering downtown skyscrapers, the Coronado Peninsula, Mexico’s misty Coronado Islands, the flat top of Tijuana’s Otay Mesa, and beyond that, more of Baja California and Mexico. Airplanes fly past as they descend toward the airport, and red-tailed hawks often soar over the park’s canyons.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much are tickets? How do I get them?

Arrow icon

Tickets for California Tower Tours are $10 + the price of admission. Tickets can be purchased online or at our admissions desk.

Can I get a ticket just for the California Tower? Can I go up in the California Tower without going into the Museum?

Arrow icon

California Tower tour tickets must be purchased with general admission (free admission for members) to see our main Museum exhibits. There is no way to go into the California Tower without going through the Museum as the entrance to the Tower is on the second floor of the building.

Will it be free during December Nights? What about Residents Free Days?

Arrow icon

While general admission to the Museum is offered at no cost during December Nights, special offerings such as California Tower tours are not included.

The Museum of Us currently does not participate in Residents Free Days, as we are closed on Tuesdays.

Can you accommodate groups?

Arrow icon

Each tour can accommodate up to 6 visitors to promote social distancing. Larger groups will need to divide themselves up to go on consecutive tours. California Tower tours are sold as individual tickets.

Are children permitted to go up?

Arrow icon

Yes! Children must be at least 6 years of age and be able to climb the California Tower on their own. Children are not permitted to be carried in the California Tower, not in an adult’s arms, by piggyback, car seat, stroller, baby carrier, nor by similar methods. Children ages 6 to 13 must be accompanied by an adult, who is responsible for the children’s safety.

Can I carry a bag on the tour? Where can I leave my belongings?

Arrow icon

No bags of any kind (no matter how small or large or fanny-packed) are permitted on the tour. Flying devices, large video cameras, or large photography gear are also not allowed, and other items may be forbidden at the discretion of Museum staff. There are free lockers for holding purses, backpacks, bags, and other belongings. We recommend that you leave large or valuable items at home. The Museum is not responsible for items placed in lockers.

Is the Tower ADA accessible? What if I'm afraid of heights?

Arrow icon

The California Tower is not ADA-accessible. The architectural and historic nature of the building prevents an elevator from being installed. The only way to go up inside the California Tower is to climb steps.

People with impaired mobility or fear of heights can still see the views on the first floor of the Museum via a 78-inch curved screen showing live high-definition views from the California Tower from all four compass points. A second, smaller screen gives historical and architectural information similar to what the tour guides share with California Tower climbers. This display is included with general admission tickets at no extra cost.

Are service animals allowed in the California Tower?

Arrow icon

Service animals are allowed in the California Tower as long as they are able to walk and climb on their own. Pet owners are not permitted to carry or pick up their pet at any point during the tour.

Is there an elevator?

Arrow icon

The architectural and historic nature of the building prevents an elevator from being installed. The only way to go up inside the California Tower is to climb steps.

How high is the California Tower?

Arrow icon

To the very top of the weather vane, it’s about 462 feet above sea level, or 198 feet above the ground. The viewing deck that visitors will go to, the eighth floor, is about 357 feet above sea level. The sea-level height includes the 254-foot mesa that the building sits upon.

How many steps are there?

Arrow icon

There are 125 steps from the entrance of the California Tower to the public viewing deck (which is the eighth floor of the California Tower). If you start at the steps from the California Plaza in front of the Museum, then there are 157 to 164 total steps to the eighth floor of the California Tower, depending which stairs or staircases you use.

What can you see from the California Tower?

Arrow icon

If the weather is clear, you will be able to see about 23 miles to the horizon, which means a 360-degree view would cover as much as 415 square miles if mountains didn’t block the view to the east. Learn more about the views from the top of the Tower here.

Why can’t I go all the way to the top?

Arrow icon

Due to the shape of the California Tower, each of the floors gets smaller as you go up. The upper floors are not large enough to accommodate a meaningful number of visitors, and they have not been outfitted with security features. However, the eighth-floor public viewing deck guests has spectacular views!

How difficult is the climb?

Arrow icon

To climb the California Tower, you must physically be able to ascend and descend 125 steps within a 40-minute period, including 10 to 15 minutes on the viewing deck.

The California Tower is not recommended for women who are pregnant, nor for people with heart, knee, or back problems, or other physical conditions that may be made worse by climbing stairs. If you are unsure whether you are able to climb the California Tower, please talk to your doctor.

While our tours will include brief pauses, all guests must climb at the group pace. Tours will not be able to slow down or wait. If you’re concerned about not being able to make it, you can choose instead to see the big-screen live views from the California Tower at the display on the first floor, which is included at no extra cost with the price of a general admission ticket.

If you’re on a tour and change your mind about going up, we’ll have a staff member escort you back to ground level.

Can I do a photo or video shoot in the California Tower?

Arrow icon

Yes! However, it is not simply a matter of showing up with your gear. You must arrange it at least three weeks in advance by emailing marketing@museumofus.org. Also, keep in mind that tours sell out quickly, so if you want a special time, you must reserve your preferred date and time as soon as possible.

Are proposals allowed in the California Tower?

Arrow icon

Yes! We offer Tower Tour Proposal Packages for guests to book a private, shortened tour for up to 5 guests plus a tour guide. Keep in mind that you have limited time on the viewing deck and that tours sell out quickly. We recommend reserving your preferred date and time as soon as possible, as tours sell out regularly. Learn more.

Can I see the bells? Are the bells on tape? Are they really loud?

Arrow icon

There aren’t bells in the California Tower like the ones you’re probably thinking of, although, as you will see on the tour, there are real metal chimes being struck. The California Tower wasn’t built to be a bell tower and didn’t have music until 1946. Now, a 100-chime electronic carillon makes the California Tower’s music. Here’s how it works: A musician plays songs into the machine using a keyboard similar to an organ’s. The electronic carillon later replays the songs as electric impulses, causing little hammers to strike thin musical chimes. The sound is then amplified (similar to the way an electric guitar uses pick-ups to amplify its sounds) and played back through loudspeakers on the
tenth level of the California Tower.

The music can be heard for at least a mile. It’s not too loud! Most people find it very enjoyable.

Has the California Tower been in any movies?

Arrow icon

Yes! The most famous is Citizen Kane (1941). In a fictional newsreel at the beginning of the film, the California Building doubles as Xanadu, Charles Foster Kane’s mansion in Florida. The mansion in the film is a pastiche of a variety of real-life buildings which demonstrate the newspaper magnate’s vast wealth. The California Tower has also been in Top Dog (1995), starring Chuck Norris, which features scenes inside the California Tower, and the California Tower had cameo appearances in Almost Famous (2000), Traffic (2000), and Anchorman (2004).

For more information, please see our Tour Guidelines above.

Supporters

Thank you to our Tower Tour community contributors and supporters.

Tower Tour Community Contributors:
Laurie Egan-Hedley
Director, Barona Cultural Center & Museum

Heather Ponchetti Daly, PhD.
Kumeyaay–Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel
University of California, San Diego

Alberto Pulido, PhD.
University of San Diego
Director of the Turning Wheel Project
Chicano Park Steering Committee Member

Chuck Ambers and Associates
Moro African-Latin Museum

Natalie Zhang
Acting Curator and Collections Manager, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

Supporters of the Campaign to Open the California Tower:

Tower Society ($50,000 and up)

Arrow icon

The Legler Benbough Foundation

The Parker Foundation

Jerome D. and Anne Evenson Ryan in memory of Bea Evenson

Dr. Seuss Fund at The San Diego Foundation

Tower Benches ($25,000)

Arrow icon

Anonymous

Ms. Jean Stein

The Beyster Family

Mr. Rob and Mrs. Lynne Hayes

Mr. Ron & Mrs. Lucille Neeley

The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

Tower Steps ($5,000)

Arrow icon

The Balboa Park Conservancy

Bank of Southern California

Barona Band of Mission Indians

Mr. Charles & Ms. Charlotte Bird

Bill, Marilyn, Mike, Brian, and Betsy Boggs

The Bowden Family Foundation

Ms. Heather Bowden

Mr. Robert & Mrs. Karen Bowden

Mr. James Carr

Ms. Nancy Carol Carter

Dr. Edwin Chen & Mrs. Hope Carlson Chen

Dr. Kuan-Cheng Chen & Dr. Le Chen

Mr. David & Mrs. Lesley Cohn

Dr. Bernard J. Eggertsen & Ms. Florence Nemkov

Mr. Peter & Mrs. Doris Ellsworth

The Dawe Family

The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Foundation

Dr. Nicholas Fintzelberg, Ph.D.

Mr. Roman & Mrs. Stephanie Friedrich

Mr. Bill and Mrs. Amy Geppert

Mr. Ben Garcia & Mr. Scott Fabianek

Bannister Hall Fund at The San Diego Foundation

The Gay and Lesbian Fund for San Diego of The San Diego Foundation

Mr. Jason Hartley

Mr. Don Howells & Ms. Denise Carabet

The Jaffe Family

Ms. Aline Stouse Koppel

Mrs. Peggy Matthews

Honorable Kevin & Mrs. Cynthia Midlam, Ret.

Mr. Pat Minton & Mr. Greg Strange

Sheppard Mullin

Ms. Edie Munk

Mr. Abe Ordover & Ms. Eleanor Musick

The Osmialowski–Thomas Family

Ms. Judith Parzen

Mr. Rick Peters

Mr. James & Mrs. Frances Peterson

Ms. Monica Phariss

Dane, Drake, and Nan Pieper

Mr. Frank & Mrs. Demi Rogozienski

Mr. Jerry & Mrs. Keiko Schneider

Mr. Bruce Shank

Sheppard Mullin

Mr. Jeffrey M. & Mrs. Linda J. Shohet

Mr. Harris Steinberg

Mr. Ken & Ms. Linda Sumner

Ms. Laurette Verbinski

Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians

Mr. Steve Wall & Ms.Franne Ficara

Vistage Group 3080

Mr. Bill & Ms. Lori Walton

Mandell Weiss Charitable Trust

Mr. Stephen & Mrs. Stephanie Williams

Mr. Dean & Mrs. Deborah Wilson

Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP

Mr. Dale & Mrs. Julie Yahnke

Mr. George & Mrs. Meryl Young

Mr. Ron & Dr. Joellyn Zollman

Others Who Have Given in Honor of or to Support the California Tower

Arrow icon

Mr. Larry & Ms. Linda Alessio

Mr. James Alford

Anonymous

Ms. Linnea Arrington

Ms. Lauren Beaudry

Ms. Bonnie Brown

Ms. Phyllis Crapo Olefsky

Mrs. Donna Derrick

Ms. Berit Durler

Ms. Edna Everett

Ms. Heidi Farkash

Ms. Mary Felter

Mr. Dieter Fenkart-Froeschl & Ms. Sarah Malka

Ms. Betty Foss

Mrs. Pauline Foster

Mr. Marty Goodman

Ms. Margaret Ham

Ms. Anne Hill

Ms. Grace Hinman

Ms. Sarah Holtmeyer

Ms. Janine Joseph

Ms. Ellen Kern

Ms. Cynthia Lawson

Mr. John & Mrs. Joanne Leslie

Ms. Vicki Lindblade

Mandell Weiss Charitable Trust

Dr. Gay McDonald

Ms. Katherine McDonald

Ms. Winona McNitt

Ms. Nelia Monso

Dr. Elizabeth Nolan

Mr. James & Ms. Janet Respess

Ms. Amanda Schaffer

Ms. Elizabeth Roe Schlappi

Mr. Robert & Mrs. Ann Steiner

Mrs. R.H. Taylor

Ms. Jazmen Tejero Singh

Mrs. Eloise Thomas

Mr. Edward Uribe

Ms. Dottie Vieira

Ms. Anna Wayman

Ms. Hilda Naylor Weil

Mr. Donald & Mrs. Marcia Wolochow

Ms. Linda Yorba