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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 only available with purchase of admission or with Museum membership. Tours are booked by reservation and all guests must have a tour ticket.

Tour Schedule

California Tower tours are offered four times each day at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tours last 40 minutes, which include 10-15 minutes on the viewing deck.

Starting Monday, July 15, the Museum of Us will be open daily with a new and expanded California Tower Tour schedule. Tower tours will be offered four times per day, Monday through Thursday, and hourly on Friday through Sunday.

Plus, Residents Free Tuesdays are back at the Museum on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Free admission does not include California Tower tours or annual membership to the Museum. Visitors can pay general admission to opt-in to the complimentary annual membership program and/or to book a California Tower Tour. Learn more about Free & Discount Admission.

Tour Guidelines

Learn more and prepare for your California Tower tour.

  • California Tower tours accommodate up to six (6) people.
  • Guests may buy tickets at the Museum lobby or purchase their tickets in advance online. Tours are limited and may sell out.
  • California Tower tour tickets are non-refundable.
  • Guests must be at least six years old to participate. 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.
  • 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.

The Views

A person in a red and gray long sleeve shirt and long hair takes a picture on their smart phone of the California Building's tiled dome from the California Tower's viewing deck. Foliage and the San Diego skyline is in the background.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.


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:

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


Ms. Jean Stein

The Beyster Family

Mr. Rob and Mrs. Lynne Hayes

Mr. Ron & Mrs. Lucille Neeley

The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

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

Mr. Larry & Ms. Linda Alessio

Mr. James Alford


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

The Museum of Us recognizes that it sits on the unceded ancestral homeland of the Kumeyaay Nation. The Museum extends its respect and gratitude to the Kumeyaay peoples who have lived here for millennia.

The Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

Affiliations & Memberships:San Diego Museum Council logoCharity Navigator Four Star Charity logoBalboa Park Cultural Partnership Collaborative for Arts, Science and Culture logoAmerican Alliance of Museums logoSmithsonian Affiliate logoInternational Coalition of Sites of Conscience logo
Financial support provided by:San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture logo
Museum of Us California Tower logo