The Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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.
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.
Learn more and prepare for your California Tower tour using the guidelines below.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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:
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
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
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
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