California Tower – Frequently Asked Questions

How much are tickets? How do I get them?

Tickets for California Tower Tours are $10 + the price of admission. Tickets can be purchased online or at our admissions desk at 1350 El Prado, San Diego, California, 92101.

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

California Tower tour tickets must also 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?

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

Can you accommodate groups?

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 a individual tickets.

How high is the California Tower?

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.

What can you see from the California Tower?

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 here.

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

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 viewing deck guests go up to has spectacular views!

How many steps are there?

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.

Is there an elevator?

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.

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

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.

How difficult is the climb?

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.
Are service animals allowed in the California Tower?

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.

Are children permitted to go up?

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?

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.

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

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.

Are proposals allowed in the California Tower?

Yes! We offer romantic proposal packages for these special occasions. Alternatively, guests are permitted to buy out an entire tour for their proposal (unless you want to share your special moment with strangers!), but keep in mind that you have limited time on the viewing deck. 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. Learn more here. 

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

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?

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.