The California Tower at San Diego’s Museum of Man

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The California Tower at San Diego’s Museum of Man

Balboa Park, San Diego, California

by Veronica Nunez
September 6, 2019

I had heard about the California Tower being open for public tours after being closed for 80 years.  I won’t go too much into the history of the building, but it was built in 1914 in a bid to host the International Expo in 1915 (San Diego lost to San Francisco).  San Diego raised money on its own and proceeding with construction to hold its own Exposition, and many of the buildings are still open today.  One of these, the California Building, houses the Museum of Man and the California Tower.
View of Balboa Park from the California Tower
I was heading to San Diego for a few days in August 2015 anyway, so I bought tickets online (you must purchase admission to the Museum of Man with your Tower Tour purchase) to secure a time on August 21, 2015 to tour the California Tower. 
Stairs in the museum to the tower
Sponsored Dedications on some stairs
There are no bags of any kind permitted on the tour, but there are free lockers available.  I did bring my digital SLR, but with smaller lens since the website stated that point-and-shoot cameras or cell phones would be permitted.  The tour only takes you to the “first” level of the tower as the top two levels are still not safe for public access.  

The climb isn’t strenuous since the tour stops at each level for a few minutes for informational purposes.  The first stop is at the carillon which is what plays the musical “bells” heard throughout Balboa Park. 
Maas-Rowe Carillon

 The tours are timed so that you can see the hammers of the instrument hit the cords, before heading up to the next level. There is also a box to place requests for specific music to be played on the \”bells.\”

Spiral Staircase
Floor of spiral staircase
The stairs are decently wide until you get to the spiral staircase which leads to the balcony area of the tower.  I made the mistake of wearing a knee-length skirt, so I went last (followed by the second tour guide) up the stairs.  It’s quite breezy up on the viewing level, and there are small balconies on each side of the tower.
Skyfari Ride at the San Diego Zoo
The day I was there was quite hazy so you couldn’t see quite as far as you would on a clear day, but the views were still spectacular.  You can see the Coronado Bridge on one side, overlook Balboa Park on another, and see the skyfari ride at the San Diego Zoo on another.  The tour is timed so that you have plenty of time to take in all of the sights from each of the balconies, somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. 


The tower is currently closed for seismic retrofitting, but it may be open by the end of 2019.  The tours are limited to 14 people and it takes less than an hour. 
The Old Globe Theatre
After the tour, I walked around the museum, and I\’ll write about those exhibits at another time.

If you haven’t visited Balboa Park, I highly recommend it.  There are several museums and wonderful gardens in addition to the historic architecture.  If you plan on visiting several of the museums, they do have several packages to save on admission.  If you are closer to the San Diego Zoo, I recommend riding the miniature railroad (a favorite of mine since I was a toddler) and the carousel. 

Balboa Park Info: