California Tower – Balboa Park

I’m sure you’ve seen it…The California Tower, which is part of the Museum of Man, is one of the most iconic structures in the park and potentially all of San Diego. Every time I run or stroll past it during one of my regular visits to the park, I stare enviously at the steps leading to the top. I know that those steps were meant for people to get up to the top and enjoy the view, if only I could find a way. I actually visited the Museum of Man recently and while walking the exhibit, kept a careful eye for any miscellaneous doors that might lead to the metal spiral staircase. Alas, any doors I found were steadfastly locked, ending my dreams of quickly sneaking up to the top for a quick pano on my phone.

About the California Tower

Rising above the tree line (about 200 feet high) in the middle of Balboa Park, it has some of the best views in the city. From the peak you can see the Coronado Bridge in the distance just past the every changing skyline of downtown San Diego. Westward you can see the tip of Point Loma and the waters of the bay. With such amazing views, and what appear to be easily accessible spiral staircases leading to the top, you’d think that this would be one of the main attractions of Balboa Park. Originally built in 1915 as part of the Panama-California Exhibition, the California Tower and California Dome were part of the building that housed the San Diego Museum Association and focused on Anthropology. Th building, like many in Balboa Park was built in a cross Spanish-Mexican architectural style that has become an enduring theme in San Diego.

Can you Go to the Top of the California Tower?

After researching further, I found that the tower has been closed to the public for over 75 years so very few living people have even been up in the tower save for Museum of Man staff and select members. But based on recent reports, it will potentially open for the centennial celebration of the park in 2015. The San Diego City council recently approved funding for a study to determine what it would take to open the tower to the general public. Apparently it isn’t as easy as just opening the doors and charging a ticket price. The building needs to be brought up to code with some earthquake building updates. Any plan to reopen the tower would also have to consider accessibility issues, additional building codes, and maintenance costs, among others. If you really want to get to the top, I’m sure if you became a member of the museum and got to know some of the staff, you might be able to sweet-talk one of them into letting you take an after-hours trip up there.