The spiral stairway to the first viewing platform of the California Tower. Black & white photo by Joe Nalven

By Joe Nalven

One of the most famous San Diego buildings is the California Tower. You’ve likely seen it at a distance or up close as part of the Museum of Man.

Beginning New Year’s Day it is open to the public after an 80-year hiatus. The opening coincides with the beginning of Balboa Park’s centennial year celebration.

The California Tower in Balboa Park. Photo by Joe Nalven

The story about the California Building and its tower is a fascinating one, but for many of us it is time to enjoy the views from the newly opened viewing area. Even a cloudy day provides the tourist, the seasoned transplant and the native San Diegan something that hasn’t been part of San Diego scene.

Those climbing the tower might choose to use a smartphone, a film or digital camera, or even a special purpose camera such as a digital infrared DSLR. The opportunities to enjoy and remember the moment are bountiful.

I might add that I grew up in Brooklyn and visited the Statue of Liberty. That is still a gorgeous memory. The climb was strenuous and the crowds intense. But now I’ve acclimated to San Diego. The more laid back San Diego style is a different sort of cultural play. The California Tower is key to the San Diego style.

So, go up the tower and enjoy the view as you’ve never seen it before. Instead of looking up to the tiled dome, you’ll be looking down. Photographers will delight in capturing that image and altering it in unimagined ways. Stay tuned for photo competitions.

A view of the Museum of Man’s dome from the California Tower. Photo by Joe Nalven

The views inside the tower provide added opportunities for the imagination. One might consider using the tour to propose marriage or serve as a backdrop for engagement photos. There are also interior architectural perspectives for interior design magazines or the art gallery.

After climbing the traditional set of stairs, there is a circular stairway to the viewing area.

If you’re reading this article, and if you’ve been to Balboa Park, AND if you’re in a playful state of mind, then go visit the California Tower. Go celebrate Balboa Park’s centennial. And take a friend or family member with you.

Tickets to the museum and tower tour are available for purchase online.


Joe Nalven is a San Diego-based digital artist.

The view to the east from the California Tower. Black & white photo by Joe Nalven
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