San Diego New: Climb the California Tower

The Balboa Park icon is open for ascensions.

GOLDEN STATE TOWERS: The tall and slim and elegant and bell-housing and not-bell-housing towers of California are pretty legendary. Whether they grace a centuries-old mission or newer university or a seen-on-every-postcard landmark like San Diego's Coit Tower, the skyward-reaching structures become symbolic of a place and dear to its denizens. Count the California Tower at the San Diego Museum of Man has such an icon. Built in 1915 -- yep, the same year as the Panama-California Exposition, no coincidence -- the California Tower is no less than a highly recognizable, stay-put ambassador for Balboa Park. But going up into the tower? That hasn't happened for decades upon decades. "Decades upon decades" here translates to 1935, so while many of us perhaps visited as a child, or heard tales of a parent or grandparent walking the seven stories up, up, up to the top, a wide swath of Balboa buffs have never been inside the Bertram Goodhue-designed delight. But that changed on New Year's Day when visitors were welcomed into the tower for the first time in some eighty years.

VIEWS, STAIRS, A GUIDE: "The tour goes to the first viewing deck of the tower," says the Museum of Man ticket site. It's a 40-minute tour, with "10-15 minutes" on the deck, so you'll get your picture-taking time in. There's a guide present, who shall share the history and facts of the tower, and you'll need to stow your stuff in a locker. You can get all the to-knows here, and then you can start daydreaming of entering a place inspired by "churches of Mexico and Spain." How many times have you seen the California from the sidewalk or the road? One hundred? Thousands of times? It's a rare day when the lock drops on a place that's long been closed to the public. Could this inspire towerists to take a full-on tower tour of all of our state's great lookouts and monoliths and turrets? There are a few to cover, but the California Tower is just about the most iconic place to begin. (Okay, you, too, Coit Tower, count here, for sure.)

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