The California Tower is accessed through the lobby of the California Building located in Balboa Park. The California Building, which houses the Museum of Man, was one of the three permanent buildings built in 1914 for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The California Building has been mentioned more often than any other San Diego building in studies of American architecture. The building is included in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the California Quadrangle. The California Building tower is recorded in the Historic Buildings Survey in the Library of Congress.
Public access to the tower had been closed since 1935. Before the Museum could make tours of the tower available to the public, renovations had to be performed to ensure proper safety and functionality. This project had some unique features. The design included the creation of an Equivalent Facilitation Experience station for anyone who is not physically able to climb the stairs allowing users to select views from 4 different cameras mounted on the tower. There is also an information center with selectable pre-programed videos about the history of the tower including the 3 open-air landings with 4 balconies each on each level and the original wrought iron spiral staircase with 195 steps.