Tag Archives: california tower

Not done since 1935

Out & About

When people come to San Diego, they naturally gravitate to Balboa Park. With 1,200 acres, it is said by those more knowledgeable than me to be the largest city-owned cultural park in the United States.

Within Balboa Park are the two most photographed buildings in San Diego, the Botanical Building and the California Tower.

Botanical Building in San Diego's Balboa Park

California Tower and San Diego Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Both buildings are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year, having been built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

One used to be able to go to the viewing decks at the top of the tower, but they have been closed to the public since 1935….

….until January 1, 2015, which is when the first deck of the California Tower was again opened to the public. And it is pretty awesome up there!

Nowhere else can you get as close to the dome of the San Diego Museum of Man:

img_0507 california tower balboa park stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

You can see the Plaza and El Prado promenade, as well as the Cuyamaca Mountains to the east. The peak at the upper left is Mt. Helix, just a few blocks from where I live, and the biggest peak in the upper right is Mount San Miguel, 2,567 feet tall.

IMG_0504 plaza balboa park stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Right below the California Tower is the Old Globe Theatre, a replica of Shakespeare’s Old Globe in England.

img_0506 old globe theater balboa park san diego balboa park stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

You’ll see a panorama of downtown San Diego that is available nowhere else on the ground. Click on the picture for a monster version.

img_0500-0502 san diego downtown panorama california tower balboa park low res

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Most importantly if you have children, they can wave at the planes as they fly into San Diego International Airport:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Tours last 40 minutes, including 10-15 minutes on the viewing deck.

Children under the age of 6 are not allowed to go up.

Arrive at the Museum at least 15 minutes before your tour starts because tours will not wait for you and you will not be allowed to join a tour in progress. Critically, if you miss your tour, your ticket will not be refunded or exchanged.

Wear flat-soled shoes that cover your whole foot. You will not be allowed on a tour if you have open-toed shoes, flip flops, sandals, etc.

There are free lockers where you can store personal items while on a tour. No bags of any kind whatsoever—including fanny packs, purses, camera bags, and backpacks—are permitted on the tour. I think the purpose is to prevent people from dropping things over the edge, either accidentally or intentionally. Huge cameras and video equipment also is not allowed; make a reservation for a private tour if you are a professional videographer or photographer with lots of equipment.

It’s best to order tickets and make reservations online because all of Southern California wants to go to the top of the Tower. Only 4,761 of us (a number I completely fabricated) have done it so far.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Need a unique gift for a special occasion?

Use code YLNNRX for a $40 discount on
Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America

Photographic Art logo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

My six favorite San Diego vista points

Out & About

The following are my six favorite places from which to view San Diego:

San Diego Sky Tours

San Diego Sky Tours takes you on a 20-minute flight over downtown San Diego, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), Qualcomm Stadium (home of the San Diego Chargers), Sports Arena (home of the Los Angeles Clippers when they were the San Diego Clippers), SeaWorld, Coronado Bridge, Hotel Del Coronado, beaches, San Diego River, and more! Take a ride in a biplane, a tour aircraft, or a helicopter. Nothing quite like it. Rates start at $124.

Remember, too, that if you fly into San Diego, sit on the left side of the airplane. The view of downtown San Diego as you are coming in for the landing is not to be missed!

Downtown San Diego from San Diego Sky Tours

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Mount Soledad

A very popular tourist vista because it’s just minutes north of downtown San Diego, and downtown La Jolla, one of the area’s best tourist venues, is on the north side.

Mount Soledad rises about 823 feet above the coastline. There is a huge cross and Veterans Memorial at the top. On a clear day you can see Tijuana, Los Angeles, and probably Tokyo!

View from Mount Soledad

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Mount Helix

The most popular vista point in East San Diego County. Mount Helix rises 1,365 feet above sea level. It’s about 14 miles inland but you can see the ocean on a clear day. There is am amphitheater and large cross at the top. Along with Easter Sunrise Service, there are usually theater presentations during the summer. Right now the only thing I see on the Mount Helix calendar are weddings and Power Yoga.

Mount Helix is my favorite place to see the sun rise.

Sunrise from the top of Mount Helix in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel

In downtown San Diego on the harbor front. Comprising two towers, the older one, at 497 feet tall, has a vista point bar at the top. Unfortunately, it is way too small and crowded all the time. Be sure to visit Seaport Village at the foot of the towers.

Downtown San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

California Tower

The California Tower is 198 feet tall and located in Balboa Park.  While it is not as tall as the other vistas, the views are spectacular.

After having been closed for eighty years, it opened again on January 1, 2015. If you go, and I highly recommend that you do, make reservations and buy tickets online. They sell out far in advance, and it’s not even Tourist Season yet!

You won’t go to the tippy top because it’s not safe yet, but you won’t be disappointed. Afterwards, enjoy the rest of Balboa Park, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

California Tower and San Diego Museum of Man, Balboa Park, San Diego

Gian Panda Gao Gao at the San Diego Zoo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos


A trip to Coronado has to be on everyone’s list of places to visit while in San Diego. You will travel over the very beautiful Coronado Bridge on your way to see the Hotel del Coronado, one of the most famous hotels in the world; Frank Oz’s house where he wrote much of “The Wizard of Oz”; Coronado Beach, one of the best beaches  in the United States according to those who rank such things; and downtown San Diego from across the harbor. If your budget includes splurging at a restaurant, splurge at Peohe’s.

San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge

Downtown San Diego from Marriott Coronado Island Resort

Hotel del Coronado

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Need a unique gift?
Marriage? Anniversary? Birthday? Special event?
Photographic Art logo
Choose Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by
Zoey the Cool (Book) CatZoey the Cool Cat exploring the books

SNIPPETS (7-5-14)—Bigger is better


Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

snip-pet: a small piece of something

Snippets: mini blog posts


Home, home on the range….

The range looks different in different states, sometimes even different in different areas of the same state. Here is a range from the central valley in California:

The range


I was exploring a deconstruction site a few weeks ago when I found five windows that were the only windows left intact in the building that was being demolished. Following is what was on those five windows, with the glare removed from the pictures. I’m willing to bet that someone is going to save the windows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Happy Fourth of July weekend to everyone!

Eagle and United States flag

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos


The Magellanic penguins at SeaWorld San Diego are a joy to watch. This one was well camouflaged in the midst of the rocks and was playing peek-a-boo with the crowd:

Magellanic penguin at SeaWorld San Diego


As you exit the Arctic penguin exhibit at SeaWorld, this is what you see:

Penguin flight


It is hard to get good view of the mansions in Rancho Santa Fe because they are walled compounds behind gates. When I go out there on Saturday mornings to teach chess to four children, I always go early with an intent to explore the roads. I found a road leading up up up and got a fairly decent picture of the 11,700-square-foot mansion where I teach chess:

Here I come!

Since that is a fairly decent picture (take my word for it), you now understand the problems inherent in getting really good pictures of these mansions in one of the richest areas of the United States.


Just outside the entrance to the San Diego Zoo is the Balboa Park Railroad. It’s a garden railroad that offers rides, and the area where the railroad goes has garden sculptures of zoo animals:

Garden sculpture at the Balboa Park Railroad

Garden sculpture at the Balboa Park Railroad

The tower you see in the first picture is the California Tower, one of San Diego’s most recognizable buildings. Read more about the California Tower in my blog post here: San Diego Historical Landmarks — #1: El Prado Area Designation, part 3


My wise old grandmother used to sit at the dining room table taking her pictures and cutting out parts she didn’t want, cutting them into interesting shapes, and placing the results very carefully in her photo albums and scrapbooks. She was the one who taught me that “what comes out of the camera is just the basics to start with.”

The following is Photographic Art of one the San Diego Zoo’s ambassadors, this one a turtle. The turtle was all grungy looking and the picture was all washed out due to where the sun was when I took the picture. Most people would have deleted it. Not me! Thank you oh great and wise old grandmother!



Someone more famous than me once said, “Bigger is better.” Obviously this leaf was paying attention:

Big leaf


SNIPPET #9 was taken in the Botanical Building in Balboa Park, the nation’s largest municipal cultural park. I had gone to see the leftover orchids from an orchid show, as had this guy:

Taking a picture

I always feel guilty when I’m taking a picture with my big Canon 550D and someone else is taking a picture with their little smarty pants phone.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Need a unique gift?
Consider Photographic Art!photograhic art taking pictures making art

Visit Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America.


Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend James Frimmer, Realtor, CDPE
CA BRE #0145857201 HomeSmartDiamondSmall copy 2

02 HomeSmartRWnameOnly2 copy


If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!

Real Estate Solutions by Russel Ray