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Tickets to San Diego's newly opened California Tower in hot demand

The tower in San Diego's Balboa Park opened to visitors on Jan. 1, but tickets are almost sold out this month.

One of the hottest tickets in San Diego right now is admission to the stair climb at the California Tower in Balboa Park.

The tower, built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, has been closed for 80 of its 100 years -- until now.

"Since opening Jan. 1, we've sold tickets almost completely to capacity," says Grant Barrett, marketing manager for the Museum of Man, where visitors access the stairs to the tower.

This week is almost completely sold out, and January weekends show the same availability.

The San Diego History Center describes the ornate tower as using elements of "Plateresque, Baroque, Churrigueresque and Rococo" in its Spanish-Colonial facade that stands above what was the California Building (now the museum). The two grand buildings served as the entrance to the exposition.

It takes 125 steps along a spiral metal staircase from the entrance on the second floor of the Museum of Man to the public viewing deck.

Elevators are out of the question at the historic building, so the only way to get inside the tower is to walk up.

You won't be at the tippy top of the tower, but you will be about 375 feet above sea level. Views include the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distance to the Skyfari cars of the nearby San Diego Zoo.

You can buy tickets at the museum, but don't count on it. It's best to purchase a timed spot online in advance to make sure you'll get in.

"The number of people we can take up into the tower each day is limited to 120, so there aren't that many climber spots to begin with," Barrett said in an e-mail.

The stair climb costs $22.50 for adults and $18 for children 13 to 17 years old; it includes admission to the Museum of Man. Online tickets are on sale for time slots every 20 minutes from 10:20 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Info: California Tower, 1350 El Prado, Balboa Park; (619) 239-2001

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