Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden.

Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden

Field review by the editors.

Escondido, California

Is it fine art, or nightmare playland? We have to wonder whenever we see a circle of stone snakes, a demented mirrored tile "maze," and a warrior queen riding a crystalline egg-laying bird.

Kit Carson Park, north of Escondido, is home to a circular knot of arty phantasma and childhood fever dream -- Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden. It's a place to delight or traumatize kids, depending on their capacity for giant reptiles, mythic creatures, angled spaces, and broken glass.

Entrance through the Snake Gate.

"New Realist" sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) designed and self-financed Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden, which opened to the public in 2003.

The artist found inspiration in a number of California's mythic tales and legends, as well as the state's "historical and cultural roots." Queen Califia was, according to official press notes on the Garden, a "legendary Black Amazon Warrior Queen believed to rule a terrestrial island paradise of gold and riches."

Set back on a short dog-walking trail in a public park, Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden is a 120-diameter walled art space. Outside the walls are trees, plantings and walkways, surrounded by an outer ring security fence.

We discovered Queen Califia can be a cruel, seemingly arbitrary ruler. Locked gates barred our first visit attempt ("Closed Mondays for maintenance."); our next visit a year later was thwarted by the same barrier ("Closed when Rainy'). Finally, a sunny non-Monday, we entered the Magical Garden.

Bird totem.

The walls are topped with long cartoonish snake sculptures covered by reflective color tile and stone, running 400 feet around. Nothing actually grows within the inner Garden (or what does is probably quickly dispensed with Round-Up. On Mondays!).

Visitors first encounter a maze-like section. Black and white checkerboard and odd-shaped, hand-cut mirrored and iridized glass tiles form low walls and flooring -- like a schizo's dream kitchen. In the highest foot-traffic spots, some of the glass is cracked and loose.

Out of the maze, the Magic Garden opens up to a plaza, its centerpiece a 13-ft. tall rainbow bird creature (officially referred to as an "eagle") with 11-ft. tall Queen Califia astride. Underneath the bird, beneath a hollow celestial vault ceiling, is an egg -- a fountain with a solar pump (not running).

Arrayed around the plaza are eight tall figure totems -- monsters, "protective deities," people and animals. Whatever Saint Phalle felt like -- Cathead, Birdhead, Yelling Man, Bullhead... Almost any vantage point and angle in the Magic Circle Garden provides photo possibilities and colorful sculptures to admire -- ceramic mosaics and arrangements of tumbled stones, painted faces and figures.

Inside the celestial egg vault.

At first we had the place to ourselves; then a couple of families arrived. The kids managed to avoid the glass hazards and immediately divined all of the Queen's cool crawling and hiding spots.

It's not all about the art!

Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden

Mary Lane, Escondido, CA
Within a 12-acre natural habitat in the Iris Sankey Arboretum in Kit Carson Park. The park's entrance is five minutes from I-15 (via Rancho Pkwy exit) at the corner of Bear Valley Pkwy and Mary Lane. Follow the signs in the park to Queen Califia.
Weather permitting, Tu,Th 9-12, also 2nd Sa each month 9-12. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
The Best
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Muffler Man - Joor ManMuffler Man - Joor Man, Escondido, CA - 3 mi.
Grape Slide, Climbing TwigsGrape Slide, Climbing Twigs, Escondido, CA - 3 mi.
Mexican Food in a Big BarrelMexican Food in a Big Barrel, Escondido, CA - 4 mi.
In the region:
Dr. Seuss and Cat in the Hat, La Jolla, CA - 17 mi.

More Quirky Attractions in California

Stories, reports and tips on tourist attractions and odd sights in California.

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use RoadsideAmerica.com's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

September 26, 2020

My Sights

My Sights

Create and Save Your Own Crazy Road Trip!

Try My Sights

Roadside America app
Roadside Presidents app

California Latest Tips and Stories

Latest Visitor Tips

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

Hat n' Boots, Seattle, Washington (Sep 21-27, 2020)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings

Sightings. Arrives without warning. Leaves no burn marks. A free newsletter from RoadsideAmerica.com. Subscribe now!
RoadsideAmerica.com Hotel & Motel Finder

Special rates for hotels.

Book Now