Several years back, I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles and dragged her, kicking and screaming a bit, onto I-5 South to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a very hot Saturday in June. We were headed to Kit Carson Park in Escondido, about a half hour north of San Diego. When we got there, LA freeway aggravation gave way to joy. We had arrived at the amazing Queen Califia’s Magic Circle, a gorgeous mosaic sculpture garden created by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle that is rich with magic and myth. The garden takes its name from a fictional warrior queen.
The entrance to the garden is a maze with walls covered in black, white and mirrored mosaic tiles. The mirrors reflect the colors of the sculptures and the greenery and the blue southern California sky. A 400-foot snake wall surrounds the courtyard, which contains a powerful, magnificent Queen Califia and eight totem-like figures covered with symbols, creatures, and animals that played important roles in the mythologies of the indigenous peoples that are part of California’s history.
The sculptures are covered with hand-cut glass, ceramic, and stone mosaic tiles. Queen Califia herself is embellished with hand-cut mirrored glass. The movement of light, wind, color and reflection continually transforms the garden.
This is a place for people of all ages. The works are playful, and children are welcome to explore and climb on the sculptures. Underneath the Queen, a deep blue, starry mosaic sky covers an area lined with benches, a place to meditate and dwell in the beauty and myths that have been brought to life here.
If you find yourself in southern California, don’t miss it. It’s well worth the bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the meantime, scroll through these and have a look: