San Diego Tourist Guide

Queen Califia's Magical Circle

Niki de St. Phalle spent her last few years living in La Jolla, California. The San Diego area is home to many of St. Phalle’s unique art works. Her last large scale project, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, is a whimsical sculpture garden located in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park.

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle opened in October 2003, a year after Niki de St.
Phalle died at the age of 71. The Magical Circle is Niki de St. Phalle’s only sculpture garden located in the U.S., though she has several gardens worldwide including the Tarot Garden.

Niki de St. Phalle’s inspiration for Queen Califia is drawn from her interpretations of California’s myths, legends, Native American culture and the region’s plant and wildlife. Thus the snakes, the goddess and the totems.

Stepping into the circle is reminiscent of stepping into a page of Alice in Wonderland. A delightful maze of black and white mosaic and mirrors leads to the colorful sculptures within. The 120 foot in diameter circular garden is surrounded by a 400 foot wall of snakes and composed entirely of mosaic pieces, a signature of Niki de St. Phalle’s later work. Even the built in seating in the garden is made of mosaic and incorporates artistic forms.

A mixture of fantasy as well as Native American, Pre-Columbian and Mexican art combines into a visual feast for the eyes. Queen Califia towers above on top of a large bird that is described as a five legged eagle. Under the eagle is a shady nook with equally impressive mosaic work. When the sculpture garden first opened, a large egg with a bubbling water fountain was underneath; however, it is no longer there.

Visiting Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is easy. Kit Carson Park is located off Interstate 15 and Via Rancho Parkway. The best entrance is the Mary Lane entrance. Follow it to the designated Queen Califia’s parking area and follow the short trail to the garden. The garden is open from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM and is locked at night. Docent led tours are available by calling 760-830-4331. Food is not allowed inside the sculpture garden but picnic tables are located just outside its walls under a set of shady trees.

The City of Escondido donated the land, landscaping, maintenance and operations of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle but Niki de St. Phalle financed the rest of the project, her last gift to the world’s art lovers.
San Diego, California