Thirty miles up I-15 from San Diego, in Escondido, you’ll find Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.
This is the unnatural habitat of wild animals that escaped from the imagination of Niki de Saint Phalle. She’s the French-born local sculptor, who, in her 72 years, from 1930 to 2002, produced a zoo’s worth of tesseraed creatures with charming Native American, pre-Columbian and Mexican influences.
Saint Phalle’s menagerie roams the earth, including the grounds of UCSD, Balboa Park, the convention center, Museum of Contemporary Art, Solana Beach train station, and, in Escondido, Kit Carson Park.
Imagine yourself a three-and-a-half-foot-tall seven-year-old, running up to a wall in the park. It’s an undulating four- to nine-foot-high black, white and mirror–tiled wall, topped with major snakes (serpentis majori).
You enter the Magical Circle through an opening and discover a maze, not of hedges, but of more black, white and mirror walls. Eventually you find your way to an open plaza with eight towering totem poles crawling with fanciful tile-and-pebble beasties (left).
And at the center, Queen Califia, 20 feet up, atop her giant five-legged eagle (aquila quintipodos califiori). Wow!
The Magical Circle is well worth the drive, particularly if you have kids. It’ll give them a memorable experience. Maybe even nightmares.