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Queen Califia's Magical Circle

Take the kids to this sculpture garden in Escondido.

Giant serpents make way for the warrior queen astride her 13-foot-tall eagle.
Giant serpents make way for the warrior queen astride her 13-foot-tall eagle.

Thirty miles up I-15 from San Diego, in Escondido, you’ll find Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.

The centerpiece: Queen Califia and eagle.

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.

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Giant serpents make way for the warrior queen astride her 13-foot-tall eagle.
Giant serpents make way for the warrior queen astride her 13-foot-tall eagle.

Thirty miles up I-15 from San Diego, in Escondido, you’ll find Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.

The centerpiece: Queen Califia and eagle.

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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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