Despite its weird hours making it difficult to visit, Queen Califa’s Magical Circle in Escondido, CA, is one of San Diego County’s true hidden gems and worth a visit if it happens to be open if you are nearby.
About Queen Califa’s Magical Circle
Queen Califa’s Magical Circle is a sculpture garden located in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park. It was created by the internationally renowned artist Niki de Saint Phalle and was one of her last works and is her only sculpture garden in the United States.
The garden is named after Califia, the fictional warrior queen of the mythical Island of California, and was inspired by that mythological history. Escondido was chosen as the location for the garden for its semi-rural setting in order to set the tone for the sculpture garden perfectly.
Surrounding the sculpture garden is a circular snake wall. The wall is 400 feet in length, and its height varies from 4 to 9 feet. It includes a number of native plants as part of the wall, and occasionally the snakes make windows into the circle that resembles an eye.
When you enter the circle, you are greeted by a black and white maze with numerous mirrors throughout. Once you pass through the maze, you enter the central courtyard. Inside the courtyard, there are nine large sculptures.
The centerpiece of the courtyard is a sculpture of Queen Califia standing on the back of a five-legged eagle. Surrounding Queen Califia are eight large totem statues.
All of the sculptures are covered with symbols and imagery from Native American, Pre-Columbian, and Mexican art, as well as the artist’s own fantastic imagery. The sculptures showcase the artist’s signature designs, such as voluptuous female figures, hybrid creatures, and mythical symbols that are covered in vibrant mosaics.
Queen Califa’s Magical Circle opened in October 2003, just over a year after Niki de Saint Phalle died in May 2002.
Visiting Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
First, the good news is that admission to Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is free. There is no charge for parking either. A free attraction is a rare treat in today’s world.
Now the bad news, Queen Califa’s Magical Circle is only open a few days a week, and the times don’t exactly make visiting easy. The regular hours of operation are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, and the second and fourth Saturdays of every month also from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. If any of those days fall on a major holiday, it will likely be closed on those days.
Getting to Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is pretty straightforward. It is located right off Interstate 15 in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park. From Interstate 15, you take the Via Rancho Parkway exit and follow the road, and it will become Bear Valley Parkway. Turn into Kit Carson Park at Mary Lane and just follow the signs to the parking area.
Kit Carson Park
Kit Carson was a famous American frontiersman who fought in the battle of San Pasqual, just a few miles from where the park that now bears his name is located. The park is 285 acres in size and is a pretty nice local recreation area.
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is probably the only thing at Kit Carson Park worth going out of your way to see, but if you are in the area, the park does feature a number of hiking trails, ponds, a disc golf course, baseball and soccer fields, and a skate park among other things.
What Else Is Nearby
There are a number of interesting places to check out within a few miles of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle.
Less than a mile and a half from Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead. The site was established around 1870 and is one of the oldest adobe homes from the American era in Southern California. It’s a great place to see what life was like for the pioneer settlers in San Diego shortly after California became a state.
Located about four and a half miles away is Escondido’s historic Grape Day Park. The park is the oldest park in the city and is a registered historic landmark. The park is home to an early 1900s working barn, a blacksmith shop, Santa Fe Railroad depot, museums, and other monuments.
Five miles away is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (otherwise known as the Wild Animal Park to locals). This is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County, so it’s likely if you are already in the area, you know about it, but if not, it is a massive 1,800-acre zoo with over 2,600 animals.
About five and a half miles away is the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park. The park commemorates the Battle of San Pasqual, the bloodiest battle in California during the Mexican-American War. There is a really nice visitor center and several monuments to the battle. The park is usually only open on weekends, though.