Queen Califia is 11 feet tall and clad in gold armor; her court is a maze of mirrored walls topped by mosaic-covered snakes. French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who lived in La Jolla for nine years before her death in 2002, fashioned works that combined power with whimsy ― qualities very apparent in Queen Califia's Magical Circle garden, which opened last fall in Escondido's Kit Carson Park.
Local art consultant Susan Pollack notes, "Niki wanted an area that was very natural--that you had to look for. When she saw this site, she fell in love." Nearby, both the Mingei International Museum ($6; 155 W. Grand Ave.; 760/735-3355) and the California Center for the Arts ($5; 340 N. Escondido Blvd.; 760/839-4138) are sponsoring de Saint Phalle exhibits as well. It's a fitting tribute, Pollack says, "for a woman who had an incredible ability to engage everyone in her ideas."
See the queen
Queen Califia's Magical Circle is in Kit Carson Park (Bear Valley Pkwy. at Mary Lane, Escondido; www.queencalifia.org or 760/839-4691).