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California Scenario: A Sculpture Garden Inspiring Play

California Scenario: A Sculpture Garden Inspiring Play

California Scenario (Noguchi Garden) in Costa Mesa looks and feels like a unique park, but it is actually a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi.

My husband and I first discovered it back in college in the early 90s, but we weren’t really aware of its artistic significance. We took the kids for a visit in 2010, because we thought it was a place to play.

Read on to find out more about this intriguing space!

I just love the feel of it. It inspires the kid in me to jump over the brook or hide in the redwoods.

My kids wanted to do those things, too. Or to play a game of hide and seek. It’s hard to resist.

This space is so meaningful to me! A sculpture garden directory from the Birbeck University of London explains it as “is an abstract analogue of the state of California from Mexico to the Oregon border, and the Pacific Ocean to the Colorado River.”  Ahhh, now it all makes sense! The stand of trees, the river running through it, the red in the stones, and the desert flora.

There is a sign at the entrance now that explains the entire installation.

In reading more about the artist, you’ll learn he created sculpture for play! In speaking about his Life and Work, the Noguchi Museum says: “The creation of playgrounds and play sculpture was an important part of Isamu Noguchi’s attempt to make sculpture useful in everyday life.”

In the article from Landscape Design Online, it says: “Rather than requiring that children slide on the slide, they could climb it, or roll down it, or use it as part of an imaginative evocation of their own inner theater. Each playground design became more and more interactive as time went on, and the public reaction to them became more and more varied.” 

I think Noguchi was a PLAY ADVOCATE foiled by planners at every turn! Peruse the timeline to see his playground projects which were unrealized back in the 1930’s and 1940’s because of their “great potential danger” to children. Oh, how I wish Mr. Noguchi had won some of these battles! Maybe our playscapes would be more reflective of his style today?

Be Aware:

  • As much as I’d love it to be, this is NOT a playground. It’s a sculpture garden. I definitely recommend a visit, but you’ll probably have to tell the kids “no running” and “no playing” or suffer a warning from a security guard.  May be a better option for a date night?
  • Probably busy during the week. Better to visit on a weekend.


  • Free 2 hour visitor parking in structure by TGI Friday’s

How to Get to California Scenario (Noguchi Gardens): So where is this hidden garden? About a block away from South Coast Plaza. I park at the old TGI Friday’s and just walk behind the building to the area between the high rise buildings. MAP TO CALIFORNIA SCENARIO


Wednesday 9th of June 2010

I love that place! I grew up not far from there, and when I was a young hooligan I'd go with my friends late at night. It has such a neat feeling to it. The lighting at night makes it super dramatic too.

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