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California Scenario: A Sculpture Garden Inspiring Play

California Scenario: A Sculpture Garden Inspiring Play

California Scenario 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, but until this weekend I wasn’t aware of its artistic significance. We took the kids for a visit because we thought it was a place to play.

  • There are no signs on the gates explaining the installation.
  • There are no rules posted about “not touching.”

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. Since we thought it was a park, I let them. That’s when a very nice, but firm security guard came to inform us of our unintended disrespect.

I’m so happy she did, because now this space is so much more 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.

In reading more about the artist this morning, I’m learning 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.” 

Okay, now I’m getting a little teary reading about Mr. Noguchi. He 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.

Well, now I take back my apology for playing in his sculpture garden. I consider it the highest form of respect and a tribute to his memory. I can’t help but think he’d probably be happy we did!  (However, I don’t recommend it and we won’t be doing it again because we’d probably get in BIG trouble!)

If a deeper look at playgrounds interests you, check out PlayGroundology written by my friend and fellow playground blogger, Alex Smith.  He puts a lot of thought into his posts and digs up the BEST stuff. And Paige Johnson at Playscapes is the master.

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
  • Hungry? I went to a blogger event at Z’Tejas across the street at South Coast Plaza where they fed us some yummy appetizers and promoted their Sunday free kid meals from 4pm-7pm. So maybe it would be a fun family outing on a Sunday afternoon?

Location: So where is this hidden garden? About a block away from South Coast Plaza. I park at TGI Friday’s and just walk behind the restaurant to the area between the high rise buildings. MAP TO CALIFORNIA SCENARIO

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