Head toward the mega-mall, turn left and zone out

Special to The Times

Tucked between two glass-clad office towers and the stucco walls of a parking structure, the rocks, dirt, water and indigenous vegetation of the Noguchi California Scenario in Costa Mesa form such a Surrealist landscape that you almost expect a pocket watch to be dripping from the branches of its redwood trees.

Built in 1983 by Los Angeles-born Isamu Noguchi as an abstraction of the Golden State’s diverse elements -- from sere desert basins to babbling mountain streams -- the California Scenario unfolds as an interactive tableau of geometric symbols and Eastern symmetry.

On the southern end stands a 30-foot sandstone triangle, representing a mountain with a waterfall. It sends a river coursing through the Scenario’s boulder-strewn plaza. At the river’s end is a granite pyramid, polished to an inorganic sheen that suggests human intervention. In counterpoint to the angularity of these forms are three curvaceous garden beds, each representing a California microclimate.

To step into this 1.6-acre free public sculpture garden is to take a crash course in Zen. The flow of the space encourages the feet -- and the mind -- to wander.


A visitor also can’t resist sitting on the stone benches that are strategically located as much for observing the outside world as for exploring the inner one.

As time slides by, marked by dramatic shifts of sun and shadow, the meditation becomes all the more striking in light of the California Scenario’s somewhat hard-to-find site -- in a hub of industry off Park Center Drive, adjacent to the shopping Shangri-La of South Coast Plaza.

-- Adamo DiGregorio

and David A. Keeps