Nature in the Urban World at Civic Center Park

If you’re in the mood for a pleasant stroll with some enthusing scenery while soaking up the sun’s rays, look no further than Newport Beach’s own Civic Center Park. Located smack-dab in the middle of the urban-cool Newport Beach Civic Center, the Civic Center Park has a lot to offer.

The park totals about 14 acres with 1.23 miles of walking trails and plenty of exciting things to see along the way. While open from dawn until dusk every day of the week, the park’s hours offer ample time for a simple, leisurely stroll along the trails to an all-day family outing.

Photo by: Eric Staudenmaier
Photo by: Eric Staudenmaier

Civic Green

At the Southwest end of the Civic Center is the Civic Green, a two-acre grassy area designed for community gatherings and events. This large, green field invites family fun and sunny relaxation. The Civic Green connects the Library, Civic Center, parking structure – and its convenient 450 spaces of free parking for Civic Center and park guests – and the rest of the park.


Civic Center Park

The true charm of Civic Center Park is in its wildlife habitats and Sculpture Exhibition, which begins on Civic Center Dr. In August of 2013, the City Arts Commission and City Staff were authorized to implement the temporary Sculpture Exhibition. The Sculpture Exhibition consists of two phases. The sculptures of Phase One were installed in September of 2014 and are on display for two years. While all of the sculptures are individually unique and innovative, there seems to be an underlying theme of whimsy and color among them.

Phase Two Sculptures

The Phase Two sculptures are also currently on display alongside those of Phase One. The first nine pieces of Phase Two were installed in September 2015, while the 10th sculpture joined the collection this past January 2016. These sculptures will be on display until August 2017, but if you visit the park now, you can experience the full effect of the two sculpture phases together – which is definitely recommended!


Self-Guided Walking Tour

During the grand opening of the Sculpture in the Civic Center Park Exhibition, tours were conducted by the Newport Beach Art Foundation. However, don’t worry if you missed these tours. There’s a self-guided walking tour of the exhibition that is downloadable to your smartphone! Just download the “MyNB” app from the Apple iTunes App Store or Google Play App Store and make sure that it’s updated to include the Sculpture Exhibition’s latest additions. Additionally, a small plaque that lists the sculpture’s title, artist and the materials used to create it accompanies each sculpture. There are also multiple maps throughout the park with habitat indicators as well as guiding markers for the one-mile trail and the half-mile trail.

Southwest Trail Entrance

You can start your stroll through the park and Sculpture Exhibition at many different accessible trail entrances but if you leave your car in the parking structure, you’ll begin your journey at the Southwest trail entrance, just across the street from the Civic Center. The trail begins with La Cage aux Folles by Techentin. This large, white sculpture is made of towering bent steel tubes and is not easily missed, so you’ll have no trouble finding your way back to your car!

Gerardo Hacer, Cub Triptych

Gerardo Hacer’s Cub Triptych

Veer right along the first fork in the trail and you’ll find Gerardo Hacer’s Cub Triptych. This fun sculpture depicts three green bear cubs and should be viewed from all angles to get the full beauty of these not-so-little cubs. Conveniently, this sculpture is located right next to the park’s long, serpentine bench picnic area, so pack some snacks and absorb those angles!


Journeying back down to that first fork, you’ll notice that the different nature exhibits of the park are indicated by large information displays. Each information display gives a detailed description of the habitat as well as the different plants and animals that would naturally be found there. The park trail begins in the Meadow and Grasslands habitat, however, the park consists of many habitat features, including a Coastal Sage Scrub Garden, Wetlands and Torrey Pine Grove. Expanding over the majority of the park, the Meadow and Grasslands is the largest nature habitat in the park and is home to a variety of native plants, including Blanket Flowers and California Meadow Sedge. You might even catch the black and yellow wings of a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly fluttering through the shrubs.

Grant Irish’s Decline
Grant Irish, Decline

Steel Sculptures

Continuing along the trail, you’ll find more sculptures, such as Grant Irish’s Decline and Equator Z360 by Kenneth Capps. Both sculptures are constructed of corten steel and are a bit more abstract than some of the other sculptures.

Bridging the Gap

Venture on and you’ll soon come across a blue-railed bridge, which is meant to be a peaceful and accessible viewing platform over the wetland wildlife. The wetland of Newport Beach Civic Center and Park actually predates the development of the park and is protected at the Federal and State level because of its environmental and recreational value. The park’s wetland provides a habitat for a diverse group of both aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals, including the Narrowleaf Cattail and Vivid Dancer Damselflies. The wetland bridge allows for easy viewing of both of these plus much more. Listen carefully and you might even hear the rustling of a Garden Slender Salamander or a Savannah Sparrow in the brush!


A Pop of Color

The trail continues on the other side of the bridge and brings you back to the Sculpture Exhibition, which resumes with Patricia Vader’s towering Sunflower, a more representational sculpture and the newest addition to the Sculpture Exhibition.

David Buckingham’s Pretty Boy is also on this side of the bridge and resumes the fun color theme of the Phase One sculptures that were introduced with the Hacer’s vibrant green cubs. Pretty Boy also incorporates an environmental awareness into the Sculpture Exhibition as this colorful giant is constructed of welded recycled steel.

Jennifer Cecere, Double Doily
Jennifer Cecere, Double Doily

Resting Spot

While the park is scattered with large picnic tables and benches, Jennifer Cecere’s Double Doily sculpture offers a unique alternative to these rest spots. This elaborate sculpture of white waterjet aluminum can be used as a bench where visitors are invited to sit and enjoy a peaceful breather during their stroll. Nearby is a circle of child-sized, white bunnies. These bunnies are a sweet spot meant for kids and their families to find and play around. How cute!

Northeast Side

Those who want more of the Sculpture Exhibition can use the bridge over San Miguel Dr. to cross over to the Northeast side of the park. The bridge is easily accessible by stairs or elevator and includes the park’s second viewing platform. This platform is at the end of the bridge and offers an expansive and beautiful view of the whole Southwest end of the park, the Civic Center and even the ocean!

Curt Brill’s Brandi
Curt Brill, Brandi

Across the Bridge

After crossing the bridge, visitors are greeted by Brandi, Curt Brill’s larger-than-life-sized, human-like sculpture of bronze and granite. Visitors will also find Sphere 112, Ivan McLean’s intricate sphere of stainless steel rods, and Jarod Charzewski and Sean Mueller’s pun-ny sculpture, Recycled. This elaborate sphere is made of upcycled bicycle objects, which perhaps supplies Civic Center Park with its most appropriately named sculpture. Continuing along the trail will also lead you to a large picnic area on top of a small hill. Four large, round picnic tables sit underneath the shade of a Torrey Pine tree, which creates the perfect spot for visitors to stop and relax. This peaceful spot is indicated as the “Lookout Terrace” on the Civic Center Park maps.

Jarod Charzewski & Sean Mueller's Recycled
Jarod Charzewski and Sean Mueller, Recycled

Dog Park

Dog owners will delight in knowing that this side of the park is also home to Newport Beach’s first dog park! Dogs can accompany their owners along the trails of Civic Center Park – as long as they are leashed and licensed – but if owners would like to skip the trails and get right to the dog park, there is a small parking lot along Avocado Ave and a set of stairs that leads straight up to the dog park. The dog park is separated into a large dog area and a small dog area and is open from 7 a.m. to dusk. The gate leads directly into the large dog area with the small dog area behind it. However, there is an additional entrance to the small dog area on the MacArthur Blvd side of the park for small dog owners that do not want to walk through the large dog area. The stairs that lead up to the park from Avocado Ave are lined by Quincy Owens and Luke Crawley’s Prime Commonality, tall pillars of aluminum, steel, and colorful plexiglass. Also nearby is Matt Babcock’s sculpture, Big Wet Dog, so as to not leave the dog owners out of the exciting viewing pleasure of the Sculpture Exhibition.

Bertil Petersson, Double White

Torrey Pine Grove Nature Habitat

This side of Civic Center Park is also home to the Torrey Pine Grove nature habitat. This habitat makes up the largest planting of trees at the Newport Beach Civic Center and Park, however, the information display will explain that Torrey Pines are endangered and are the rarest North American Pine. Today, Torrey Pines naturally exist in only two locations: near Torrey Pine State Reserve south of Del Mar and on Santa Rosa Island. So the planting of Torrey Pine Grove at Newport Beach Civic Center Park allows for Newport Beach natives and visitors alike to gratefully experience the environmental benefits and beauty of these trees.

Ivan McLean's Sphere 112
Ivan McLean, Sphere 112

Heading Back

The trail will bring you around the dog park to MacArthur Blvd and then back to San Miguel Dr where you can cross the bridge back to the other side of the park. After descending from the bridge, visitors can continue to the left and journey along the remainder of the trail and the Sculpture Exhibition. Lt Mustardseed’s Demoiselle is along this portion of the trail and is definitely a fun sculpture that you will not want to miss. The huge, blue dragonfly-like sculpture is made out of recycled auto objects and is complete with polished, blue eyeballs and steel hairs on its legs! Another bridge over the wetlands will lead you to Chris Rench’s Red Gateway. After observing the vibrant, abstract shapes of the sculpture and continuing along the trail, you’ll soon make it back to the familiar white giant, La Cage aux Folles, which means you have completed the entire trail loop through the Sculpture Exhibition!

From here, you can enjoy the grassy expanse of the Civic Green, visit the Civic Center or Library, or head back to the parking structure. On your way back to your car, make sure you stop by the Palm Garden, located right at the entrance to the parking structure. The Palm Garden offers a lot of information about the palm heritage of Newport Beach and Southern California and is the perfect parting word and image for your visit at the Newport Beach Civic Center Park.

Ray Katz, Odyssey
Ray Katz, Odyssey

An Interview With Sculpture Artist Patricia Vader

Q: Let’s talk about your Sunflower sculpture series. What is the meaning behind it and what inspired you to create these pieces? Had you always intended for one to end up in Civic Park? How were you approached to participate in this public sculpture garden in Newport Beach?

Patricia Vader: The Sunflower series was inspired by the sunflowers sprouting up on my property and materials laying around in my studio after the completion of another kinetic sculpture. I laid out a curved pipe and bicycle wheels on my driveway in this very simple design. From there I just had to figure out how to deal with reality. The first Sunflower was featured in three different public art programs, winning a People’s choice award in Puyallup, Washington and an honorable mention in the International Kinetic Art Competition in Palm Beach, Florida, and will be installed permanently in the City of Livermore, California. The second Sunflower, a little different from the first, was privately purchased and donated to the City of Lake Oswego, Oregon. The third and last Sunflower, again a little different from the others, was selected via an online call for entries by the City of Newport Beach for display in Civic Park. It is still unknown where the Sunflower in Civic Park will end up after it’s time on display. I will submit it to another public art program requesting large sculptures.

Q: Aside from the audience, is there a difference to your private vs. public works of art? How much does the audience/location come into play during creation?

PV: My public works of art are larger and higher budget, which makes them more exciting to me. Public art has to conform to public safety rules, be impervious to climate conditions and withstand public interaction. In my case, it dictates that any moving components of kinetic sculptures have to be at least 7’ above ground level, the use of corrosion-resistant metals (such as stainless steel and aluminum) and powder coat paint finishes. My predilection for kinetic art stems from my own playful spirit and a positive public response. People watch kinetic art a little longer, just like a video is viewed for a longer time than a still image.

Q: What are the major considerations when dealing with the interplay between the pieces and the spaces you put them in?

PV: An outdoor sculpture has to stand out in its environment, so the first considerations are scale and color. A dark green sculpture would not be very conspicuous in a pine forest. And notice how red seems to be the color of choice for many large-scale public sculptures.

Patricia Vader, Sunflower. Photo Courtesy of Patricia Vader.
Patricia Vader, Sunflower

Q: How long do your works of art usually take to create, from conception to installation?

PV: Several months is a minimum. I like to test a new concept with a full-scale prototype made with cheap materials such as wood, PVC pipe and whatever suitable is laying around. That may take a few weeks, checking the kinetics, refining my design, proportions, and colors, and is followed by anywhere between two and six months of fabrication of the actual sculpture.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background that led you into creating metal sculptures and wind art?

PV: I made my first piece of kinetic art, a windmill, one very windy day in 2007 on the windy hilltop where I live and work, using a bicycle wheel and 4” stainless steel disks of unremembered origin that I had stored in a tin. I checked the optimum angle for the blades of a windmill online and found it to be almost exactly reproducible on a bicycle wheel. I have always liked bicycle wheels, presumably because of my Dutch origins. I baked several with clay on their spokes in the kiln when I was in art school and they still hang on my walls, like precious but amusing relics.

Q: What projects do you currently have in the works? What’s next for Patricia Vader?

PV: My most ambitious work so far is a giant butterfly with thirty-eight windmills that spin in the slightest breeze. It is currently installed in the Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California, held in place by cables and stakes. From an engineer’s perspective, it is a giant sail that will need a very hefty 5 ft x5 ft by 2 ft high concrete foundation when installed 18 ft tall in a civic public space requiring the usual 7 ft clearance below the moving parts. I have a prospective location in mind and hope to see it installed in a city park next spring. I just became one of four finalists for a commission of public art in a beautiful park in Reno, Nevada. If I win I will spend the rest of the summer fabricating the proposed kinetic sculpture of a fish at play in the waves. In tandem, I am working on several new kinetic designs of a giant spinning cat head and a beating heart that have as yet no specified destination. Imagining and making the sculptures is fun from start to end!

Newport Civic Center

To explore Newport Beach Civic Center Park, located at 100 Civic Center Dr in Newport Beach, you can visit their website at or call 949.644.3309 for more information.

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