Playgrounds have come a long way. In the past decade, designers have bid farewell to the routine jungle gym, slide and sandbox set-up and are instead introducing exciting technology, hands-on activities, fitness-focused equipment and environmentally-conscious designs to public playgrounds, tapping into more than just a child’s physical desire to play. Today’s kids engage their minds, exercise their bodies and most importantly have fun on the playground in a far superior way to generations past. Want to find one of these super-playspaces in your area? We’ve sought out the nation’s top 20 playspaces that offer a fabulous and unique way to play.
Fairfax County, Virginia’s Clemyjontri Park is a two-acre play space made up of four different quadrants, the center being a carousel that is recessed to the ground, allowing full access for kids in wheelchairs. A spectacular playspace, Clemyjontri Park allows children with physical disabilities to play on the same equipment as their non-challenged friends. The playground’s rubber surfacing allows wheelchairs to roll with ease, the lowered monkey bars offer easier access, higher-backed swings provide extra support, and ramps connect the various structures. Each of the playground’s four quadrants offers different sensory experiences, physical challenges, and learning opportunities like reading and time-telling, to name a few. Find out more about Clemyjontri Park by visiting the Fairfax County website.
For families with tiny train lovers, this one’s for you! Voted one of the top 10 parks in the world by Condé Nast, this Scottsdale, Ariz., park is home to a carousel, railroad exhibit and, best of all, an actual railroad and train, the first attraction to ever operate in the park. The park has two playgrounds, one of which is southwestern in theme and uses adobe-style construction. But the real gem in this park is the train. The cost is $1 to ride, but taking a spin on the historic Paradise & Pacific is priceless. For train schedules and more info, visit the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park website.
An award-winning playground, California’s Adventure Playground is much more than your average neighborhood jungle gym. This hands-on playground located in the Berkeley Marina, was conceived, built and opened in 1979 following the release of a study that showed children enjoy playing in dirt and lumber more so than in “normal” asphalt and cement playgrounds. The space is made up of kid-designed and built forts, boats and towers, and children continue to get creative every time they come to play and explore. Kids love the fast zipline, which runs the length of the park and offers a great view of the whole place. Parents love the park because it gets bodies moving and brains working. BONUS: For a small fee, parents can drop their children off for supervised play for up to three hours.
With a vast green backdrop and plenty of grassy fields, the Koret Children’s Quarter in San Francisco gives kids and parents a lush oasis in the middle of the busy Bay City. Towering spider web rope structures, wavy climbing walls and two giant cement slides on which kids use cardboard to slide down are just a few of the highlights. Perhaps the crème de la crème is the authentic carousel from the “Golden Age” of carousels in 1914, built by the Herschell-Spillman Company. This carousel, the third of its kind that the park has harbored, boasts beautifully designed horses, dogs, roosters and other creatures to take children round the ride.
Located in downtown Manhattan’s Battery Park and very near the site of the World Trade Centers, Teardrop Park is a 1.8-acre playground that opened in 2004. The park was designed as a way for children to interact with natural elements such as water, plants, rock and sand—something they don’t often do in the middle of a concrete jungle. The park engages a whole world of natural senses that city kids wouldn’t otherwise explore. Sustainability was the main organizing principle in the creation of the park, lending it to be a very health- and environment-friendly place. Non-toxic plant maintenance, organic soils and recycled irrigation water are just a few examples of the lengths designers went to in order to make this park green, in every sense of the word.
In the middle of a city that has little excess space is a playground located atop a roof! The Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco are located on the roof of the Moscone Convention Center?? Not only does this space offer a playground for children to enjoy, but it also boasts a beautiful, hand-carved carousel, the Children’s Creativity Museum, an ice skating center and bowling rink, making it an ideal spot for children of all ages. The playground features a 25-foot tube slide, sand circle, play stream, hedge maze and an outside amphitheater for public performances.
Just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell and Historic Philadelphia, Franklin Square was one of the city’s five original squares, but today it’s a splendid combination of playground and amusements. Franklin Square Park is centered around the Franklin Square Fountain and features the Philadelphia Park Liberty Carousel, Center City’s only miniature golf course, and a Philly-favorite eatery SquareBurger. Although the amusements do carry a small cost, the craft fair weekends, seasonal festivities, and shady playground—named one of Philly’s best play places by Philadelphia Magazine—offer plenty of fun and free alternatives. Visit HistoricPhiladelphia.org to learn more.
Dubbed New York City’s adult playground, the High Line is a one-mile linear park combining history, nature and modern design. Officially opened in June of 2011, this aerial greenway was built atop a section of the former elevated New York Central Line Railroad spur, also known as The West Line. The park runs from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea, and although it doesn’t allow bikes, scooters, rollerblades or anything of the sort, adults and children enjoy the slice of nature that momentarily distracts them from the hustle and bustle below. Benches and chaise lounges dot the park, making it a lovely space to relax—if you have the good fortune to be able to snag one.
Oahu, Hawaii’s Camp H.R. Erdman Nature Built Playspace is a playground that was created around the ideals of being truly made from nature, including the limited equipment. At first glance, the playground may not look very much like one, but upon further exploration, children can discover a slide embedded into the natural slope of a hill, a maze through a labyrinth of native Hawaiian vegetation, an edible forest boasting Hawaiian fruits, and a garden made up of climb-ready boulders.
In the Make it Right Foundation-area of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, where much of the area was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, a community is slowly but steadily rebuilding and will soon be comprised of 150 energy-efficient homes. In the area is Kellogg Park Ego-Playground, a small, eco-friendly playspace that is constructed with solar-powered equipment and has helped to bring some light back to the neighborhood. The playground is the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly playground in the country; not only is the equipment and its design is 100 percent sustainable, but the designers embraced the future of play and chose to mix physical, traditional playground equipment with digital games.
This Parker, South Dakota playground does exactly what its name suggests: tells stories from the Bible while children play. Various stories from the Good Book are interspersed into the park, making learning about Christianity fun and interactive. Kids can experience the thrill of sliding through the mouth of a whale like Jonah, or they can test their strength while climbing the 10 cedar Ten Commandment poles. Musical instruments, a giant Goliath statue, and a lion’s den are just a few of the other highlights this park has to offer. Find out more about Bible Story Playground by visiting the KaBOOM website
Nestled in the middle of Scranton, PA, the historical Nay Aug Park offers a welcoming nature-filled space in the middle of the city. In addition to two playgrounds, Nay Aug is home to walking trails, picnic areas, two Olympic-sized pools with a waterslide complex, and the David Wenzel Tree House, which rises 150 feet above the awe-inspiring gorge below. Although the Nay Aug amusement park closed in the early 90’s, a small amusement area remains in operation near the swimming complex, giving kids the opportunity to experience a snippet of the park’s past.
Most playgrounds in the Big Apple manage to offer the standard—a set of swings, a slide, a climbing structure, and a sandbox—but the Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, located in the northern part of Battery City, sets a new standard. This park boasts two play structures for big kids, a play structure for toddlers, and an infant area as well. With such a variety of play equipment, even the most stubborn child will have fun. Kids can pedal their way around the merry go round, cool off in the elephant fountain, create castles in elevated sandboxes, or tap into their inner Spiderman while crawling across the red webbed floor and scaling the chain spider web.
Built on land that once belonged to the inventor of the rotary printing press Richard Hoe, this playground looks like a giant model of Hoe’s workshop. Although the look of this playground takes us back to Industrial Revolution, a time when green living didn’t even exist, the park was built with sustainability in mind. The coolest part however, is the look of it all: the main climbing structure looks like paper weaving through the printing press, the steps resemble giant rolls of paper and you can catch a glimpse of the gears that make it all work. Visit the New York City parks website to find out more.
Land, ho! This oceanfront playground located on Staten Island’s south shore avoids the technology-laced trends that are springing up all over playgrounds these days. Instead, Seaside Nature Wildlife Park Playground embraces the marshy terrain and breezy beach as a selling point on this play space—along with the stellar equipment. A play lighthouse, shark-shaped jungle gym, spray shower and a giant shipwrecked boat with a Dragon shiphead are just a few of the sea-themed gems this play place offers to set imaginations wild. Visit the New York City parks website to find out more.
Located in Shelby Farms Park just about 20 minutes from Beale Street, this Memphis, Tennessee playground makes you feel like you’ve jumped right into the page of a Dr. Seuss book. The colorful space is made up of six different play areas, or “nests,” and a winding caged walkway whimsically connects the nests together. Towering wooden play structures, brightly-colored swinging nests, a big net-filled tree house, slides, water features and so much more make this park fun for kids of all ages and ability levels. We also love that it was one of the first projects in the world to be certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
Like its sister city New Orleans, Lake Charles, Louisiana knows how to party. However out of their some 75 festivals that they throw each hear, the shindig that celebrates pirate Jean Lafitte has really made its mark. Shiver Me Timbers Millenium Park is a waterfront playground with a well-fitting pirate theme. A large pirate ship is the core and center of the space, but castles, tug boats, various towers, and ropes bring the life of the sea to reality. This playground is best for the younger crowd (ages 8 and under) so keep that in mind if you have an older bunch.
Who wants to pay for a concert when your own children can provide you with the tunes? At Freenotes Harmony Park Musical Playground in Moab, Utah, musical instruments are the focus of play. What began in 1986 as the Freenotes instrument’s first and only installment, the “Xylophonus Rex,” has since expanded immensely, with the addition of a new instrument each year. It is now the largest ensemble of Freenotes instruments in the world, and the most economical way for mom and dad to enjoy the musical talent of their little Beethoven’s while simultaneously enjoying some shade in Moab’s harsh climate.
This fitness-focused playground was one of the first Evos Installations in the country, built at Sahuaro Ranch Park in Glendale, Arizona. The space was installed for the purpose of providing children with greater physical challenges than those they would normally encounter at another average playground, thus keeping them engaged and playing for longer. The idea is improving playground design as a way to make children healthier both physically and cognitively. The Weevos and Evos Fitness Playground is comprised of equipment designed to build core and upper-body strength, improve balance, and improve cognitive development and imagination. For the kids, the coolest part about it is probably how it looks, but parents are psyched that their children can have fun and improve their health simultaneously.
Built in 1908, the locally known “Dragon Park ,” and formally named Fannie Mae Dees Park, is a long-time Nashville favorite play spot. Mosaic Artist Pedro Pablo Silva created the playground sculpture over three decades ago, and children still enjoy the giant, colorful reptile that slithers through the park to this day. The head of this giant lizard is perfect for climbing and—if you can make it—taking a seat in between the spikes that stud his spine. Otherwise, the tail of the serpent doubles as a long bench and requires no climbing. Shady trees, a picnic pavilion, plenty of grassy space, and several pieces of small equipment make this playground an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon.
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