Family Road Traveled

mostly NYC adventures with kids

Best Playgrounds in NYC – Our Favorites Best Playgrounds in NYC – Our Favorites
Something is happening to NYC’s playgrounds, and it’s awesome. New York City has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five... Best Playgrounds in NYC – Our Favorites

Something is happening to NYC’s playgrounds, and it’s awesome. New York City has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs and it’s investing a TON of money into them.  The Parks and Recreation Department’s budget for 2016 is in excess of $440 million! I know, it’s baffling. That said, let’s get outside and take advantage of some of these remarkable playgrounds.

Here are our picks for the best playgrounds in NYC, 9 of the 10 we love are free:

1. Washington Square Park
Greenwich Village, 4th St. to Waverly Pl. and Macdougal St. to University Pl.

Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village has recently undergone some major renovations and tops our list of favorite playgrounds right now. There are three different playground sections plus a giant fountain in the center of the park. The first play area is a toddler playground for little ones learning to walk, it also has baby swings. The second is for older kids, it’s a classic playground with swings, jungle gym, sand pit and slides. The third area is what’s really special, it’s called Mounds Play Area. This area consists of contoured artificial turf mounds with a pretty amazing spider-web-like ropes course above it. This area also has traditional monkey bars and other interesting climbing structures. Our daughter loves to kick off her shoes and run free in this section. During the summer we always end up in the fountain so be sure to bring a swim suit and water shoes if you visit on a warm day.

There are bathrooms and street food vendors in the area.

Central Park
There are several playgrounds in Central Park but we have two favorites.

2. Billy Johnson Playground – Central Park
Inside the park at 67th Street and Fifth Avenue

This playground is small but sweet. It’s one of the more distinctive playgrounds in Central Park and was inspired by the landscape. Natural trees and plantings are utilized to create wonderful little play areas within the playground. The trees also provide nice shade during the summer heat. Our favorite feature is the granite slide, which is built into a rocky hill. They also have an area with bucket swings, a sandbox and a sprinkler in the summer months.

There are bathrooms and street food vendors in the area.

3. Heckscher Playground
Inside the park at Central Park South from 61st to 63rd St.

Central Park’s oldest and largest playground also uses the natural landscape of the park. Our favorite parts are the giant rock formations which act an extension to the man made climbing structures. This climbing area is made up of pyramid like concrete designs complete with ladders, slides, tunnels and bridges which set the perfect foundation to let your kids imagination’s run wild. Kids can also play in a sand pit, swing, slide, splash in a large water feature and roll around on a synthetic turf. Absolutely perfect for tots. You often see parents atop the rocks as it’s not only a great spot to keep an eye on your kids but it has fantastic views of Central Park South.

There are bathrooms and street food vendors in the area.

4. Nelson A Rockefeller Park
Battery Park City, North End Ave at Vesey St

Battery Park City has benefited from tremendous development over the last 20 years. One of our favorite areas to play down here is the Nelson A. Rockefeller playground and park which runs along the Hudson River. You can easily spend a whole day here. The playground feels fresh with a breeze coming off the Hudson from one side and towering skyscrapers reflecting sun from the other, giving this area a unique feel. The playground has an impressive wooden play structure with a lot of platforms for climbing including a network of bridges, ladders, slides, walkways and a woven fabric net to bounce on. My daughter’s favorite feature is the kid-pedaled carousel that requires kids to work together to make it spin. The North end of the park has my favorite section which is the public art installation ‘The Real World’. These sculptures are made for kids to climb and play around but for adults it’s hard to miss the message artist Tom Otterness is sending.  Like any art you’ll have to go discover that on your own. This park guarantees a nice afternoon for both kids and adults. To top it off this area has incredible views of the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty.

There are bathrooms and a snack bar in the area.

5. Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park, off of Atlantic Avenue

The 1.6-acre playground at Pier 6, which is part of Brooklyn Bridge Park, could easily rival our number one spot for Best Playground in NYC if only it were a little closer to our apartment. This playground was designed by architects who teamed with childhood development experts and together they produced quite a masterpiece. The grounds include four different areas: Swing Valley, Slide Mountain, Sandbox Village and Water Lab. Each section is secluded in it’s own enclave surrounded by landscaping making it feel like there’s a new discovery at every turn. Kids are in for a real adventure as they explore each area. Our favorite activity is the rope swings in Swing Valley (which were not working our last visit but hopefully will be repaired soon). We’re also huge fans of the 20-foot-tall Slide Mountain jungle gym. Their 6,000-square-foot sandbox is also impressive. During the summer they also have a pop up pool, cafe, volleyball and other fun summer activities. We’ve never played in their Water lab but it looks fantastic. This playground is visually my favorite one to visit.

There are bathrooms and a cafe in the area.

6. Tribeca Pier 25
Pier 25 in Tribeca – North Moore St. at Hudson River

Pier 25 playground in Tribeca is another playground where you could easily spend a whole afternoon. Pier 25 probably offers more activities than all the others in this list. My daughter’s favorite feature is probably the outdoor rock climbing walls. They also have two giant climbing structures which lend themselves to great photo ops with towering skyscrapers as a backdrop. In addition, this playground has swings for both big kids and infants, a huge sandbox and a nice water play area. For a fee you can play mini golf, beach volleyball and there is even a soccer field and skate park nearby. This area is located on Pier 25 on the Hudson and can get quite hot and gets very crowded. It’s an awesome playground though and if you go early in the day you can have a great time.

There are bathrooms and a snack bar in the area.

7. Union Square Park Playground
14th St. and Broadway, at Union Square

Union Square is great, first of all you’re guaranteed to see something entertaining each time you visit.  The playground is pretty special too. It’s located at the north end of the park and has very innovative equipment that is fairly new.  The playground has a separate section for toddlers which has a swing set, climbing platform, sand and water play area. Our daughter’s favorite part is the area for older kids. In this section they have a unique dome which is very challenging to climb. My daughter never gives up and always manages to get to the top. Once you’re up there you get a great view and sense of pride for your accomplishment. It’s also really fun to slide back down. In addition they have a unique tube slide built into a rocky bank with real rocks you can use as stairs. Another one of our favorite features is the self-propelled merry-go-round.

There are bathrooms and a lot of food options in the area.

8. Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park
Near 165th Street in Fort Washington Park which is along the Hudson

We’re huge fans of this playground. It’s new, really well designed and feels like a retreat from NYC. Situated in northern Manhattan along the Hudson River this sweet spot offers a reprieve from sounds of traffic. It’s a bit of a hike to walk to, but once you get there you’re rewarded with a lot of really cool nature inspired equipment and is often empty.  Our favorite part is probably the zip line or obstacle course made of ceramic leaves, mushrooms and logs that kids walk across while trying not to touch the ground. They also have a really nice tree house, swings, sand pit, water feature and rope climbing structure. Grills are available so if you want to turn your play date into a picnic this is a great spot.

This isn’t an easy park to access. We typically enter Fort Washington Park from the foot bridge at 181st which takes you across the Henry Hudson then walk south until we hit the playground. Or you can enter Fort Washington Park at 158th Street and head north until you reach the playground.

Unfortunately they only have portable potties (the smelly kind). However there’s a real restroom a few blocks north on the walking path. There is no snack bar but sometimes there are ice cream vendors nearby in the summer.

9. River Run Playground
103 Riverside Drive at 83rd Street

River Run was one of my favorite playgrounds when my daughter was really little. I’m still quite charmed by it and it’s unique so I’m including it in this list. This little playground has a river running though. It starts from a fountain atop a small hill, winds down a path and ends at the bottom of the incline next to a huge sandbox. It’s super cute and kids float paper and plastic boats down the little stream, enjoying the cool water in the hot summer. The 35-foot sand pit has a unique concrete mermaid in the middle. There is also classic playground equipment like swings, a real seesaw, great climbing platforms and a cute dinosaur and elephant statues for climbing. Just outside this small playground are great boulders which we often spend as much time climbing as we do in the actual playground.

There are bathrooms and a normally an ice cream vendor in the area.

10. New York Hall of Science Playground
47-01 111th St, Corona, NY – part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

This innovative playground is up there with my top pick and if it were free and easier to access it’d probably be number one. Part of the New York Hall of Science, this playground is designed to teach kids lessons ranging from balance, sound and principles of motion. It’s always rewarding when you kids are playing hard yet learning important concepts with hands on experience. My daughter’s favorite feature seems to change with each visit. We always spend time on the slides, seesaws, the Archimedes screw and water play area. They also have a spinning contraption we enjoy a lot. The playground is huge, there are bridges, levers, climbing nets and wind pipes to entertain them for hours. It’s gets hot in the summer but they have an indoor cafe and restrooms next to the playground.

The playground is $5 per person in addition to the general NYSCI admission. The Science Playground is free for NYSCI Premium and Family Explorer Members. We’re members here and go often. I’ve also written a couple posts about NYSCI, check them out if you’re considering a visit:

Gingerbread Lane, New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science, Queens Zoo, Fantasy Forest

Most NYC playgrounds are open from 8am to dusk, year round. Please check the parks department website for accessibility, special features and additional information: www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/playgrounds.

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esteepouleris mommy blogger

Estée Pouleris is a mommy blogger based in NYC. She writes reviews about adventures with her 6 year old daughter. Her posts include photos, tips and ideas of fun places to visit with kids.

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