Best Bay Area Playgrounds
While most families have a favorite neighborhood park or playground near home, some of the Bay Area’s most unique playgrounds are worth the trip. Take advantage of a beautiful summer day, pack a picnic and treat your kids to a romp at one of these fun parks, whether as part of a day trip to another town or as a destination on its own. Because of California’s drought conditions, many cities had turned off their parks’ water features last summer. Check websites for updates this year. Admission is free unless otherwise noted, though some parks may have parking fees.
Silicon Valley and South
The Rotary PlayGarden. This new San Jose playground includes concrete slides, climbing ropes, animal sculptures to climb, musical installations where kids can bang on mallets and several features accessible to children in wheelchairs- including a raised sand feature and a merry-go-round. 10am-6:30pm daily. FREE. Guadalupe River Park, Coleman Avenue and Autumn Street, San Jose.
Dennis the Menace Playground. Named after that “adorable” (read: annoying) kid featured in the popular comic strip of the same name, this large playground is large and highly popular with local kids and visiting families. It includes a climbing wall, suspension bridge, tons of slides and more. You can even rent a paddleboat on the adjacent lake in the El Estero Park complex. Del Monte Avenue and Camino Aguajito, Monterey.
Jack Fisher Park. Named after a beloved former principal, this park is geared toward younger children. It includes an interactive water feature, a “beehive” hill with a walking path and large open play fields. Abbot Avenue and Pollard Road, Campbell.
Las Palmas Park. This 24-acre park enjoys a Polynesian theme as well as amenities that include a playground, tennis courts, water play area and dog park. 850 Russet Dr., Sunnyvale.
McEnery Park. Dragonfly sculptures hover over a man-made river that trickles over the toes of kids and parents. (Check website to see if the water feature is operational.) South side of San Fernando Street, San Jose.
Monopoly in the Park. Located next to the Children’s Discovery Museum, this park is an enormous re-creation of the popular board game. Players use jumbo dice, wear big hats symbolizing the actual game pieces and even wear jailhouse uniforms when necessary. Woz Way, San Jose.
Oak Meadow Park. This 12-acre park includes a large playground area with a real decommissioned fighter jet. It is also home to the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and historic W.E. Bill Mason Carousel. It costs $2 to ride the one-third-scale railroad and carousel. Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. Parking fee: $6 for non-residents.
Adventure Playground. This unique playground, opened in 1979, allows children to build and paint the ever-changing structures. There’s also a small zip line. Wear sturdy shoes and messy clothes. Recommended for children ages 7 and up, but younger children are allowed with close parent supervision. Free for families with four or fewer children; group reservations and fees apply. Drop off is also allowed for a fee for children 7 and up. Check website for schedule. Berkeley Marina, 160 University Ave. 510-981-6720
Children’s Fairyland. Before Disneyland, before bounce houses, before Elmo – there was Children’s Fairyland. This Oakland institution dates back to 1948 and still allows children to slide down Alice’s rabbit hole into Wonderland on the same day they conquer Jack and Jill’s Hill. There are many chances to play in, on and around whimsical old-time fairytale characters. Kids love the rides just their size, while adults revel in the vintage ambiance. Admission for guests ages 1 to 100 is $8. 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. 510-452-2259
FROG Park. Built in 2001 by more than 1,300 volunteers, this park in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood includes a 3-mile-long greenbelt as well as two playgrounds on either end. The larger, Hardy Playground, includes a tree house play structure with suspension bridges, spider webs, tunnels, castle turrets and even a climbing wall. Claremont Avenue and Hudson Street, Oakland.
Hap Magee Ranch Park. This 17-acre park includes a motion-sensor activated water feature, separate play areas for older and younger children, picnic areas, walking trails and a dog park. 1025 LaGonda Way, Danville. 925-314-3400
Larkey Park. Situated next to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, this park has a climbing wall, swings and slides. Buena Vista and First avenues, Walnut Creek. 925-943-5800
Helen Diller Playground at Mission Dolores Park. This renovated playground, which opened in 2012, includes a 45-foot-long “super slide,” two boats, sand play and separate play areas for younger and older children, all in Mission Delores Park, a favorite place to enjoy sunny days and people-watching. Between Delores, Church, 18th and 19th streets. 415-554-9521
Julius Kahn Playground. A 2003 renovation turned this playground on the edge of the Presidio into a “state-of-the-art, Parisian-style” play area. It was developed with Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens in mind, and includes an interactive wet sand play sculpture and challenging play equipment. West Pacific Avenue and Spruce Street. 415-292-2012
Koret Children’s Quarter. Don’t miss a visit to Golden Gate Park’s most historic playground, established in 1888 as one of America’s first. The carousel, created in 1912, is a gem and the extensive play area has plenty to offer, including a concrete slide for children and adults and a climbing wall shaped like waves. A tall rope climbing structure will appeal to those without a fear of heights, and there’s also a plethora of swings and tunnels for the tots. Carousel rides: $1 ages 6-12, $2 adults, children 5 and under free with paying adult. 320 Bowling Green Drive. 415-831-2700
Lafayette Park Playground. Renovated in 2013 as part of a $10 million revamp of the park, this Pacific Heights playground has a castle turret, climbing walls and nets, suspension bridges, a stream-like water feature, slides, swings, a merry-go-round and more. Parents will appreciate the gorgeous views of the city and bay, and there is also an off-leash dog area and tennis courts. Gough and Washington streets. 415-292-2012
Yerba Buena Gardens Children’s Playground. Even big kids get a kick out of the climbing structures and metal slides at this city playground. There’s also a sand and water feature. As a bonus, the playground is adjacent to the Children’s Creativity Museum and a historic carousel, and there are both ice skating and bowling nearby. Third Street between Howard and Mission streets. 415-820-3350
Bay Area Discovery Museum. The Bay Area Discovery Museum’s Lookout Cove is one of the most scenic playgrounds in the Bay Area, with a fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also super fun, with a construction-themed replica of the bridge, a fishing boat, shipwreck and more. There’s also a build-it-yourself Imagination Playground with oversized blocks and shapes. Of course, the playgrounds are only one of the highlights at this terrific, hands-on children’s museum. Admission $12 ages 1-64, $11 ages 6-12 months and 64 and up. 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415-339-3900.
Maria B. Freitas Park. Come here on a nice day and plan to get a little wet. The playground doesn’t have your traditional slides and swings, but offers creative ways to play with water. Use your hand to activate the geyser and run through bright red rings that will give you a good soaking. Have a blast, but don’t drink the blasts – the water here is reclaimed. Montecillo Road and Trellis Drive, San Rafael.
Millennium Playground at San Anselmo Memorial Park. Designed by San Anselmo’s children and built by volunteers in 2000, Millennium Playground includes a train depot, seminary tower, Town Hall tower, lookouts and a large dinosaur. The playground is adjacent to Elders’ Garden, a tranquil spot designed to bring generations together. The park also includes grassy areas, sports fields and tennis courts. 1000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo. 415-258-4640
Cornelis Bol Park. Also known as “Donkey Park.” And there are indeed donkeys here that go by the names of Niner and Perry (rumored to be the inspiration for the donkey in the movie “Shrek”). They primarily stay in their private corral, but visit with park goers on Sundays and special occasions. The park also has playground equipment with slides and climbing structures, flanked by a healthy stretch of grass to romp upon. 3590 Laguna Ave., Palo Alto. 650-496-6962
Frontierland Park. This spacious park, hidden in the Pacifica hills, is home to charming wooden playthings built by neighborhood parents and is guaranteed to keep your little ones (and even big ones) active. Hide in a castle, scale a wall, slip down a slide and rattle up some music with metal pipes. There’s plenty of lawn space to kick a ball across before settling down for a picnic. Yosemite Drive and Humboldt Court, Pacifica. 650-738-7381
Magic Mountain Playground at Coyote Point. Kids love this castle-and-dragon themed playground with its towering metal tube slide, one of the longest in California. The playground, re-opened in 2006, has two separate play areas for younger and older children. The lovely Coyote Point Recreation Area also has beautiful views, walking trails, a marina, a popular windsurfing spot and the science-and-nature themed CuriOdyssey museum. Parking: $6 per car. 1701 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo. 650-573-2592
Magical Bridge Playground. Palo Alto’s newest playground, located in Mitchell Park, aims to be the nation’s most innovative and inclusive for children of all abilities. There are large bucket swings, a wheelchair-accessible tree house and merry-go-round, a “light harp” with laser strings that play music and much more. The surrounding Mitchell Park includes a water play area, BBQs, tennis and shuffleboard courts and a spacious dog run. 600 East Meadow Road, Palo Alto. 650-463-4900
Ryder Park. This bayside park includes a water play structure, playground, large open grassy areas and picnic spots. Nearby Seal Point Park has a three-acre off-leash dog area. 1801 J. Hart Clinton Drive, San Mateo. 650-522-7434
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent. Calendar Editor Dhyana Levey contributed to this story.