From twisty slides to pedal-powered carousels, kids love to jump, climb, swing, and slide. Why not venture beyond your family's go-to park for a change of pace? We've zeroed in on some of the best playgrounds in New York City.
Central Park at 62nd Street, Midtown West
Spanning 1.8 acres, this playground is the largest in Central Park. Near the entrance, the toddler area offers small slides, infant swings, and a sand play area. Bigger kids love the tire swings, moat-like raised walkways and wooden suspension bridge for pretend Camelot-inspired play, and Umpire Rock, a sizeable structure for climbing. The water area, complete with spiral sprinklers and a spraying climbing structure, cools kids after a day of running around.
Tip: Crowds increase and bathrooms deteriorate throughout the day. Avoid both messy situations by getting to the park early.
62nd Street to 158th Street (specifically, play areas at 76th, 83rd, 91st, 97th, and123rd), Upper West Side
Home to River Run Playground, Parents Connect "Parents' Picks" favorite in 2008, Riverside Park boasts cleaner facilities, awesome animal-theme equipment, and relatively crowd-free play areas. From the water-spewing hippos at Hippo Playground on 91st to the Hudson River replica water area at River Run on 83rd, kids who love splashing have a plethora of options. Those who yearn for the beach feel right at home in the 35-foot sand-filled space at River Run, where digging leads to some artsy finds compliments of famous artist G. Augustine Lynas. Kids less keen on water play gravitate to the seesaw, merry-go-round, and various dinosaur and elephant statues waiting to be scaled.
Tip: Water shoes are a good idea for kids who like to mix water and sand play, and parents who want to avoid bringing the beach home.
Nelson A. Rockefeller Park
River Terrace at Warren Street, Battery Park
Rope and chain bridges, a peddle-operated carousel, and balls, board games, and jump ropes available for borrowing in the Park House (if you surrender an ID) make this park a family favorite. Other amenities include climbing nets, chess tables, and a rubber surface suitable for chalk art. Sprinklers run in the summer, and "The Real World," a sculpture park filled with Tom Otterness's brass creations, offer plenty of climbing opportunities.
Tip: If your youngster takes a nasty spill, first aid kits are also available in the Park House.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, major entrance at Atlantic Avenue, DUMBO
From the traditional, tot, Tarzan (rope), and six-seater swings that comprise "Swing Valley" to the enormous sand-filled wonderland in "Sandbox Village," fun comes standard at Pier 6. Multiple unique climbing structures, a winding "Slide Mountain," and the "Water Lab" featuring a moat, water channel, and a water-jet field filled with sprinklers that shoot water high into the air effectively entertain even the fussiest of children.
Tip: Beware "Boulder Mountain" when bringing younger kids. While the area is great for climbing, these adventures require increased adult supervision. Also: The park lacks shade so make sure hats and sunscreen are actually worn, not stashed!
Prospect Place and Underhill Avenue, Prospect Heights
A shade-filled playground for big and little kids, this relatively unknown spot has separate play areas for two age groups. Children have the opportunity to pile on the tire swing together or splash around in the spray shower. Kids improve their coordination skills walking along the jagged balance beam, and a handball court provides ample chances for socialization.
Tip: If the kids get bored at Underhill and you don't mind crowds, Prospect Park is located within walking distance, a few blocks away.
South Oxford Street Park
Atlantic Commons (between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue), Fort Greene
A large AstroTurf field, cattail shaped water hoses, and rubber padding make this park ideal for younger kids. The play area sports a jungle gym, chain ladders for climbing, and a gently sloping slide with a tiny drop-off that protects against injury. A rock wall and swings mean older siblings can amuse themselves alongside their kid brothers and sisters.
Tip: Frisbees, kickballs, and water guns help families bring life to a wide-open AstroTurf field, so pack a fun bag.
New Fort Greene Playground
Willoughby and St. Edwards Streets, Fort Greene
Divided by a multi-directional, water-spraying compass, the sizeable playground has tot and big-kid areas with age-appropriate playground equipment. Imaginative tykes will enjoy the miniature house. The best of the equipment for older children includes monkey bars, large winding and straight slides, and a lofty watchtower. This park stays true to its namesake by looking like a legitimate fort, has tons of shade, and boasts a comfort station topped with a weathervane.
Tip: The gates stay mostly open, so keep a watchful eye on wanderers and children intent on escaping.
Playground for All Children in Flushing
55th Avenue and 111th Street on the outskirts of Flushing Meadow Park
Built specifically to cater to children with physical handicaps, the playground has structures such as a school bus and schoolhouse (complete with desks, seats, and a chalkboard) that are accessible to wheelchair-bound children as well as those that use crutches, canes, or walkers. Make-believe traffic lights that flash and musical instruments and play equipment like xylophones, bell pads that sound when jumped on, and plastic tubes that make a variety of noises allow for a multisensory experience. Glider-swings, wide walkways, and wheelchair accessible ramps and a sprinkler area accommodate children of every ability level.
Tip: This is the perfect spot to host a play date that includes everyone and their families. Shaded picnic tables allow parents to socialize while keeping an eye on kids from a distance.
196-22 Union Turnpike
A choice location for Big Apple Circus and New York Philharmonic performances, this park has four different playgrounds. For youngsters, head to Redwood Playground (193rd Street and Aberdeen Road) to climb ladders and platforms designed with small children in mind. This area also features 8 swings and a spray area. Soccer aficionados and tennis-playing families will enjoy the park's multiple playing fields and (literally) have a ball here.
Tip: Enjoy the park's Fourth of July fireworks display while sprawled across the grass on a comfy blanket.
Juniper Valley Park
Between Dry Harbor Road and Lutheran Avenue
One of the best playgrounds for children young and old (or just young at heart), there's something for everyone here. A new toddler area offers a colorful jungle gym structure with multiple slides, a mini rock climb ramp, and a wetland-themed spray shower complete with lily pads. Older kids gravitate toward the larger playground in the park, which features telescopes, climbing ramps, a wading pool, and two jungle gyms. Italian-Americans flock to the bocce courts, and the shuffleboard area attracts seniors who want in on the play action.
Tip: Don't forget your kite! This park boasts prime fields for flying on warm, windy days.
Also see: Our guide to the most family-friendly beaches in the NYC area
A Family's Guide to Fishing in the NYC Area