NYC’s Top 10 Playgrounds: One Mom’s View
By Estée Pouleris

NYC’s Top 10 Playgrounds: One Mom’s View

March 29, 2016   |   Guest Blogs: Local Voices  

NYC has more than 1,700 parks and playgrounds across the five boroughs. My daughter and I have been busy trying them out. Here are our top 10 favorite playgrounds in New York City:

1. Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park, off Atlantic Avenue

Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is a 1.6-acre wonderland for kids. This playground, designed by architects in conjunction with childhood development experts, is quite a masterpiece. The playground is made up of: Swing Valley, Slide Mountain, Sandbox Village, and Water Lab. With each section secluded in its own enclave and surrounded by landscaping, it feels like there’s a new discovery at every turn. My daughter is a big fan of the rope swings in Swing Valley. Another favorite is the 20-foot-tall Slide Mountain jungle gym. The sandbox, at 6,000 square feet, is also impressive. During the summer Pier 6 has a pop-up pool, volleyball, cafe, and other summer activities.

Restrooms and food are available.

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2. Washington Square Park

Greenwich Village, Fourth Street to Waverly Place and Macdougal Street to University Place

Washington Square Park Playground

The playground in Washington Square Park has recently undergone major upgrades and is now one of our favorites in the city. In addition to a giant fountain at the center of the park, there are three different play areas. The first play area is a toddler playground with bucket swings, perfect for little ones learning to walk. The second, for older kids, is a classic playground with swings, jungle gym, sand pit, and slides. The third area is what’s most unique, the mounds play area. This section has mounds of artificial turf hills with a large spider-web-like ropes course above it. Our daughter loves running barefoot in this section. During the summer we often end up splashing in the fountain, so be sure to bring a swimsuit and water shoes if you visit on a warm day.

Restrooms are available. Food vendors frequent the area.

3. Heckscher Playground – Central Park

Inside the park at Central Park South from 61st Street to 63rd Street

Heckscher Playground in Central Park, NYC

Heckscher Playground is Central Park’s oldest and largest playground. It uses the natural landscape of giant rock formations along with a pyramid structure to create a rambling climbing area that kids love. This playground includes a maze of ladders, slides, tunnels, and bridges. Kids can also play in a sand pit, swing set, and slide, splash in a large water play area, and roll around on a synthetic turf. Parents often sit atop the rocks to keep an eye on their kids while enjoying fantastic views of Central Park South.

Restrooms are available. Food vendors frequent the area.

4. Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park

Near 165th Street in Fort Washington Park, which is along the Hudson River

Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park

This new playground situated in upper Manhattan along the Hudson River feels like a retreat from NYC. This remote little haven offers a reprieve from the sounds of the city. Our favorite parts are the zip line and obstacle course--made of ceramic leaves, mushrooms, and logs--that kids navigate across while trying not to touch the ground. The playground also has a fun treehouse, sand pit, swings, a water feature, and a rope climbing structure. Grills are available if you want to turn your playdate into a picnic.

We typically enter Fort Washington Park from the footbridge at 181st Street, which takes you across the Henry Hudson Parkway. From there, we walk south until we reach Discovery Playground. You can also enter Fort Washington Park at 158th Street and head north until you reach the playground.

Portable bathrooms are available in the playground area. In addition, nicer restrooms are only a few blocks north on the walking path. There is no snack bar or café, but sometimes there are food vendors nearby in the summer.

5. Nelson A. Rockefeller Park

Battery Park City, North End Avenue at Vesey Street

Nelson A. Rockefeller Park

One of our favorite areas to play in Battery Park City is the Nelson A. Rockefeller playground, which runs along the Hudson. The playground has a unique feel, with winds coming off the river from one side and skyscrapers reflecting sun from the other side. The playground has a sprawling wooden play structure with platforms for climbing, a network of bridges, ladders, slides, walkways, and a fabric net for bouncing. My daughter loves the kid-pedaled carousel that requires teamwork to make it turn. The area also has incredible views of the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty.

Restrooms are available. Food vendors frequent the area.

6. Billy Johnson Playground – Central Park

Inside the park at 67th Street and Fifth Avenue

Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park

This playground is as charming as it gets. It’s one of the most unique playgrounds in Central Park, with the design inspired by the landscape. Trees and plants create hidden little play areas within the playground. The landscape also provides welcome shade during the summer. My daughter loves the granite slide, which is built into a rocky hill. This playground also has an area with bucket swings, a sandbox, and a sprinkler in the summer.

Restrooms are available. Food vendors frequent the area.

7. Union Square Park Playground

14th Street and Broadway, at Union Square

Union Square Park Playground

The playground at Union Square has some of the most unusual equipment we’ve seen. In the section for older kids, there is a unique dome that is very challenging to climb. Once you reach the top, you get a great view, and it’s also really fun to slide back down. There also is a custom tube slide built into a bank of stones and landscaping with real rocks that you can use as stairs. Another one of our favorites is the self-propelled merry-go-round. In a separate section of the playground is an area dedicated to toddlers, with a swing set, climbing platform, sand, and water feature.

There are restrooms and many food options in the area.

8. Tribeca Pier 25

Pier 25 in Tribeca – North Moore Street at Hudson River

Tribeca Pier 25

Tribeca’s Pier 25 is another playground at which you can easily spend a whole afternoon. This playground probably offers the most activities of all. These include two giant climbing structures, which lend themselves to great photo ops with towering skyscrapers as a backdrop. My daughter’s favorite feature is the outdoor rock-climbing walls. In addition, this playground has swings for big kids and infants, a huge sandbox, and a water play area. For a fee you can play mini golf or beach volleyball, and there is a soccer field and skate park nearby. The water feature offers relief from the sun, but it gets quite hot in the summer.

There are restrooms and a snack bar in the area.

9. River Run Playground

103 Riverside Drive at 83rd Street

River Run Playground in NYC

River Run is a sweet playground located in Riverside Park. This little playground has a river running though it. It starts from a fountain at the top a small hill, flows down a winding path, and ends at the bottom of the incline next to a huge sandbox. Kids often float paper boats and plastic toys 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. They also have classic playground equipment such as swings, a seesaw, and a jungle gym. Just outside this small playground are giant rocks, which we often spend a lot of time climbing when we’re finished in River Run.

There are restrooms and usually a food vendor in the area.

10. New York Hall of Science Playground

47-01 111th St, Corona – part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

New York Hall of Science Playground

This is probably the most innovative playground on the list. It’s part of the New York Hall of Science and designed to teach kids lessons ranging about balance, sound, and the principles of motion. It’s always a bonus when your kids are playing hard yet learning important concepts with hands-on experience. My daughter’s favorite feature seems to change with each visit. We normally spend most of our time between the slides and a spinning contraption on the upper deck of the playground. Other favorites are the seesaws, the Archimedes screw, and the water play area. The playground is huge. There are bridges, levers, climbing nets, and wind pipes to entertain your little scientists for hours. It 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.

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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