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The Best Playgrounds in and Around NYC

The Best Playgrounds in and Around NYC

Everything parents should know before taking children to a playground in NYC.


Looking to spend some quality time with your family outdoors? There are hundreds of beautiful and fun playgrounds in the New York metro area, each with its own personality. Central Park alone has 21! We think these are the best from the pack. Whether you make your home here or are just exploring for the day, one of these playgrounds in NYC and nearby is bound to meet your family's needs. 

The Best Playgrounds in Manhattan

1. Heckscher Playground

Central Park, Mid-park, between 61st and 63rd streets, Lincoln Square

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Heckscher is one of Central Park’s most beloved playgrounds, and for good reason! It was, in fact, the first playground to open in Central Park, in 1926, and has remained popular throughout the years. Its location midway through the park’s lower section makes it a favorite for both tourists and locals, but there’s plenty of space here to hold everyone. There are areas for tots and older kids, including separate swingsets and water features. A giant, padded running area, valley included, provides the perfect surface for a game of tag. Pyramid-like structures made for climbing lead up to a unique water feature that runs a continuous—and very refreshing!—stream along the footpaths of the interconnected climbing structures. Slides for younger kids deposit them into a big sandbox. Adventurous older kids can climb right out of the playground structures onto Umpire Rock to enjoy a view of the park and the city beyond. Shade is ample, but cool spots shift throughout the day with the course of the sun’s path. There are accessible surfaces, water features, and a transfer-to-sand area, as well as an adaptive swing in the tots area. Bathrooms are on-site, and during warmer months there are always plenty of vendors selling the usual hot dogs and ice cream, in addition to balloons, face painting, toys, and the opportunity to create enormous soap bubbles. The entire playground is not enclosed, nor are there any gates, so keep a close eye on roaming little ones.

2. Tarr Family Playground

Central Park West and 100th Street, Upper West Side

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Up toward Central Park’s north end is the Tarr Family Playground, another adventure-style playground with lots of sand, water features, and areas for younger and older children. The tall climbing structures, with tunnels and slides, are a favorite. The playground is enclosed and gated, and the layout provides an easy route to run around in circles. The Tarr playground features accessible surfaces, a water feature, and a transfer-to-sand area, as well as an adaptive swing. There is no restroom on-site. There are shady areas around the playground’s edge with benches for adults to rest.

3. Billy Johnson Playground

Central Park, 67th Street and 5th Avenue, Upper East Side

Located on the east side of lower Central Park, the Billy Johnson Playground is thoughtfully designed with a nature theme and kid-size versions of park features—but it’s mostly known for its slides. There are two, the longer being 45 feet and a destination in its own right. Bring your own cardboard or grab a piece left on-site to make the trip down even faster. A second, shorter slide is ADA-accessible. Surfaces, water features, and a sand table are also accessible, and there is an adaptive swing in addition to bucket and tire swings—making this a great inclusive playground for all children. There is no restroom, but shade is plentiful, and there are wooden benches for the adults to rest. The space is enclosed. Its location makes this a logical stop before or after visiting the Central Park Zoo.

4. Ancient Playground

Central Park, 85th Street and 5th Avenue, Upper East Side

Inspired by the Temple of Dendur that resides next door in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this playground is another favorite of both tourists and locals. Four climbing structures offer lots of possibilities for play, and with sand, swings, and a whopping 9 slides, there’s something for kids of every age. A unique water feature recreates a river during the summer months. Another great inclusive playground, it has accessible surfaces and water features, a transfer-to-sand area, a ramped play structure, and adaptive swings. The enclosed, gated space has some shady spots and benches for the adults, as well as a restroom on-site.

5. Hippo Playground

Riverside Park, Riverside Drive near 91st Street, Upper West Side.

With two water features, the breeze from the river, and the best shade around, Riverside Park’s Hippo Playground makes the perfect destination for a summer day. The eponymous hippo sculptures serve as fountains during warm months and offer irresistible climbing opportunities year round. There are separate water and play structures for big and little kids, in addition to slides, swings (including an adaptive one), and a sandbox. The playground is gate-enclosed. Benches, picnic tables, and restrooms can also be found on-site.

6. Discovery Playground

Fort Washington Park, near 163rd Street, Washington Heights (enter the park by walking west on 158th street)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Spectacular views of the Hudson River and the George Washington bridge make this uptown playground well worth the trip. Designed around a nature theme, play equipment includes giant mushrooms and leaves for hopping as well as a treehouse with slides. A tall rope climber, sandbox, swings (including two adaptive ones), and two water features round out the offerings in this shady, enclosed spot. Small locomotive enthusiasts will also get a thrill watching the Amtrak trains whiz past. Note that the park’s two zip lines are currently out-of-service. There is no restroom on-site.

7. Washington Square Park

Waverly to West 4th Street, between MacDougal and University

With three playgrounds to choose from plus a massive fountain, this historic Greenwich Village site packs a lot into its 9.75 acres. The Play Hills in the park’s southwest corner, near the chess tables, consist of padded peaks and valleys covered in climbing nets, also known as “spider webs,” offering unlimited imaginative possibilities. On the park’s north end, there is an enclosed tot lot with structures appropriate for very young children, and on the other side of the arch is a separate enclosed playground for older kids with sand, sprinklers, swings (one of which is adaptive), and slides. All three playgrounds offer excellent shade, and restrooms are available on the south end of the park, next to the Play Hills. Local artists and performers give the park its West Village vibe, and there are plenty of food vendors and at least one ice-cream truck available on the park’s perimeter during the warmer months.

8. Chelsea Waterside Playground

Hudson River Park, 11th Avenue and 23rd Street, Chelsea

Located in the Hudson River Park near the water, this playground’s design is truly one-of-a-kind. At the center of everything is a 64-foot play structure of a colorful pipefish, a species native to the Hudson River. Kids can climb inside the fish to find a small slide, or scale the tower it circles for a longer, faster one. The pipefish is the product of a Danish company, MONSTRUM, and is its first installation in the northeast U.S. Pieces of local history also incorporated into the park include a limestone cattle head sculpture from a former meatpacking plant, and granite seating blocks and medallions from the former elevated Westside Highway. There are two spray fountains and a sandbox, with water spigots that empty right into the sand, and some shady areas. There is no restroom on-site.

9. Imagination Playground

158 John St., Burling Slip, Financial District

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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You won’t find any of the usual equipment in this non-traditional playground. While there is plenty of sand and a water feature, as well as one giant yellow slide, the theory behind Imagination Playground is that children can construct their own play with giant blue foam blocks. Umbrellas provide some shade for adults to sit in around the perimeter. There is a restroom on-site. Staffed by trained “play associates,” the playground is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

10. Nelson Rockefeller Playground

River Terrace, between Warren and Murray streets, Tribeca



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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From the toddler-friendly play fountain, sandbox, and swings (one adaptive) at its north end, to the novel pedaled merry-go-round at the southern side, this enclosed playground packs in an intense amount of action. The space, which reopened after renovations last October, also includes water-spurting hippo statues, a sandbox and sand tables, extensive climbing equipment, and slides that lead into the sandbox. Big-kid swings are located in a separate, enclosed space just to the north, beside the Parkhouse, which offers more possibilities for play May-October, including tumbling equipment and ping-pong. A restroom is located across the street from the Parkhouse. You won’t need anything more to fill the day, but if you’re itching to move, nearby Teardrop Park, nestled between high-rises, offers a shady splash pad in summer months and a couple of spectacular giant slides year-round.

The Best Playgrounds on Long Island

1. Eisenhower Park

Merrick and Stewart avenues, East Meadow
516-572-0348

Eisenhower Park is 930 acres of beautiful space in Nassau County—it’s actually bigger than Central Park! There are three playground areas: the largest (which includes a sprinkler pool) is located on the Hempstead Turnpike side of the park near Parking Field No. 2; a second is on the Merrick Road side by Parking Field No. 1A, and a third is by the Park Boulevard side toward Hempstead Turnpike, near Parking Field No. 4. The main playground by Hempstead Turnpike has been completely renovated and offers climbing apparatuses, slides, swings, fitness equipment, and more. Families can also reserve picnic areas, take swimming lessons in an Olympic-sized pool, enjoy an 18-hole round of mini golf, and enjoy live music and outdoor movies at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre.

2. Cedar Creek Park

Merrick Road east of Wantagh Avenue, Seaford
516-571-7470

Cedar Creek was voted “Best Playground in Long Island" by the Long Island Press for good reason. This park has multiple playgrounds for both younger and older kids. Even better: The main playground is fenced in, so parents don’t have to worry about their little ones wandering off. The playground has rings, zigzagging monkey bars, hang glider, and a seesaw. There’s also a roller rink and a six-mile path connecting Cedar Creek to Jones Beach.

3. Nickerson Beach Park

80 Lido Boulevard, Lido Beach
516-571-7700

What’s better than a playground right next to the beach? Situated on 155 acres, Nickerson Beach is home to a campground, fun zone, ball fields, beach volleyball courts, cabanas, and lockers. The Fun Zone includes a playground with a climber, spiral slide, and puzzles, as well as a skate park and basketball courts. There’s also the Pitch and Putt, which is nine holes of mini golf. Visitors can swim in one of the two swimming pools, along with small kiddie pools, for an additional fee. There are unreserved and reserved (for a fee) picnic areas that include barbecue equipment.

4. Hecksher Park

Prime Avenue and Route 25A, Huntington

Considered by many to be the “Central Park” of Huntington, Hecksher Park is located on 18 acres of parkland, where there are three playgrounds featuring jungle gyms, slides, swing sets, and a sandbox. The soft-surface playgrounds are enclosed by gated fences. There are also shaded picnic tables nearby and a 1/3-mile jogging path loop. The Heckscher Museum of Art has great art education programs for kids of all ages, so feel free to stop in before or after the playground visit.

5. Diamond in the Pines

Route 112, Coram, NY

This park’s freestanding climbing walls can accommodate small and big climbers, and the whole set has different stations with built-in games and other activities, such as music boards, steering wheels, and tic-tac-toe. The play surface is a soft composite, and among the coolest features are the red stepping blocks raised from the blue ground that allow kids to pretend to cross water by jumping from block to block. There are also ample slides for all age groups.

6. Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park

West End Ave, Oyster Bay
516-624-6202

Kids can play and learn a bit about history at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park. There are three playgrounds, each with soft flooring. The park is also home to three swing sets. And it’s all fenced in, so parents can relax a bit while the kids play. History is all around the park, too, as The Roosevelt Memorial Rocks describe many of the places and monumental events that were part of Teddy Roosevelt’s life.

7. Northport Village Park

Main Street, Northport
631-261-6917

You simply cannot beat the view at Northport Village Park, located on the water in the heart of Northport. The play structure has been recently renovated and is fenced in. In addition, there is a field for picnicking on a blanket, along with benches and tables.  There are also chess tables and a band shell, which occasionally hosts live music and special events.

8. Christopher Morley

Searingtown Road, Roslyn

There are more than 10 play areas inside Christopher Morley, with each designed for different age groups. Two swing sets are located in the play area—one for little kids and one for older children—and most of the playground is covered in soft tiles. In summertime, a spray area is available. At the basin, visitors can race model boats. For an added bonus, there is a small farmer’s market that sells produce and other treats on Wednesdays.

9. Wantagh Park 

1 King Road, Wantagh
516-571-7460

Wantagh Park truly has it all: a playground equipped with swings, slides, a maze, and a two-mile jogging course, family picnic area, and a sheltered picnic area (private permit needed). During those hot summer months, kids can cool off from all that running and climbing at the interactive pool for kids 5-12 and the slide pool.

10. Amagansett Youth Park

216 Abraham's Path, East Hampton
631-267-2421

In addition to a super cool playground, Amagansett Youth Park features a clubhouse with an indoor play area for young children, along with toddler arts activities and youth chess. The park also has tennis and basketball courts, a track, a skateboarding rink, and a roller skating rink.  

The Best Playgrounds in Westchester

1. Harbor Island Park

123 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck

Pack a lunch and spend the day at Mamaroneck’s Harbor Island Park. The nautical theme (giant pirate ship, lighthouse and tug boat play structures, a gondola seesaw, and a swaying bridge) lends itself to hours of creative play for your young ones, and the basket swings and cable “spider web” provide a cool way for them to burn off energy. An added bonus to this playground is that it is located right near a beach and a sprinkler park with public bathrooms, which is ideal for hot summer days.

2. Greenburgh Nature Center’s Discovery Playground

99 Dromore Rd, Scarsdale

The Nature’s Discovery Playground at the Greenburgh Nature Center is worth the trip alone, even without a visit to the trails and exhibits. It offers three different play areas for kids of all ages and abilities: the Toddler Tree House for babies and toddlers, the Nature Adventure Climbing Structure for preschoolers, and the Forest Habitat Climbing Structure for older kids. Plus, you’ll find a variety of swings for different age groups and even a swinging bench for parents. A wooded forest surrounds the playground and there are large rocks for the kids to climb on and plenty of open space for them to run around. Pack a lunch because there are picnic tables on the ground of the center for all to use.

3. Sagamore Playground

64 Sagamore Road, Bronxville

This playground is a favorite among Westchester parents because it is completely enclosed, so there’s no danger of a child bolting out into the street. Additionally, it sits up high on a shady hill, making it ideal for hot days when the last thing you want to do is bake in the sun. There’s a toy-packed sandbox, swings for all ages, mini basketball hoops, a fleet of Cozy Coupe cars, several jungle gyms, and a climbing pyramid to keep your little ones busy for hours. All of this makes it an easy setting in which to spend a leisurely afternoon.

4. Jack’s Friendship Garden

794 North Avenue, New Rochelle

It’s no great surprise that Jack’s Friendship Garden, located next to the Huguenot Children’s Library, was listed in the New York Times as one of the great places to take your kids in Westchester. It is one of the few wheelchair-accessible playgrounds in Westchester County. The park also stands out because of cool features such as climbing structures for different ages, reclining seat swings (think sofa lounger on chains), a sandbox with a hand-controlled crane, a large boat-like apparatus that sways back and forth, and ramps that kids can run up and down. Benches are plentiful and the ice cream truck makes frequent stops at the park, so the only thing you really need when you go there is plenty of time to hang out. 

5. Julieanne’s Playground

3rd Avenue and 6th Street, Pelham

The layout of Julieanne’s Playground (dedicated to Julianne Borsella who lost her battle with cancer when she was 8 years old) makes it easy to keep kids of all ages entertained. It’s anchored by a large play structure that features a tunnel, a climbing net, and several different slides. There are two different swing areas, a toddler climbing area, a mini zip-line and a hand powered trolley car.  A paved area for bike riding, hockey, or scooters, plus tennis courts makes this park a favorite of both my 10-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter. 

6. Flint Park

Locust Ave, Larchmont 

Flint Park is designed for fun. It features a large pirate ship play structure for the younger set, another play area with rope ladders and slides for bigger kids, large disc swings, a huge sandbox, and even a rock climbing wall. It’s surrounded by a variety of sports facilities, including tennis and paddle courts, baseball fields, soccer fields, and basketball courts. Bring your bikes and take a family ride around the bike path before you retire to the picnic area for lunch or snacks.     

7. Garth Road Playground

280 Garth Rd, Scarsdale

Garth Road Playground is fenced in, which makes it easier to keep track of more than one kid at a time (an impossibility sometimes when play areas are not enclosed). It features two separate climbing apparatuses, swings, slides, basketball courts, and a Little League field. When you are ready for some down time but don’t want to head home, the playground offers checker tables and picnic tables, and since it’s situated next to the Metro North Railroad tracks, kids can watch the trains zoom pass. This just never gets old for some little ones!

Playgrounds for Children with Special Needs or Disabilities

If you have a child with special needs or disabilities, there are numerous playgrounds in the New York metro area that are accessible and ADA-compliant, making them places children of all abilities can play together (as long as they are following COVID-19 safety precautions).

Staying Safe at the Playground

Of course, you may not want to take your children to playgrounds right now, and that’s understandable. Caroline Stockert, CPNP-PC, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Crystal Run Healthcare suggests considering the size of the playground before heading over to play.

Use good judgment and try to go to either a large playground where children can practice proper social distancing or choose a non-crowded playground, John B. Steever, M.D., who specializes in adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai, recommends, adding that your family stay home if you or your children feel unwell.

Telling your children to stay away from other children is hard, especially at a playground, but your children should not go to a playground without some form of a debriefing. Stocker advises parents tell their children to avoid sharing playground equipment, toys, or snacks with kids outside their families. It’s also a good idea to tell your children, in advance, that they may have to leave the playground if it becomes too crowded or if they cannot follow the rules. Kids may find this hard to grasp, but being honest with them about the possibilities will make it go down a little easier.

Everyone should wear masks, and it's important to remind kids to not touch their faces. Both Stocker and Dr. Steever urge parents to remember the importance of washing hands or using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. They recommend children use hand sanitizer when arriving to the playground, while they are playing, between using different equipment, and after leaving the playground. 

Dr. Steever urges parents to monitor their children at all times, since it’s easy for a child to wander off or get too close to someone else by accident. “I’d hope that parents would be understanding they are monitoring their own children to follow the rules,” Dr. Steever says.

One way parents can further help their kids remain socially distant is to talk to other parents there and make arrangements. “For example, one family may play on the slide while another family uses the swings,” Stocker says.

When it’s time to head home, families should leave the park quickly and wash their hands immediately when they get home.

How to Make Staying Safe Fun

Children are more likely to do something if you make it sound fun—like making a game of picking up their toys. Dr. Steever suggets taking the same approach when talking to and keeping your children engaged in staying safe. If you haven’t already, get masks with fun designs that your kids will want to wear.

Another fun idea from Dr. Steever incorporates superheroes. Suggest to your kids that they play on the playground as if they are a superhero, like Batwoman or Spider-Man, and they need to keep their mask on to hide their secret identity. And some heroes have a very powerful touch, so they have to avoid touching others to keep people safe.

Dr. Steever equates this to vegetables at dinner. If you give two vegetable options, rather than just offering them one and telling them to eat it, then they have a choice in the matter. Playing a game works in the same way. They are actively involved in the social distancing protocols and making a choice to play the game.

Playground Safety for Kids 2 and Younger

The CDC recommends children younger than 2 not wear face masks. Stocker says this is because children that young could suffocate while wearing a mask. She suggests children younger than 2 be put in a stroller and go in walks around the neighborhood to avoid crowds. If you choose to bring young kids to the playground, follow them carefully and help them wash their hands, Stocker says.

Dr. Steever adds that your young child should be fine if they are in an area where you can be socially distant. Maintaining social distance with kids this young is crucial. So that may mean waiting to bring them to the playground.

 Fun Playground Alternatives

If you’re not comfortable heading to the playground just yet, there are still ways your children can be active. Dr. Steever suggests parents take their kids to parks and large fields where there is more space to move around. Also, walks around the neighborhood are appropriate.

Parents also have many options to keep their kids entertained in their own backyard. With a little time and effort, you can easily recreate some of your favorite classic summer activities right in your own backyard, like camping, the carnival, and water play. Your kids can burn off their extra energy with some fun, safe outdoor activities, such as rollerblading, going for a bike ride, or even playing a socially distant game of flashlight tag. Plus, you can deck out your yard with some of this season’s hottest toys and play equipment to make your backyard into your kids’ personal playground!


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