Tag Archive for: park

4 reasons to love New York City playgrounds

The view from West Thames
The view from West Thames

I spent five years living in New York City, and never had any idea how many kick-ass playgrounds were there until I visited last month with kids. We were there for six days in all, visited eight playgrounds, and researched about a dozen more. Here are four things I enjoyed and appreciated about the playgrounds we experienced, and about the new perspective on NYC they helped me achieve.

Water features

Most of the playgrounds we visited (and many of the playgrounds we didn’t visit) boast some sort of water features—free and public ways to cool off. Many of these features were glorified sprinklers that shot water from the ground and invited kids to run through the spray. At the West Thames Park Playground in Battery Park City, my girls and some family friends spent the better part of an entire afternoon running through the water feature. It never got old – even after they all soaked through their clothes.

Varied structures

Modern playgrounds can all look alike: Metal bars, plastic spheroid connectors, triangle trees, etc. While New York City certainly had its fair share of playgrounds with this design, there also were dozens of other set-ups. One of our favorites, the Diana Ross Playground in Central Park, was an old-school wooden playground with beams and bridges and more. I’ve read the playground was built with money Diana Ross donated to the park after a concert there in 1983. Yes, this means the park is old, but the setup still works—proving nicer and newer isn’t always better.


Here in California, playgrounds are open to all—usually the only fenced-in parts are the portions designated for super-little kids. In New York City, all of the playgrounds had fences lining the perimeter. One of the playgrounds that seemed to do this best was the Hippo Playground in Riverside Park, on Manhattan’s West Side. This design is a great way to limit coming and going. It’s also a wonderful safety feature; as a parent, you can rest assured that if you’ve got eyes on the only exit, your kid isn’t going anywhere without you knowing about it.


Just about all of the playgrounds we visited in New York City offered some degree of shade. In some cases, like at West Thames, shade came in the form of a manmade shade structure, built like a canopy over the play structures. At Washington Market Park in Tribeca (arguably THE BEST playground we hit during our visit because it had the most varied play structures), trees provided shade throughout. This playground also had clean bathrooms, an added bonus for when the big kids realized they’d forgotten to go back at the hotel.

Since we’ve come home, every time my kids have looked back on their experience in the Big Apple, the playgrounds are right up there with black-and-white cookies, pizza, and walking around at night as their favorite parts of the trip. That means the playgrounds enhanced the visit for all of us. Which is good news for everyone involved.

What’s your favorite playground city and why?

Embracing Playgrounds of the Future

Coffee made this (fantastic) playground better.

Coffee made this (fantastic) playground better.

I have seen the playgrounds of the future on the streets of London, and they all have one thing in common: Cafes.

No, I’m not talking about tiny kiosks that sell nothing but candy bars and bags of chips. I’m talking full-on, honest-to-goodness cafes. With fresh food. Ice cream. And, best of all, espresso machines. That make strong coffee drinks. Quickly.


After two weeks on the ground here, three of our four favorite playgrounds have such snack bars. And I’m already spoiled rotten. Heck, the café at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens even sells hot pizzas. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be all over something like that?

Specifically, I like the trend for a number of reasons.

First, for parents like me—humans who regularly operate at a sleep deficiency—knowing that you’re never more than a swingset away from a double Americano does wonders for the energy levels (and the patience levels while “negotiating” with cheeky kids).

Second, when you forget to bring snacks from home, the baristas/snack-keepers have you covered.

Finally, these on-site cafés offer a certain degree of flexibility to reward good behavior (or to splurge on lunch away from home). If the kids are being good and you don’t really feel like racing home to eat, you can dash into the café to buy relatively healthy sandwiches and fruit at the playground and chow down there.

I beg of our community leaders back home: HOOK US UP! As an expat who has appreciated the beauty of playground cafes here, I publicly cast my vote. Tens of thousands of parents across our nation would agree if they had the option to do so. Who says we grownups can’t have fun at playgrounds too?

To what extent would you patronize a café at your favorite playground?