Best of the Bay: Playgrounds

One of my favorite things about living in California is the sheer number of parks and playgrounds you can find within a relatively short distance. Most of the time, we have pretty great weather – which affords we Californians this luxury! After visiting Portland last month, I realized just how spoiled I really am – as it was difficult to find a playground to take B to there. And they weren’t very impressive when I did happen upon one (most old, damaged, and/or not toddler friendly.) Playgrounds are great because, a) you get to be outdoors, instantly making my son and I happier, b) he gets to run out his energy and naps better, and c) free, free, free! No expense besides the gas to get there (which can be minimized by walking or biking to the park.)

Due to the large volume of options, this list won’t nearly be complete for (what I hope to be) a very long time. My kid is only 2, after all. We still have many parks left to conquer!

Lookout Cove, Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito) – The Bay Area Discovery Museum is my very favorite chidren’s museum that I have ever visited, and Lookout Cove is spectacular! There is so much to see and do, it’s hard to name them all! Yet, I’ll do my best to highlight our favorites.

  • The play structures are all unique, ranging from an authentic boat to steer; a mini Golden Gate Bridge to run on and dive off of; a lookout tower to climb; a spider’s web to tangle up in; and a giant birds nest to explore.
  • Kids can dig for buried treasure and excavate fossils in a sunken (sand-filled) ship. Brooms and shovels are plentiful here.
  • Put on your hard hat, grab a shovel, and get busy in the large gravel pit.
  • Crawl through the many tunnels, caves, and hiding spaces. This includes whimsy, outdoor sculptures by artist Patrick Dougherty.


Heather Farm Park (Walnut Creek) – I have an entire blog post dedicated to this park…it’s that wonderful! You can read about it here.

Magical Bridge Playground (Palo Alto & Redwood City) – This playground touts itself as “The Nation’s Most Inclusive and Innovative Playground.” It is a fantastic playground for kids of all sorts! It’s filled with unique, fun adventures around every corner. Despite being in the company of at least another 100 kids (no exaggeration!), it still seemed spacious enough to play and have a turn on most playground equipment. There are definitely some play structures that I have never seen at any other park, which is a welcome change. The musical flower bells and musical footprints are great additions! One important thing to note is how accessible it is for children with disabilities.

Seven Seas Park (Sunnyvale) – Although we didn’t make it to this park until dusk, it is an extremely modern, clean, safe park for kids. Reasons I loved it so much?

  • It has a gated in toddler section! Although adults should always be watching their children, it does give extra peace of mind, as children can be tiny ninjas and sneak away in a blink of an eye.
  • Bouncy, padded flooring. Much cleaner than sand, wood chips, or dirt; and much safer, too.
  • Two separate play structures: one for toddlers, the other for older children.
  • It has a water feature for hot, summer days.
  • It has sun coverage over the toddler play structure.

Playground of Dreams (Benicia) – Older, wooden play structures seem to be somewhat common in the bay area (I can think of a handful off the top of my head.) But don’t let old fool you. Most are in great condition (I assume they were built to last!) and provide excellent hide-and-seek opportunities. Playground of Dreams is large, with multiple bridges, a collection of metal slides, a bouncy bridge, balance beam and gymnastics bars, toddler and standard swings (plus a great tire swing), steering wheels, ladders made of tires, and so much more! Although it could use a touch up, you’ll find areas painted to look like a train, fire truck, and a dragon. The only real negative for me was the sand pit underlay. Benicia also has an adorable downtown area, so mosey along First Street for restaurants, shopping, and art galleries. If you keep going, you will end with a gorgeous view at Benicia’s Public Pier & Beach.

Dreamland Playground (Berkeley) – Another wooden play structure we thoroughly enjoyed, which can be found at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. Read all about it!

This list in no way encompasses the many parks and/or playgrounds we have visited, but does touch on the more unique ones. Here are a few I hope to add to our list in the future:

  • Adventure Playground (Berkeley)
  • Dennis the Menace Park (Monterey)
  • Greenwood Park (Hayward)
  • Hillcrest Park (Concord)
  • Lake Elizabeth/Central Park (Fremont)
  • Rotary Playground (San Jose)
  • San Ramon Aquatic Park (San Ramon)
  • San Ramon Central Park (San Ramon)
  • Tatum’s Garden (Salinas)

What parks and playgrounds are your favorties? Which would you recommend be added to this list? 



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