As you’re touring towns, don’t forget to check out the playground scene…
Checking out local parks and playgrounds is a great way to explore a new community. “I always tell clients to stop by a playground or park while they’re touring a town,” says Pamela Goldman, Suburban Jungle’s Head San Francisco Strategist. “You’ll get a real feel for how families spend weekends — and it’s a great opportunity to ask a local mom or dad questions about the community, the schools, anything. People love to talk about their experiences and their communities, so don’t be shy!” Our advice? Pack a picnic or grab some snacks from a local bakery or restaurant, hunker down at a park or two, and let your kids run, play, and grab a bite in between — while you chat up other parents doing the same, and get the inside scoop on suburban living. Start with these amazing parks and playgrounds…
Central Park (San Ramon) San Ramon’s out-of-this-world Central Park features 40 acres of fun, culminating in an incredible playground. The jungle gym is a giant, colorful structure featuring a spider web for climbing, monkey bars, ladders, a rock wall, and separate play areas for big and little kids. On sunny days, East Bay families flock to Central Park’s extensive water feature, which boasts a little water maze, bridge, and a mushroom fountain.
Heather Farm Park (Walnut Creek) Walnut Creek’s Heather Farm Park has it all — picnic areas, bike paths, tennis courts, athletic fields, a nature pond, fishing, volleyball courts, and skate park, for starters. But the show-stopping? The jaw-dropping playground that looks like it was lifted straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Plan to come and stay for a while — or, better yet, make a day of it with a trip to the on-site Clarke Swim Center or equestrian center.
Magic Mountain Playground (San Mateo) Transforming the family room into a castle fort is awesome, but pales in comparison to a trip to the aptly named Magic Mountain Playground. Designed to look like a real-life castle, Magic Mountain Playground features floors upon floors of play space and, for those who are brave enough to reach the top, an incredible slide that delivers kids to the turf-covered ground — and a few feet away from a sea monster-inspired climbing structure. Source: San Mateo County Parks – County of San Mateo
Magical Bridge Playground (Redwood City/Palo Alto) The best play spaces are the ones everyone can enjoy, and that’s exactly what the Magical Bridge Playground was designed for. A nature-inspired play space inspired by the surrounding topography, Magical Bridge is an inclusive playground designed with the cognitive, physical, sensory, and emotional needs of all kids in mind. With nine distinct zones, it’s almost too much space to explore in one day — but that won’t stop your kids from trying. One of the best features is the Playhouse + Playstage, a wheelchair-accessible, two-story structure that looks like it should host a jousting tournament.
Blackie’s Pasture Park and Playground (Tiburon) Situated on the shores of the San Francisco Bay is a former horse pasture that’s been transformed into a ready-to-explore park. Walk in and you’ll immediately be greeted by a bronze statue of Blackie, the famous horse that once lived here, and is now Tiburon’s unofficial mascot. There’s truly something for everyone at this park, from rollerblading, running and biking down the “old Rail Trail towards downtown Tiburon, eating at one of the picnic tables, hitting the McKegney Green soccer field, skipping stones into the Bay, park’s long paved pathway or taking a little hike to fly kites. Kids will argue the playground — a 15-minute walk from the parking lot — is the best feature, but the park definitely also offers some of the best views of the San Francisco Bay and Sausalito.
Vasona Park (Los Gatos) Los Gatos is known for its picturesque landscape and scenic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but one of the best places to enjoy these perks is Vasona Park and the adjacent Oak Meadow Park. With 145 acres of green space, it’s easy to find a peaceful spot for a picnic or get some exercise hiking. In the summer, the park hosts a nine-week concert series welcoming local artists from every genre. Families can also rent paddleboats, rowboats, go rollerblading or biking, and play frisbee or ball on the park’s 45-acre lawn. Afterward, head over to Oak Meadow Park to ride the carousel and miniature train, and play on the playground.
Seven Seas Park (Sunnyvale) Sunnyvale is home to hundreds of acres of public parks, but the crown jewel is Seven Seas Park off of Morse Avenue where a pirate ship-inspired playground is just waiting to be explored. The play area is big enough to dream up any kind of adventure on the Seven Seas but is designed with little kids’ safety in mind. After working up a sweat, families cool down at the adjacent splash pad or find a little shade under one of several sprawling canopies. And don’t forget to bring Fido — there’s a great dog park. Source: City of Los Altos
Shoup Park/Redwood Grove Nature Preserve (Los Altos) Shoup Park and Redwood Grove are two large adjacent parks that offer something for everyone, whether locals are looking for some R&R in nature or a kid-approved adventure. A winding boardwalk guides families through Redwood Grove, which is a prime example of the area’s natural habitat. Continue on the trail to reach Shoup Park — and don’t forget to pack a picnic and balls. The former (Shoup Park has better picnicking)has a large picnic area and green lawn.
Hayward Japanese Gardens (Hayward) Forget the trip to Japan, one of the best (and oldest) Japanese-style gardens in the US is conveniently located in Hayward. The garden is less than a quarter-mile away from downtown, but instantly transports visitors to a quiet, peaceful place that feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The grounds are designed in a traditional Japanese style, so expect tea houses, bridges crossing ponds filled with koi fish, and perfectly manicured shrubs. Source: Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, CA
Emma Prusch Farm Park (San Jose) Emma Prusch Farm Park brings a little bit of the country into the big city, right down to a huge farm and close encounters with sheep, pigs, ducks, geese, and more. Once the beloved dairy farm of Emma Prusch, the property was donated to the city and remains a working farm to this day. Families are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, kites and can even sign up for a plot in the community garden.
Burton Park (San Carlos) Burton Park was built for all ages, making it an ideal spot for toddlers and busy big kids. First and foremost, the playground is entirely fenced, so no need to worry about little ones wandering away. Also, sunburn is never a thing because most of the play space is covered by large canopies. And the playground is just the tip of the iceberg. Outside the fenced area, there’s an amphitheater, picnic tables, athletic fields, a baseball diamond, and tons of green space waiting for family fun.
Bol Park (Palo Alto) One trip to see the donkeys at Bol Park and it’s easy to see this isn’t your average park. In fact, it’s the home of Perry, who inspired Donkey on “Shrek,” and his friends. The donkeys are also an interesting little lesson on local history because their presence dates back to the 1930s when Josina and Cornelius Bol kept a herd on the very same property. The donkeys are a must-see, but there are lots of other fun activities for busy families at the park, including a chicken coup, walking paths, playground, and a sprawling green lawn ideal for playing frisbee or picnicking.
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