This is our favorite NYC playground rundown. Whoo hoo! These are playgrounds that we have visited since Curious G was a baby, and continue to visit because they are AWESOME. They have something for everyone; crawlers and up. I’ve come to realize that as C.G. grows older and stronger, her playground skills develop and she also gains a ton of confidence in the process. It’s a joy to watch, and a parental rite of passage that I like to bask in while enjoying the lively al fresco atmosphere in the playgrounds listed in this post.
I also enjoy visiting these playgrounds because some of my favorite spots are within close walking distance. Read on for mini playground reviews, followed by the restaurants, cafes, and other stops we like to make pre and après playground. This post is the pre-cursor to our summer bucket list post, which you can read here from last year. So stay tuned for this year's list!
This list includes playgrounds in the following neighborhoods, in no particular order: Union Square, and Flatiron / NoMad, Battery Park, South Street Seaport, Chelsea, Lower East Side, Chinatown, Nolita, Long Island City, Queens, Williamsburg, BK, DUMBO, and Midtown.
1. Evelyn’s Playground in Union Square Park, Union Square
When I was a real estate agent, I acted as a tour guide to many of my buyers and I always referred to Union Square as the downtown Times Square. It is a main hub for transportation, shopping, and dining; and the park is a lovely place to spend an hour or two.
Curious G loves this playground because she has mastered the toddler area, which boasts quite a sandbox and a jungle gym with three sections and three slides (baby swings are available as well). She also enjoys the challenges of the older kid area. Someday soon, she will climb atop the silver dome where you will always find multiple kids scaling at any given moment. I've seen 'tweens having fun in the older kid section, which is not always the case with other playgrounds.
Adjacent to the silver dome are fairly well maintained restrooms, and there is a decent scattering of benches for tired caregivers to rest on. There are a few picnic tables in the toddler section. However, you will probably want to eat outside of the playground because there are so many options in the vicinity.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays you can find the freshest local produce and other farm sourced products at the Union Square Green Market. And, while you can also find the usual suspects for lunch provisions nearby (think Sweetgreen, Chipotle, Pret A Manger, Maoz, Luke’s Lobster, and more), we love to grab a few slices from the iconic Joe’s Pizza, which is on 14th Street and 3rd Avenue.
Directly across the street on 17th Street, you will find a multi-level Barnes and Noble with a vast kids books and toys section, as well as a café. Right next to Barnes and Noble, Kellogg’s Café is a fun and colorful stop for experimental cereal enjoyment (kids under 12 get free cereal and toppings Monday - Fridays 2pm-6pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 8am-10am).
On the Union Square East side, towards 5th Avenue, you can indulge in fabulous baked goods from Breads Bakery and comfort yourself with an enormous bowl of handmade Japanese noodles from TsuruTonTan. (There are truly a ton of places to eat around here, please message me or comment below if you want more recs!). We also recently tried a few delicious and very picturesque desserts at LRoom on 14th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Last but not least, from the Eastern side you can walk to the toy store- playspace hybrid Camp, a must-do "family experience store".
Towards the southern side of the park, you can find a massive Whole Foods, Best Buy, DSW, and more big box stores; so if you need to run some errands, this is a convenient spot!
This summer, don’t forget to check out Summer in the Square, which is one of our favorite FREE activities every summer. It’s a must-do!
2. Madison Square Park (Police Officer Moira Ann Smith Playground), Flatiron / NoMad
You can actually walk to and from Union Square Park to and from the Madison Square Park playground since it's only six blocks away. This playground is great for toddlers and elementary school aged children. There is also a baby section with a cute little slide; as well as a water play area that operates during the late spring through summer. There is a tire swing, as well as a baby swing set.
We also love Madison Square Park itself for roaming around (check out all of the seasonal semi-interactive public art!), checking out the cute dogs in the dog runs, and picnicking on the lawn. Of course, we cannot fail to mention shoveling burgers, shakes and fries into our faces from the original Shake Shack location right in the southern part of the park.
If burgers are not your thing, you can also cross Fifth Avenue from the west side of the park to grab something at Eataly. But, like Union Square, there are a lot of food options in the vicinity in every direction. Again, please comment or message me for more recs. We like Maman on 25th Street for a brunchy meal complete with indulgent breakfast pastries as well as healthier fare, and there are also endless fast casual options along 23rd Street, which is right across the street from the south side of the park.
For an educational experience, you can check out MoMATH on 26th Street, which is right across the street from the north side of the park. You can also stop into the Lego Store, which is across the street from the western side of the park. Fifth Avenue is a shopping hub from 23rd Street to 14th Street; so this makes it another fine area for running errands. Also, on nearby Broadway, ABC Carpet & Home is always a fun place to browse and eat, and Flying Tiger is a cute store to pick up toys and knick knacks. Another attraction nearby is the Sony Square experience, where you can try out virtual reality games, see their mini-photography exhibits, and take a bunch of photos in the area where they set up ever-changing vibrant backdrops for your Instagram-content-creating pleasure.
3. Seward Park Playground, Lower East Side
Seward Park is well-shaded, spacious playground where you can get a great feel for the neighborhood. It’s located in the Lower East Side and is bordered by Chinatown, so you can often grab a seat on one of the many benches and watch some elderly ladies conducting a tai-chi or dance class. Your kids may even want to join in (mine always does).
The glorious sprinkler that sits atop a delightfully mosaic-tiled floor is such a welcome feature in the summertime. There are so many climbing options provided by multiple jungle gyms that are spread out around the playground. The toddler section is large, and there are relatively well maintained bathrooms available. You can our detailed review, complete with some recs in Chinatown, from last summer here; and we highly recommend it as a destination if you will be in the Lower East Side or Chinatown. Or, why not make it a reason to come to the Lower East Side and/or Chinatown? In the summertime, we also highly recommend stopping into Ice and Vice for a post playground treat that’s refreshing and delicious!
4. John Jay Park, Upper East Side
John Jay is a large sprawling playground all the way on the east side with entrances on 76th Street and 78th Street. There is plenty of room to ride scooters and bikes, and there are also basketball and handball courts onsite. There is even a set of old fashioned exercise apparatus that can be entertaining to both adults and children.
There are two older baby/ young toddler structures outside the gates of the main toddler and older kid playgrounds, along with a pair of concrete camels, which Curious G has always loved climbing. The main toddler portion has plenty of climbing options, slides, and there is also a little sprinkler in the corner. Benches and picnic tables are available in this area as well.
The main area of the playground has a fun tunnel-like water feature, a sprinkler, game tables, and big kid and baby swings. There are several climbing options including a jungle gym, climbing nets, as well as a canoe. We come here when we want a lot of space to roam. I rarely sit at this playground because the benches fill up very quickly, and I follow C.G. around most of the time because of the expansive layout.
The bonus here is that there is a public pool that is not too crowded during the week in the summertime. We went once last summer on a Monday and the pool was well maintained and the water temperature was not too cold. It was perfect for a hot day. There are locker rooms with showers and bathrooms, which lead to the pool. The lockers provide a convenient place to store your belongings. Only towels are permitted on deck, and you must bring your own lock for the lockers.
There are several restaurants that we like to frequent in the area, including Calexico, the Meatball Shop, Boqueria, La Esquina, and The Mighty Quinn. When Curious G was a baby, we often (boozy) brunched at Calexico and loaded up on Baja fried fish tacos and Micheladas. One of C.G.’s first words was “Michelada”. No joke. I have the videos to prove it.
5. Rockefeller Playground, Battery Park City
This playground is a summer staple for us because we love to come here and enjoy Battery Park City. The lawns are perfect for running around and picnicking. We love the merry-go-round on this playground, as well as the free art workshops and preschool playtimes. Read all about these programs and activities here.
Benches and picnic tables fill up pretty quickly, but I rarely have an issue with that. There is a bathroom across the street in the condo building, which is open to the public. There’s a baby area with baby swings, plenty of sand to play with, and a cute water feature for the summertime.
There are so many dining options in the vicinity, as well as a large movie theater. There are also events that run throughout the year at Brookfield Place, including the ultra-fun and free Saturday Morning Show.
You can roll this into a visit to the Oculus, the Freedom Tower Memorial, Pier 17, and the Sea Glass Carousel.
6. Pier 25 Play Area, Battery Park City / Tribeca
Pier 25 is a summer must-do. A visit to this playground can also be combined with visits to so many downtown sights, as noted here. The main draw for us is the impressive splash pad. The climbing net is another top attraction, as well as the rock climbing wall.
Right behind the playground, also on the pier, are a mini golf range, volleyball courts, and Grand Banks for a memorable meal of oysters and adult beverages. In the summertime, free kids concerts are held here during the sunset, and the views are stunning. Follow us on Instagram to get updates on these concerts and more summer events
7. Chelsea Waterside Play Area, Chelsea
This playground re-opened last summer after a $3.4 million makeover. The most outstanding feature is the colorful Robinia wood pipefish that snakes its way atop a rubber padded hill, and divides the two main water play areas. The pipefish serves as the jungle gym element, and also as the perfect backdrop and prop for memorable photos.
This playground is a summertime mecca for young splashpad enthusiasts. It is also attracts design and landscaping enthusiasts with its limestone cattle head sprinklers, reclaimed granite seating blocks, and Wireless Zelcova trees
Another option is to cross 11th Avenue to Pier 62 and ride the carousel and then sit on a bench and have a snack while staring at the birds circling above the Hudson River. You can also grab at bite at Fresh & Co, which is attached to Chelsea Piers. (This is also where the closest bathroom is when playing at Chelsea Waterside)
8. Gantry Plaza State Park Tot Lot and Little Kid Playground, Long Island City
We love taking the ferry from the 34th Street terminal one stop to Long Island City to this beautiful park when the weather is nice (find out 5 more fun reasons to ride the NYC ferry). We did this quick 5 minute ferry ride several times last summer, and you can read all about it here. This park is a destination, and there are actually two playgrounds, which are fun for a wide range of ages. The grounds and the views from the park are gorgeous, and everyone who has the time should check it out at least once this spring or summer because there is just so much space for the little ones to run around freely. You can walk the entire park from end to end easily, and there are plenty of accessible bathrooms. But the views of Manhattan are what really make this park stand out, and there are so many vantage points to enjoy it from. There is a snack stand at the LIC Landing by COFFEED. But I would recommend bringing your own food, and then getting ice cream for dessert at the LIC Landing by COFFEED or at one of the ice cream trucks that frequent the park.
9. Domino Park Playground, Williamsburg, BK
Domino Park was at the top of our list of destinations last summer when it opened for a host of reasons. The picturesque splash pad was one of them. Plus, the playground is also one of Curious G’s current faves. It is a climber’s heaven, and resembles a Willy Wonka-esque factory where kids literally get lost inside colorful silos of climbing fun. I’ve had a few panicky moments looking for C.G., only to find her perched at the very pinnacle of a climbing net housed inside one of the silos.
Read our review of Domino Park here, and be sure to stop by North Brooklyn Farm before or after the park because who doesn’t love an urban farm with a BMX dirt track and that famous Tom Fruin stained glass house in it? It’s a little urban haven in my opinion.
Skip TacoCina inside Domino Park because the food is mediocre (or perhaps order some beers and chips so that you can enjoy sitting in the fun patio area while staring out at the beautiful East River view). If you take the 15-minute walk up River Street and then Kent to the William Vale Hotel on Wythe Avenue, you can get some really yummy burgers, fries, chicken fingers, insanely delicious ice cream concoctions, and adult beverages while enjoying the glory of an open terrace in Williamsburg at Mister Dips. Be sure to wash this meal down with some doughnuts from Wylie Dusfresne’s Du’s Donuts on the way down.
If you want to make this a triple header (quadruple, if you’ve stopped at the farm), you can also stop into Brooklyn Bowl further west on Wythe Avenue. Bowl a few rounds, have some Blue Ribbon fried chicken and beer and stay for the live music (family bowl every Sunday with Rock and Rock Playhouse is a really great party to bring the kids to!). You can also hotel-rooftop hop since Wythe Hotel and Williamsburg Hotel are all on Wythe Avenue. In fact, if you are there on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the summertime, that entire block will feel like a fun rooftop party with all of the music blasting down to the streets (it will make you nostalgic for your 20’s).
10. Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO, BK
While Brooklyn Bridge Park is essentially one giant playground for both kids and adults, Pier 6 contains the most diverse selection of actual playgrounds. One of our favorites is the Waterlab, which is a big splash pad that is nothing short of a micro waterpark! You can also hit up Slide Alley, Sandbox Village, Slide Mountain, and Swing Valley.
If you get really hungry, you can walk over to Fornino's Pizza, which is right across from the playgrounds. You can also walk over to Pier 5 for some ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery. Another fun option from Pier 6 is to take the ferry over to Governor’s Island and spend a few hours exploring. Find out more about Governor's Island and the other piers at Brooklyn Bridge Park here.
You can also read about Brooklyn Bridge Park's Main St Playground, along with Jane’s Carousel here. If you have time you can start at Pier 6 and work your way up to Pier 1 and then Main Street. Or vice versa starting at Main Street. You will then more or less cover the entirety of Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Note: there is also a baby/small toddler playground on Pier 1 that is right by the ferry terminal. It’s also next to a sprawling lawn and the One Hotel)
In addition to Smile to Go, Sugarcane, and Cecconi's, which are all housed in Empire Stores (except for Sugarcane), you can also walk to Front Street and enjoy the iconic pizza at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, or eat at Juliana’s Pizza or Shake Shack.
11. DiSalvio Playground, Nolita
DiSalvio is the most newly renovated playground on this list. It just re-opened last month, and Curious G has dubbed it her favorite playground several times in the last few weeks. The bright colors, multiple jungle gyms, spinning apparati, climbing nets and vicinity to so many of our favorite places to eat may play a factor in her declaration.
You can read my DiSalvio Playground review in Mommy Poppins here. Taim Falafel, Pomodoro Pizza, Rice to Riches, and Van Leeweun Ice Cream are directly across the street from the playground, so expect to smell the aroma of delicious food while your kids are playing. Some of our favorite places to grab a bite in the area are Baz Bagel, Dez, Rubirosa, and Pasquale Jones. Quite frankly, you are on the cusp of Nolita where cute cafes abound, as well as Little Italy, and Chinatown; so there are limitless food options here.
I personally love to shop in this neighborhood. Check out the nearby boutiques Warm and Piccoliny shops for both kids and adults (along with a bunch of other shops that you will have to message me to find out. Or comment below!)
12. Gertrude Ederle Playground, Midtown West
Located between Amsterdam and West End Avenues, with entrances on both 59th and 60th Streets, this playground looks futuristic with flashes of silver and plenty of curving climbing structures thanks to a $5 million renovation. Upon entry from the 60th Street entrance, a fun toddler jungle gym welcomes you, but Curious G likes to run over to the benches and use them as her own personal balance beams on days when the playground is fairly empty.
Next to the benches, you will find clean bathrooms, which is always convenient. Between the toddler area and the section with the more advanced climbing apparatus, is a little water play area. One of my favorite parts of this playground is the Astroturf lawn that is big enough for mini soccer matches while other kids run around the perimeter. A large blank wall that’s ripe for chalk drawings frames the Astroturf.
Now if you do not live in this neighborhood, why would you come to this playground? I have taken C.G. to play here after a visit to the Museum of Art and Design in Columbus Circle. I have also taken her to play here, and then headed to the Shops at Columbus Circle, a.k.a. Time Warner Center, for lunch. There are a few vendors in the Columbus Circle underground food hall Turnstyle, but we like Chick' n Cone and the carambellows (glorified Mallomars) from Woops the best. Inside of the Shops at Columbus Circle, we like Momofuku Noodle Bar, Bluebird London, and Bouchon Bakery and Café. For a quick smoothie bowl or sushi-to-go, we head downstairs to Whole Foods.
A large Nordstrom is also slated to open on Broadway just a block from Columbus Circle (the Nordstrom Men’s store is already open) in case you don’t get your fill of shopping in Time Warner Center.
And, of course, if you are in the area after watching a performance in Lincoln Center, you can always walk over to Gertrude Ederle right after.
13. Imagination Playground, South Street Seaport
Last summer, we found ourselves at Pier 17 almost every time we had guests in town since its expansive deck is perfect for soaking in the fabulous views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. There’s a bevy of activity going on at Pier 17, which you can read about here. But we always find ourselves returning to The Imagination Playground after since it’s right across the street.
You can almost always find a nice collection of the iconic blue Imagination Playground blocks available for your kids’ building pleasure between the water play area and the giant sandbox/slide section. (Parents who do not want their kids to play in city sandboxes: do not come here, because it’s pretty much unavoidable unless you quarantine them in the water play area).
There is a decent bathroom on hand that is housed in a structure that serves as a lookout deck accessible via a flight of stairs. You can see Pier 17 from the playground without climbing to the deck, and the views are quite nice. Benches are available and I’ve never had an issue with getting a seat.
In addition to the prime selection of restaurants at Pier 17, you can also eat right across the street at Trading Post. Industry Kitchen is also less than a block away and a lovely spot to dine al fresco. By Chloe is a healthy fast casual option within arm’s reach from the playground. Walk a few steps from By Chloe, and you will find yourself in South Street Seaport, where you can take a nice stroll and browse the shops. Walk north and you will come upon the Italian import 10 Corso Como for some fun browsing and/or dining (we have not eaten there), Mr. C., and some other restaurants which we have not tried, but all look delicious. If you are in the mood for a movie, you can catch one at the iPic, which is a “fancy theater” that serves cocktails.
There is also a TKTS box office right across from the playground, where you can get same-day Broadway tickets for up to 50% off. And like, Rockefeller Playground, you can also roll this playground visit in with a stop at the Oculus and Freedom Tower. You can also stroll down to Wall Street and pay homage to the Fearless Girl statue if you should feel so inclined.
14. Billy Johnson Playground, Central Park East
This playground, accessible via the Central Park entrance on 67th Street and 5th Avenue, wins for most iconic NYC slide. Curious G has graduated from riding down this slide on our laps to riding solo atop a cardboard sled (literally a piece of cardboard that comes from who-knows-where, but is somehow always available here). The slide is made of granite and already slippery, but the cardboard shoots the kids down the slide at lightening speeds. Parents stand around the foot of this curved granite slide, which is accessed via climbing up a hill on some rocks and stumps; armed with their phones ready to capture their kids flashing by.
The playground is still in the midst of a facelift, but so far the improvements have not been lost on us. We love the upgraded swing area that now provides both baby and big kid swings, The sand pit has been renovated, and the bridge that C.G. likes to run under has been cleaned up with some new steps. But most notably, a mini granite slide was added a few feet away from the original one. We haven’t seen the climbing nets yet, but can’t wait for their arrival!
Obviously, we recommend spending more time in Central Park before or after visiting the Billy Johnson Playground. A Central Park post has been on my list of must-do’s for about a year now, so stay tuned because we visit so regularly that I metaphorically refer to it as our backyard.
SUMMARY OF STOPS
Evelyn’s Playground,Union Square
Madison Square Park (Police Officer Moira Ann Smith Playground), Flatiron / NoMad
Seward Park Playground, Lower East Side
John Jay Park, Upper East Side
Rockefeller Playground, Battery Park City
Pier 25 Play Area, Battery Park City / Tribeca
Chelsea Waterside Play Area, Chelsea
Pier 62 carousel
Gantry Plaza State Park Tot Lot and Little Kid Playground, Long Island City
Domino Park Playground, Williamsburg, BK
Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO, BK
DiSalvio Playground, Nolita
Gertrude Ederle Playground, Midtown West
Imagination Playground, South Street Seaport
Billy Johnson Playground, Central Park East