Kids are happiest in spaces that they know were designed for them, and good playgrounds are now interactive in a way your old slide and swing set never were. Having time to run, shout, and be free can make any family trip memorable, especially if it's at a playground that is in a cool neighborhood or has a striking view. Many playgrounds also have an impressive designs that adults can appreciate (and that make a great backdrop for vacation photos), even if your kids notice only that they're neat places to run and climb. Here are seven playgrounds around the country that we think are worth checking out the next time you're in the area.
Location: Burling Slip, next to the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan
Best For: All ages
This innovative ship-themed playground is more about playing with stuff than on stuff. School-age kids build forts and ramps with giant foam Erector Set-type blocks, while toddlers and preschoolers play in the huge sand and water areas (remember to bring a change of clothes). Interpreters are on hand to help out with projects and make sure equipment gets shared. There's a slide and some climbing structures.
Location: Across the river from the Capitol in Clemyjontri Park
Best For: All ages, including kids with special needs
This enormous and colorful playground covers two acres with four distinct outdoor play "rooms" that focus on developing areas of child development: The Rainbow Room teaches colors of the rainbow and integrates Braille; The Schoolhouse & Maze teaches geography and time; The Moving and Groovin Transportation Area teaches balance and road lessons; and Fitness & Fun teaches physical skills and confidence. Ramps and long, flat stretches make this playground accessible to everyone. The four spaces surround a center carousel and there's a picnic pavilion to gather for family meals.
Location: A 20-minute drive from Beale Street in Shelby Farms Park.
Best For: All ages
A whimsical caged walkway winds around the enormous playground with six separate play areas, making you feel like you've landed in a Dr. Seuss book. You'll pass by wooden towers, metal chutes, climbing walls, balancing ropes, and waterplay features that are grouped into areas appropriate for younger and older children. The playground has a springy surface, to soften falls and prevent scrapes, and every square yard contains recycled rubber from about 20 pairs of sneakers. The surrounding park has more than 6 miles of walking trails.
Location: Millennium Park, on the waterfront near the historic district
Best For: Ages 8 and under will get the most out of it
This town in western Louisiana is home to some 75 festivals a year, including one that celebrates the pirate Jean Lafitte. This newly rebuilt waterfront playground has a castle and a large pirate ship at its center; there's a tug for tot-size buccaneers. Kids can pretend to steer the ship or climb the castle to navigate towers, slides, and ropes while parents take in the lakefront setting.
Location: 5 minutes from downtown Moab, near Mill Creek Parkway
Best For: Ages 1 to 7
This music-themed play area looks more like it sprung from the Brazilian rainforest than the Utah desert. Encourage your little musicians to create their own percussion tunes by hitting a series of drums, chimes, and African-inspired instruments called amadindas and imbarimbas (types of xylophones) with either their hands or batons (which are attached to the instruments). There's room to run and climb, too. Parents can enjoy the pleasant sounds of an afternoon concert in the surrounding shade.
Location: Sahuaro Ranch Park, 15 minutes outside of Phoenix
Best For: Ages 2 to 5 (Weevos); ages 7 to 11 (Evos)
Evos and Weevos play systems are "fitness" playgrounds designed and built for the wannabe Spider-man in your life. Glendale is one of the first cities to implement the special playground, and the curvy, swirly, and twisty structures are made of springy suspended cables that kids can climb over, under, and around. The goal of this playground is to increase balance, build upper-body and core strength, and improve cognitive development while engaging children's imaginations. It's meant to encourage activity, which means your kids may actually take a long nap after an afternoon here.
Location: Berkeley Marina, in East Shore State Park, about 3 miles west of UC Berkeley
Best For: Ages 6 to 12
At first glance, you might mistake this play area for a funky junkyard, but take a closer look and you'll see kids working together to build forts or make take-home art with hammers, nails, clamps, donated lumber, and paint. There's even a zip line, slack lines for balancing, and a spider's web in the mix. While kids climb and get dirty, parents can enjoy views of San Francisco, Marin County, and the Bay.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.