What I remember most from playing in Riverside Park when I was a little kid, way back in the 80s, was how smooth the wood was in the playgrounds. Yes, wood. Everything was made of wood and metal, everything was simple and—not to get too nostalgic and romanticize things all out of proportion—basically the Platonic ideal of a playground. The wood beams that I needed to clamber up to get to the top of the slide had been worn smooth by thousands of other kids whose chubby hands had gripped the same places, whose toes had gotten locked in the same gaps between the rungs of the ladders. The slide was always burning hot from baking in the sun all day, but it didn't matter. We'd all fly down it so fast that we never had time to feel the burn. There were see-saws and sand boxes and swings that took you so high you thought if you only pumped a little harder, you might swing all the way around. But you never quite made it.
New York playgrounds are different today. A lot of sand boxes have been dug up. They were too often home to rats. I mean, that had probably always been the case, but nobody cared about that in the 80s. See-saws are long gone. They were kind of dangerous, after all. Who hadn't been the victim of someone who jumped off when you were up high, causing you to slam down and suffer through the pain of a bruised tailbone for days. And those swings? Many playgrounds have gotten rid of the "big kid" swings and only have the kind meant for babies. Despite this little nostalgic trip down memory lane, I actually think all this change is a good thing. The renaissance in New York City parks in the last couple of decades has extended to the playgrounds, and now kids can benefit from brand-new equipment to play on which can give them thrills that we never got to experience. Here are the 10 best playgrounds Brooklyn has to offer.
Albert J. Parham Playground
Located in Fort Greene, this playground is best-known for its shallow (only 3-feet deep) pool, but it also has a great sprinkler area where anyone can cool off during a heat wave. The park's namesake was a lifelong Brooklyn resident who left a generous donation to the Parks Department, which has certainly gone to good use. The park has elaborate climbing equipment and picnic tables and is just the kind of place that a family could while away an entire afternoon.
Albert J. Parham Playground; Willoughby Ave, Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue, Ft. Greene
This playground is perfect for families with kids of varying ages. It has an enclosed toddler play space (gates are very, VERY important at this age) and an elaborate and exciting play area for older kids. There's a climbing structure that resembles an oversize Hoberman Sphere and a spinning contraption and all the water elements that your kids crave on a hot day.
Vanderbilt Playground; Prospect Park SW at Vanderbilt St, Windsor Terrace
Pier 6 Playground
This is the future of playgrounds. And the future is totally awesome. Also, crowded. But it's worth it because kids will have a blast in the water structures and the sand and the amazing climbing apparatuses. There's even a section called "Swing Valley" where your kids can go full-on Tarzan and all you can do is watch them, wishing that it was in any way socially acceptable for you to swing around too. It's not. So don't try it. But still, now is the time to live vicariously through your kids.
Pier 6 Playground; Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO
Leif Ericson Park
Did you know that Brooklyn once had a thriving Norwegian population that was centered in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights? Well, that's kind of a trick question, because it STILL has a thriving Norwegian population (albeit a smaller one, percentage-wise) centered in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. This playground commemorates Norse explorer (and first European on American shores, Columbus) Leif Ericson and all sorts of other Norse goodness. For example, there is a statue of a troll and medallions that show snowflakes and Norse animals, so it's like it's always winter. It's amazing.
Leif Ericson Park; 66th and 67th Streets, 4th Ave and Ft Hamilton Pkwy, Dyker Heights
Fort Greene Park Playground, North Side
There is lots to do in this playground, including learning about Revolutionary War history. So, that's pretty cool. Stone pillars celebrate the thirteen original colonies and their state animals. Beyond that, there are water features and great play areas and, very importantly, there are clean and accessible public restrooms. This is a big deal. Huge.
Fort Greene Park Playground; Myrtle Ave and St. Edward's St, Ft Greene
This Prospect Park playground doesn't have the bells and whistles of some of the newer playgrounds—although it does have a water-spewing dragon, which is pretty cool. But there are no swings or rope courses or anything like that. Instead, it is designed to encourage kids to use their heads when they play and to create their own fantasy world. There is also a statue inspired by wonderful children's author Ezra Jack Keats that is a favorite place for settling down and reading a book.
Imagination Playground; Ocean Avenue near Parkside Avenue, Prospect Park
This playground is brightly colored and features motifs inspired by the beach which is very, very close by. It's a great playground and everything, but it's also just notable for being so close to the sand and sea. This makes it the perfect place to come with your kids and let them experience a little bit of everything—sun, salt water, and urban jungle gyms.
Brighton Playground; Corbin Place and W. 37th St, Brighton Beach
Vincent V. Abate Playground
This playground has the benefit of being near basketball courts and, of course, McCarren Pool. But your kids don't need to go to the pool to cool off, because it also has water features that are shaped like butterflies and caterpillars. And what kid doesn't like bugs? Weiner kids, that's who.
Vincent V. Abate Playground; McCarren Park, Williamsburg
J.J. Byrne Playground
Located by one of the most historic spots in Brooklyn—the Old Stone House—the Byrne Playground underwent extensive renovations before reopening last year. The renovations were worth the wait because all the play equipment, including lots of water elements, are state-of-the art. The playground is also home to lots of musical and theatrical events, guaranteeing a fun time for everyone.
J.J. Byrne Playground; 5th Ave between 3rd and 4th St, Park Slope
Owl's Head Park
Bay Ridge has the highest percentage of green space in all of Brooklyn. And Owl's Head Park is the crown jewel in the crown that is Bay Ridge? Or something? Anyway. It's absolutely beautiful here: rolling hills, views of the water and the Verrazano Bridge, winding paths that you should take up and up and up until you pause, at sunset, and watch nature's beauty unfold around you. But so, kids! There's a terrific playground here too. Which is the point, but it's also beside the point, because you don't even need playground equipment for your kids when you're in such a beautiful area. Enjoy.
Owl's Head Park; Shore Road and 68th St, Bay Ridge
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