NELSON A. ROCKEFELLER PARK PLAYGROUND
Warren St. at River Terrace, Battery Park City
Parents can Zen out on the views while the smaller set heads for the pedal carousel, sand tables, and a water play area so excellent it makes childless adults want to breed so they can enter the gates. Kids love the spraying animals (a hippo, an elephant, and dogs’ heads). The grounds are intelligently divided by age, so there are no casualties on the kiddie slide.
While you’re there: Turn somersaults on the wide lawns nearby; marvel at the fact that this is actually New York.
HUDSON RIVER PARK’S PIER 51 PLAYGROUND
West St. at Jane St.
There’s a meandering stream, and sprinklers and sprays of various sizes and configurations. The grounds are squishily padded and the separate toddler and big-kid equipment is as good as the water stuff. There’s little in the way of shade, but unparalleled sunsets (if it isn’t past bedtime).
While you’re there: Enjoy the celebrity sightings. Most recent: Heidi Klum, her three kids, and their nannies.
BILLY JOHNSON PLAYGROUND
E. 67th St. and Fifth Ave., Central Park
Unofficially known as the “rustic playground” for its woodsy, homespun vibe. It boasts a stone bridge, a sandy area (not sandbox), and a wooden “arbor,” but the main attraction is a 45-foot-long granite spiral slide (true devotees bring cardboard for speed).
While you’re there: Also visit Central Park’s largest playground, Heckscher (61st to 63rd Streets, mid-park), which features all of the standard equipment plus spouting sprinklers and a large climbing rock.
PLAYGROUND FOR ALL CHILDREN
111th St. and Corona Ave., Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Corona
(Take the 7 train to 111th Street, walk south to 46th Avenue.) The country’s first playground created for disabled and able-bodied kids alike, it has stair-free paths, a jungle gym designed for the blind, and swings and slides set at lower levels.
While you’re there: The park is also home to the Queens Wildlife Conservation Center, the Queens Museum of Art, the New York Hall of Science, and 84-acre Meadow Lake.
MADISON STREET PARK
Madison and 3rd Sts., Hoboken
(Take the path train to Hoboken; follow Washington Street to 3rd Street, walk away from the river until you get to Madison Street.) This newly renovated park (it reopened over Memorial Day) has a rock wall, groovy water equipment, and none of the crowds of its Manhattan counterparts.
While you’re there: Try the fried clams at Biggies Clam Bar (318 Madison Street).
Page Ave. and Bartow Lane, Richmond Valley, Staten Island
(Take the Staten Island Ferry to the No. 78 bus to Page Avenue.) Former Parks commissioner Henry Stern called Aesop one of “the most magnificent” playgrounds in the city. Surrounded by a wooded area, this whimsical romping spot has a spray shower, but the real draw is the menagerie of Aesop’s Fables–themed animal sculptures.
While you’re there: Visit the excellent Children’s Museum in Snug Harbor.