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It’s Good to Be a Kid

The top nineteen sites to dig, swing, scale, slide, and herd hippos.


Clockwise from top left: Pier 6, Gantry Plaza State Park, Heckscher Playground, Tompkins Square Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park Playground, Hester Street Playground  

Sandbox and Swings
Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park
Furman St. at Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn Heights
Short of the actual beach, you won’t find another sand-and-water-scape this big and enticing in New York. The newest park on the Brooklyn waterfront features a 6,000-square-foot plot of gust-resistant sand interspersed with climbable tortoises, frogs, and chickens, child-size houses, a “town well,” and a water-spitting boulder. There are also some fantastic swings—21 of them, in fact, including planks, tires, and circular-spinning Tarzan fliers.

Climbing Structures
Tarr Family Playground
Central Park, 100th St. at Central Park W.
Nearly everything is scalable in this recently renovated chunk of Central Park, including the blue polyhedral metal climber, the wooden jungle gym, a concrete cone, and a curvy wall in the sandpit fitted with low-to-the-ground footholds for tots.

Gantry Plaza State Park 47th Rd. at Center Blvd., Long Island City
While kids rampage over the Seussian structures and two-story climbing helix, parents can relax nearby on giant hammocks, sun beds, café tables and chairs, manicured patches of grass, and recessed wooden benches. And if all those are taken, you can just lay a towel down on the rainbow floor and let the East River breeze wash over you.

Marathon Play Dates
Heckscher Playground
Central Park at 62nd St.
Spanning 1.8 acres, Heckscher is the most comprehensive playground in the city. There are tunnels, moats, ramparts, and chutes carved out of cement; separate areas for slides, swing sets, and sprinklers; and a moatlike walkway connected to a massive schist formation called Umpire Rock that’s begging to be scaled and summitted. Good luck making it home for naptime.

Tire Swings
Hester Street Playground
Hester St. at Chrystie St.
Seesaw plus suspended tires equals one sweet tire swing. The recently revamped playground’s twin tires hang from a tottering metal rod, so you get not only the adrenaline rush of cyclonelike spinning but also the challenge of balancing your weight against a partner’s.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Playground
Main St. at Plymouth St., Dumbo
The Dumbo park’s justifiably popular three-masted ship bedecked with portholes, tunnels, poles, and slides pales in comparison to the vista: the soaring Brooklyn Bridge to the south, the rumbling Manhattan Bridge to the north, and a steady stream of barges and tugboats slicing through the river in the middle.

Playground at Pier 51
Horatio St. at Hudson River
There are other, equally cool water parks in the city, but only this one has the Hudson River as a backdrop. A tall sprinkler tree on the east end makes for an all-day rainstorm, while a splashable brook wends its way past the sandpit, play structures, drinking fountains, and shaded seating areas.

Billy Johnson Playground
67th St. at Fifth Ave.
Kids might have to wait behind a dozen or more would-be sliders before they get their turn on the 45-foot-long, impressively slippery granite chute off Fifth Avenue. But, as is the case with most line-generating city attractions, it’s worth it. This is the fastest slide in town.

Tompkins Square Park Playground
9th St. at Ave. A
On any given day, you’re bound to run into a cross section of the city’s proverbial melting pot here: stiletto-wearers with equally fashionable tots, fedora-topped grandpas snoozing on a bench, tattooed rockers, PTA members, and every combination thereof.

Urban Oasis
Teardrop Park
River Terr. nr. Warren St.
Ignore the Battery Park City condos looming overhead and focus instead on the lush plantings, bluestone wall gushing with water, seating areas sculpted out of rock, and fourteen-foot-tall slide that evokes the natural slope of a mountainside. You’ll think you’ve magically day-tripped to the Hudson Valley, which provided the inspiration for the design.

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