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.
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
Marathon Play Dates
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.
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.
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.
For Kids of All Abilities
W. 70th St. nr. Amsterdam Ave.
Refashioned in 2003 as an inclusionary playground—meaning children with disabilities can enjoy the facilities as easily as those without—Playground 70 has ramps instead of steps, swings that accommodate physical limitations, basketball hoops that can be lowered, and handicap-accessible bathrooms.
Union Square Playground
16th St. at Union Sq. W.
A frisson of peril shoots through this megapopular playground. There’s the controversial metal mound, of course, but also steep slides, spinning saucers, and lots of climbing ropes and bendy poles, all designed to test kids’ physical limits.
Oldie But Goodie
Riverside Park at W. 91st St.
Arguably the most popular playground on the Upper West Side, Hippo Playground is beloved for good reason: It’s loaded with swings (one set for toddlers, another for school-age kids), six climbing apparatuses, a soon-to-be-refurbished sandbox, shady honey-locust trees, and, best of all, two herds of mountable hippo sculptures.
22nd St. at Hudson River
Whether you skateboard or not, the moonscape that is the new Hudson River skate park is a spectacular sight. From 8 a.m. until dusk, helmet-wearing skaters can attack 15,000 square feet of structural foam molded into peaks and valleys, and pretested by Tony Hawk. Bike groups are petitioning to get their wheels in, but right now it’s skaters and rollerbladers only.
Public Space That Feels Private
The Village (Playground 12)
Stuyvesant Town, 14th St. at Ave. A
The best of Stuy Town’s dozen playgrounds is also one of the most underutilized in Manhattan. No matter the time of day, you’ll get two sizes of swings, a huge climbing structure topped by a clock tower, and a bright-red wooden fire truck almost entirely to yourself.
Hoe Ave. nr. E. 165th St., the Bronx
The orange-and-white multitasking jungle gym at Printers Park is actually a larger-than-life version of a printing press—an homage to Richard March Hoe, the inventor of the “lightning press,” whose estate once stood where the park is now. The graduated steps represent the cylinders; the white ramp is a stand-in for a roll of paper.
Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden
34th St. at First Ave.
The botanic garden off the lobby of NYU’s Rusk Institute is blissfully off the radar, even though it opened in 1958. If parents only knew about the 1,700-square-foot indoor area with orchids, a koi pond, and a trove of chatty tropical birds. Two weeks ago, a new element arrived: a freestanding pentatonic chime that can be played with mallets.
Fifth Ave. at 85th St.
The ramparts, pyramids, chutes, and tunnels at this newly spiffed-up, Egyptian-themed playground make for one atmospheric game of hide-and-seek. It helps that real-deal King Tut artifacts are just a block away at the Met.
Washington Square Park
Fifth Ave. at Washington Sq. N.
Frolicking in Washington Square Park’s gloriously resurrected fountain is an irresistible rite of passage for city kids. Though you’re technically not allowed inside the 76-foot-wide basin, the park’s minders typically look the other way as kids treat the 45-foot-tall central gusher, blasting daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., as their personal outdoor shower.