If you yearn to offer your kids the freedom to build stuff, go exploring and get thoroughly filthy (all without messing up your own home!) Shangri-La awaits at the Huntington Beach Adventure Playground. Modeled after the no-holds-barred, free-form adventure playgrounds of Europe, the Huntington Beach outpost is one of only two such places in Southern California and is now open for the summer. So hop in the car and bring a change of clothes (and shoes), a sense of fun and get ready to get dirty!

photo: Charlie G. via Yelp

Creation Station
This place looks nothing like a typical playground, and that’s exactly what makes it so beautiful. In place of jungle gyms, you’ll find hand-built tree forts, and in place of a rinky-dink water feature, you’ll find a giant makeshift water slide and an entire lake that kids can paddle across atop wooden rafts. Perhaps the most innovative feature is the access kids are given to tools—and yes, that includes real hammers, nails and even saws, just like grown-ups use. Children may check out a hammer and nails and grab some scrap wood to go add their own finishing touches to the existing tree forts, an enticing proposition for Bob the Builder fans and their HGTV addict parents.

photo: Erin Harris

There are also rock climbing walls and a tire zip line, for those that want to get airborne.  And while there are staff on hand to oversee the tool use and make sure kids don’t get hurt, it’s a great place for parents who don’t think kids need constant helicoptering and supervision.  They’re really free to explore here.  The biggest rule is no running, so remind the kids of that before you set them loose.

photo: Erin Harris

Wet and Wonderful
You don’t have to be a budding contractor to have a blast at the Adventure Playground, but you do have to love getting wet and muddy (and what kid doesn’t?). There’s a delightfully low-tech water slide that essentially consists of a tarp laid into a ditch in a hill, watered down by a playground attendant holding a hose. The ride culminates in a giant muddy puddle: pure hog heaven.

photo: Erin Harris

The rafting lake has a similarly timeless feel, bringing to mind the stories of Mark Twain. Kids line up to slosh through the shallow water to the nearest wooden raft, grab a paddle, and then push themselves across the water, inevitably bumping into each other along the way. (Note: Closed-toe sneakers are absolutely mandatory for everyone at all times at the Adventure Playground, even in the water, so make sure to bring older pairs that you don’t mind getting soaked and muddy. Keens don’t count! Bring a towel and change of clothes while you’re at it. There are changing rooms available for post play clean up.)

IMG_8498photo: Erin Harris

Where, When & How Much?
The Adventure Playground is located within Huntington Beach Central Park and will be open for the summer from June 19-August 18, Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The playground is closed on Sundays and July 4.

It’s best suited to kids 5-12, but kids as young as 3-4 will have a blast; they’ll just require more of your eyes and hands on supervision. The cost of admission is $3 per child (cash or check), and adults are free. Advance reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.

adventure playgroundphoto: Marisa K. via Yelp

To find the playground, follow Talbert Ave. to the Central Library, and then park in the lot on the east side of the library buildings. Follow the pathway heading northeast away from the parking lot and look for the large hand painted sign that says “Adventure Playground,” which will point you toward the entrance.

photo: Charlie G. via Yelp

That hand painted sign in your harbinger that this is a no-frills adventure.  Porta-potties are available, as are picnic tables for lunches (along with juices and snacks for sale), but there are no traditional restaurants (or even bathrooms).  You can use the bathrooms at the library also, but you will want to do that as soon as you get there or after you’re cleaned up and ready for the car ride home so you don’t trek in your mud! (And note that the library doesn’t open until 1 p.m. on Mondays, so the porta-potties are your only option.)

You may also wish to bring blankets or chairs for grownups who need play breaks, as well as a bag for those muddy clothes and towels to dry off (there are cold showers and changing areas) before changing into your clean clothes.

Adventure Playground
7111 Talbert Ave.
Huntington Beach
714-842-7442
Online: huntingtonbeachca.gov/residents/parks_facilities/parks/huntington_central_park/Adventure_Playground.cfm

Where do you take the kids where they can explore and get down and dirty?  We’d love to hear your adventures in building and making muddy messes!

—Erin Harris