As we learn more about how kids develop and play, it has become evident that one-size-fits-all is not something that works for kids. We live in a very inclusive area with many services and play spaces devoted to getting all kids playing together whether they are typically developing or those with special needs. We’ve gathered up this list of special spots and activities where you can know that your child will feel welcomed and loved—just as they are! Read on for all the details.

Photo: Kids Gym Berkeley

Play Spaces and Playgrounds

Kids Gym, Berkeley
This 10,000 square foot facility is the crème de la crème for indoor play when you’ve got a kid who needs to get moving! Their open gym is available for kids up at 11 years old (plus their caregivers) and offers swings, an indoor zip line, toys for fine motor skills development, crash mats, pillows and more. Kids will work on skills like balance, coordination and sharing without even knowing it! Need a break from all the stimulation? Head to the quiet room for some down time. Check the schedule for special events like circle time, kids yoga and everyone’s favorite – the dance party!

2920 Seventh Street
Berkeley, Ca

Photo: Magical Bridge

Magical Bridge Playground, Palo Alto
Touted as one of the nation’s most inclusive playgrounds, the Magical Bridge opened its Palo Alto location in April 2015 to pleased children and parents alike. With five different “play zones” to choose from, kids can swing, sway, spin and slide to their heart’s content. The music zone was provided to motivate interaction, facilitate socialization and improve social skills among children. Pretend play is encouraged throughout the playground but especially in the two-story playhouse that is fully accessible to all children via ramps and bridges. Read more about the park here.

Good news for Redwood City residents: the next Magical Bridge Playground is set to break ground in your city later this year!

Mitchell Park
600 East Meadow Road
Palo Alto, Ca

Photo: Rotary PlayGarden by Kate Loweth

Rotary PlayGarden, San Jose
San Jose welcomed this new addition to the playground scene in May 2015. Donated by the Rotary of San Jose, this park aims to enable children with special needs to play alongside their siblings and friends. Right near the airport, the park offers a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round (moved by kid power!), slides, swings and all sorts of kinetic art to get kids exploring. The entire play area is fenced for safety but there’s not a ton of shade there so go on a cloudy day. Read more about our visit here.

Guadalupe River Park
Coleman Avenue at Autumn Street
San Jose, Ca
Summer hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (closed on Mondays for maintenance)

Photo: Music Class at Kids Gym Berkeley

Classes and Events

Fiddleheads Outdoor Social Skills Playgroup, Various locations
With the goal of taking the stigma out of therapy, Fiddleheads offers a nature immersion after-school program that brings a small group of children together with the guidance of licensed therapists and interns. The classes blend sensory activities, hiking, storytelling, drama, self-awareness and social skills in a relaxed, outdoor environment. Class sessions run for ten weeks starting in September, January and April and there is financial aid available for those who need it.

Locations in Oakland, Berkeley, Mill Valley, San Francisco and Petaluma


AcroSports, San Francisco
On Saturday afternoons from 1:30-2:30 p.m., AcroSports hosts an open gym that encourages children to explore this enormous gymnastics facility at their own speed. The aim is to help students reach their goals while building strength, improving self-esteem, solidifying friendships and enhancing their life experience. Coaches are available to assist children with learning new skills.

639 Frederick Street
San Francisco, Ca

San Jose Public Libraries
The San Jose Public Libraries offer inclusive storytimes and playgroups for kids with all sorts of learning styles throughout the month. Take a look at the online schedule to find one that is convenient for you. Also, check your local library as many of them offer programs with the specific goal of making all kids feel welcome.

Sensory-Friendly Movies at AMC
On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, select AMC theaters offer a sensory-friendly screening of kid-friendly new releases. They turn the lights up and the sound down to make it more comfortable for kids. Everyone is free to sing, dance, shout and walk around as needed throughout the film. These theaters offer this amazing program so check their online schedule for upcoming showings:

San Francisco: AMC CLASSIC Deer Valley 16, AMC Showplace Manteca 16, AMC Van Ness 14
Oakland: AMC Bay Street 16
San Jose: AMC Cupertino Square 16, AMC Mercado 20

Photo: Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

Museum Events

Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose
Offered three times a year, the Children’s Discovery Museum Play Your Way program provides families with children ages 2-15 on the autism spectrum the opportunity to explore the museum after hours. Engage in sensory play in the Art Loft and a special performance in the theater. The evening includes information and valuable resources for parents from local organizations that are part of the Autism Initiative. The cost is $20 per family, up to 8 people. The next Play Your Way day is scheduled for September 9.

180 Woz Way
San Jose, Ca

Habitot, Berkeley
This museum wants to make all kids feel comfortable there and does so by offering quarterly free play dates for families with special needs kids ages 0-5. This provides kids with the opportunity to check out the facility with fewer people around and also gives parents time to chat with other parents in similar circumstances. Free return visit passes are provided to all families who attend. Check here for the next play date.

2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, Ca

Know of any special resources for special kids? Let us know below so we can share the love!

–Kate Loweth