Childhood is about log-rolling and picking dandelions. Climbing trees and splashing around ponds. Sturdy swing sets have their place, but we want to get back to the heart of a happy childhood with the great outdoors. Here are our favorite places in San Diego where youth can meet the yard. Wide open spaces, here we come.

Hilltop Park and Recreation Center

Hilltop Park and Recreation Center
This Rancho Penasquitos hangout has something for everyone. Perched atop a hill overlooking Carmel Valley, the park features tons of grassy spaces for running and jumping, along with party gazebos, a kitchen, playground and basketball courts. This is the spot to play tag or start a game of touch football with the whole family.

Don’t miss: Fitness stations with bars and plank space for mom and dad to get their workout on.

9711 Oviedo Way
San Diego, Ca 92129
Online: sandiego.gov

Kate O Sessions Park

Kate O Sessions Park
This dog-friendly park atop Pacific Beach features open spaces with soft grass, lots of shady trees and stunning downtown views. Come here for panoramic scenery while the kids run around with the family pet. If you’re feeling extra-adventurous, park at the bottom of the steep hill and jog to the top to squeeze in some exercise with your afternoon picnic.

5115 Soledad Rd
San Diego, Ca 92109

Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park
This small Mission Hills spot features well-maintained play equipment, restrooms and barbecues. Alcohol is permitted until 8pm, and dogs on-leash are welcome. There’s a ton of open space for running, stout trees for climbing, and the defunct cemetery beneath the park makes for an interesting (albeit slightly creepy) history lesson.

1521 Washington Pl
San Diego, Ca 92101

Mission Bay Park

Mission Bay Park
Beach meets the grass in this idyllic shoreside spot. Perfect for wee ones wanting to get used to gentle water or run free on supple ground, Mission Bay features barbecue pits for open air parties and tons of walking and biking trails. This is our go-to spot for teaching the kids to rollerblade or just kicking back with an ocean breeze.

2688 E Mission Bay Drive
San Diego, Ca 92109
Online: sandiego.gov

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores
Grab a seaside swing or throw up a pup tent for the little ones on this playground by the beach. This is a perfect spot for birthday parties, with lots of nearby eateries to pick up some food for the kids before letting them loose on the sand. Parking can be tricky in the summer and if you do go for a dip, keep an eye out for sting rays.

Don’t miss: Fire pits where you can get your s’more on!

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8200 Camino del Oro
San Diego, Ca 92037
Online: sandiego.gov

What are your favorite playgrounds with natural features? Leave suggestions in the comments!

— Chelsea Day

Photo credit: Ant C, Rebecca L, Mace K, Gary J, Ilene M on Yelp