If you’ve got a toddler, the big kid playground isn’t always the safest place for him to practice his latest tricks, especially during after-school hours when the older crowd comes pouring in. Luckily, there are pint-sized playgrounds designed specially for the younger set. Read on to discover Red Tricycle’s favorite spots where your tots can crawl, scoot and scamper around worry free – top playgrounds for toddlers.
1. Tot Lots on the Upper West Side
The slides at the tot lots on the Upper West Side of Manhattan might seem a little old fashioned compared to the bright colors and toddler rock climbing walls that you find in the newer playgrounds in Battery Park City and Brooklyn Bridge Park. But, trust us, your toddlers will not notice.
Why it’s Tops for Tots: These little playgrounds can be the perfect place to spend a weekend morning. They never get crowded, the local crowd is friendly and chalk gets handed freely from sweaty toddler palm to sweaty toddler palm. You’ll find small structures, sand boxes, slides and more – all perfectly sized for cruisers, crawlers and new walkers. The location looking into Riverside Park is peaceful and stunningly beautiful. If your little one gets bored, you can stroll along Riverside Drive and stop into the other tot lots as you go.
Go: Take the 1 train uptown to 110th Street. Hungry? Stop into Absolute Bagels (2788 Broadway) for a tea and a bagel before heading west to the Tot Lots. You’ll find several little playgrounds along Riverside Drive at 105th to 106th Streets; 110th to 111th Streets; 112th to 113th Streets; and 116th to 117th Streets.
2. Nelson A Rockefeller Playground in Battery Park City
Why it’s Tops for Tots: Your little one can dig in the sand while you check out the view of the Hudson River from the comfort of the shaded gazebo. There are two sand pits, baby monkey bars and bars for cruising babies to grasp. Once your toddler has grown tired of the play area, walk a few steps outside and you’ll find a small koi pond where if you’re lucky you’ll spot ducks and turtles swimming too.
Go: It’s accessible off the 2/3 on Chambers Street. Just walk a few blocks west to River Terrace in Battery Park City. Need fuel? Stop at Le Pain Quotidien (2 River Terrace) for iced coffee on the walk over.
3. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5 in Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Bridge Park has been growing year after year and Pier 5 is the place to be for little kids. The playground was designed by child development professionals intended to promote skill building in young kids.
Why it’s Tops for Tots: This playground is perfect for a play date. The space is small enough for you to talk with other parents, keep an eye on your little ones and an eye on your stroller while they toddle around the playground. There’s shade, plenty of benches to sit on and lots of climbing equipment sized perfectly for toddlers.
Go: Take the R to Court Street or the 4, 5, 2 or 3 to Borough Hall and walk south along Joralemon Street to Pier 5. If you work up an appetite playing have a sweet treat at Ample Hills Creamery‘s outpost at Pier 5 or pizza at Fornino on Pier 6.
4. Minetta Playground in the West Village
Though it may be hard to believe now, long ago in the 1600s lower Manhattan was the site of a brook full of trout. The Dutch called the water, ‘Mintje Kill’ meaning small stream — over the years the name slowly morphed into “Minetta.” The water has long since been covered over. The small section on 3rd Street and 6th Avenue is now Minetta Playground.
Why it’s Tops for Tots: This cool playground has bright blue and green pogo stick structures that kids seem to gravitate towards, a water fountain and baby swings. The ground is covered in a soft, spongy surface that makes the playground perfect for toddlers to practice walking. While the park doesn’t get too overcrowded, the streets outside make for great people watching in the afternoon. You may even spot a celebrity running into the subway or walking down 6th Avenue.
Go: Take the A, B, C, D, E, F or M to West 4th Street and walk south on 6th Avenue to West 3rd Street and Minetta Lane.
5. Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City
Queens is home to lots of playgrounds, but our number one favorite is the Gantry Plaza State Park. We promise it’s worth the trip even if you don’t live in Queens. Once you arrive, you’ll wish you were a kid again.
Why it’s Tops for Tots: The park is really colorful with inventive play structures practically inviting you, err, we mean your kids, to run around them. The ground is super soft and pliable, perfect for babes. The playground is right on the East river and from the benches you get a spectacular view of the city.
Go: Take the 7 to Vernon/Jackson and walk 10 minutes west to reach 4-09 47th Road. If you’ve got time (and any energy left) check out our guide to 8 spots in Long Island City your kids will love.
Smart Tip: Check out Park Grades online to search playgrounds all over the country for specific amenities (baby swings, rubber surfaces, etc.). Remember: children under 2 should never climb playground equipment that is more than 3 feet tall and you should always supervise your child.
— Molly Rosen
Images courtesy of Molly Rosen and Alice Perry