As we learn more about how kids develop and play, it has become evident that one-size-fits-all does not work for kids. We’ve gathered up this list of special playgrounds where you can know that children on the autism spectrum as well as those with other sensory needs and physical challenges can play along with their peers. These special playgrounds are definitely worth the drive, no matter where you live in the Bay Area!
Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds
Head to the Civic Center for a two-for-one playground combo that opened in early 2018. These two massive climbing structures boast innovative design and cushioned artificial turf for children to play. Multi-sensory areas and traditional swings provide kids with different ways to move their bodies. The park even has elements that allow children in wheelchairs to swing and play. Read all about them here. Bonus: Bi-rite set up shop in the plaza so you can get your pre-playground coffee fix!
Civic Center Plaza
San Francisco, CA
Mountain Lake Park
This recently-renovated city park sits just south of the Presidio. The under three set can play in their own self-contained toddler area that only has one gate to enter and exit (essential for toddler containment). Big kids will enjoy using the stairs or the climbing wall to reach the top of the cement slide and then grabbing a buddy to slide down together. There's also a great rope climbing area with gorgeous views of nearby Mountain Lake. The cushy ground and ramps make it accessible for all.
One 11th Ave.
San Francisco, CA
Matteo's Dream Playground | Concord
This wonderful playground in Concord was spearheaded by mom Liz Lamach for her son Matteo who used a wheelchair due to a number of disabilities. Matteo's Dream has wide ramps to provide access to people in wheelchairs, along with many other features like a sensory garden, high-back swings and areas for spinning.
2050 Olivera Rd.
Heather Farm Park Playground | Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek’s All Abilities Playground is 30,000 square feet in size and was designed to fully address the needs of the whole child by intentionally addressing the physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory needs of all children. The playground has the following features: shock-absorbent, resilient-surface pathways and flooring beneath all play equipment, structures and equipment with wider ramps, ground-level play opportunities, swing set zone with tot swings and high-back special-needs swings, sound and sensory equipment throughout, shaded play structures, providing more protection from heat and sun, and benches within the play zones, so parents can sit close to where children play
301 N San Carlos Dr.
Walnut Creek, CA
Athan Downs Park | San Ramon
Opened in 2013, Athan Downs was designed to bring kids of all abilities together to play and create memories and friendships. The playground includes many accessible and sensory-rich activities. Plus, with the extensive ramping system, kids using mobility devices will be able to get to the center of the playground action.
2975 Montevideo Drive
San Ramon, CA
Roberts Regional Recreation Area | Oakland
This East Bay gem near the Chabot Space & Science Center has an extra-large playground that all kids can enjoy. Fully wheelchair accessible, the structure has lots of educational stations: a map of the United States, tracing games and name that vegetable—all really great opportunities to engage with your child through play.
10570 Skyline Blvd.
JUST OPENED: Imagine Playground | Dublin
The City of Dublin has opened its new all-abilities playground, Imagine Playground at Dublin Sports Grounds. The playground was designed with the intent to provide a play structure and facilities that can be enjoyed by people with all kinds of special needs. Kids will love the music-making opportunities, swings, slides, and more.
6700 Dublin Blvd.
JUST OPENED: Magical Bridge Playground | Redwood City
Parents were thrilled when this all-abilities Magical Bridge Playground opened in Red Morton Park at the end of 2020. You'll find all the elements of the Palo Alto playground that you love, plus more. Kids can head to the Innovation Zone to play the magical musical harp, and then head over to the tot zone area for some water play. Climb up the King Kong climbing ropes and slide down one of the various slides. Accessible swings, spinners for kids in wheelchairs and tons of other thoughtful features make this a great playground for all kids.
Magical Bridge at Red Morton Community Park
1120 Roosevelt Ave.
Redwood City, CA
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: New Magical Bridge playgrounds are in the works for Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill and Mountain View!
600 East Meadow Road
Palo Alto, CA
Rotary PlayGarden | San Jose
Donated by the Rotary of San Jose in 2015, this park aims to enable children with special needs to play alongside their siblings and friends. Right near the airport (with loads of planes flying overhead!), 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
LEO's Haven | Santa Cruz
LEO’s Haven in Santa Cruz is an inclusive playground for children of all abilities. You'll love the swings, spinners and tractor slide—all with a farm theme. From its rubberized surfacing, adapted swings, and tactile features to its wheelchair accessible play structure and quiet entryways for those with sensory difficulties, LEO’s Haven was designed to be accessible and enjoyable for children of all abilities.
1975 Chanticleer Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA