Many families have love/hate relationships with playgrounds. Everybody likes to get their kids outside to get the wiggles out. However, the adults can get bored going to the same old play place while even the kids crave equipment that challenges them. A plain tunnel slide and a few swings just don’t cut it after a while.
We have year-round playground weather in Southern California. We are SO lucky! The playgrounds I picked for my Orange County Destination Playground list range from funky to futuristic and from beachfront to rocky. These are playgrounds worth a drive. They offer unusual equipment or excellent scenery. Here is a sample of some of the parks that I think families will love, whether they are tourists or locals:
Atlantis Play Center seems to be the “most remembered” park from those who grew up in Orange County. Artist, Benjamin Dominguez, created whimsical slides and under-the-sea picnic areas in Garden Grove. There is a sister park in San Gabriel called Vincent Lugo Park. The sea monster slide (or some call it a Green Dragon) is very popular. I particularly liked the Giant Pink Whale slide. The entire playground is fenced and $1 admission is charged. It’s closed on Monday and has limited hours of operation, so make sure you call ahead.
A cinderblock castle is the life-size centerpiece of Northwood Community Park in Irvine. You can’t miss it as you drive by to park in the dedicated parking lot. There is only one entrance to the castle and the kids run along the top until they dead-end into a fire pole. The opening is a bit precarious for little ones, but the big kids sure love it. Even if you don’t want to play in the castle, there’s a huge variety of other equipment for all ages. There’s also a soccer field for running and covered picnic tables for lunch.
Future farmers will love Red Barn Park (Tierra Grande Park) in San Clemente. Bring fruits and veggies from your local Farmer’s Market to stick with the theme. It’s truly a unique playground on a mostly recycled rubber surface. Interpretive play panels are everywhere, much to the delight of the children playing. There’s a nice, gentle slope for rolling in the grass and watching the clouds go by.
Box Canyon Park in Yorba Linda is the most accessible park I’ve visited in Orange County. It was thoughtfully rebuilt after wildfire destroyed it. Small wheelchairs will fit on the pirate ship and expansive castle walkways. Parents can easily accompany all their kids up on the equipment without having to squeeze into tight places. It’s even nice for a stroll or some basketball play. Shane’s Inspiration is a well-known accessible playground in LA and their website even has a list of other accessible playgrounds in the LA area.
Any playground is worth a visit if it gets you and your family out to enjoy some active fun together. Read about all the parks that made the Orange County Destination Playground list here.
Michele Whiteaker’s FunOrangeCountyParks.com blog serves as the unofficial authority on play in Orange County with over 160 playgrounds logged. The national non-profit, KaBOOM, named Michele “Playmaker of the Month” in December 2008. She acts as a volunteer Ambassador for Nature Rocks and runs a family Nature Play Club because she’s enthusiastic about bridging families from playgrounds to nature play. Michele’s published a binder full of parenting articles for local magazines. She’s married to the best guy in the whole world and lives for all the fun time she gets to spend playing with her son (8) and daughter (5).