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  When my children were little, I used to hunt all over our area for playgrounds to take them to. Here are some favorites, plus a few new ones I've discovered since then. Since my kids are in college now, some of these pictures are really from my back, back pages, and my playground-hunting days are over. Playground equipment has a tendency to get worn out and replaced, and new safety standards have dictated replacing old equipment, so some of these may be different now, but the playgrounds should still be good. Since I'm from San Jose, most of my experience is with parks in the Silicon Valley, though I've discovered a few in other areas. Write me if you have a favorite park in your neighborhood that you'd like me to mention.

My Favorites

  • Dennis the Menace Playground, Monterey: This is a huge, complex playground, the best playground I've ever seen. It's on the shores of El Estero Lake near Fisherman's Wharf. There's an incredible array of playground equipment here, many of which are unique. There's a steam locomotive for climbing on, tunnels, caves, cable bridges, hills with slides, a topiary maze, and play boats. The lake has paddle boats and kayaks. (2001 update note: the merry-go-round structure has been removed. The old wooden boat has been replaced by a new boat play structure. Feeding ducks is not allowed at El Estero Lake.)
  • Dennis the Menace Park playground
  • Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: This has changed over the years, but it's a large playground with a large array of play equipment, including hillside slides. The nearby 1912 Herschel Spillman Carousel has carved animals that are works of art. The main playground is shown below, but there are smaller playgrounds in other parts of the park.
  • Slides at Golden Gate Park playground
  • The Los Gatos Creek Trail runs along Los Gatos Creek from Los Gatos through Campbell and stops in San Jose's Willow Glen. Along the way, it runs through several parks, including Vasona Lake County Park and Oak Meadow Park: These are great parks in Los Gatos. You can read a lot more about them in my biking page.  The trail connects to a number of smaller parks, including Campbell Park, which has a play area with a water spray. Los Gatos Creek runs through Willow Glen and joins up with the Guadalupe River at Confluence Point in Arena Green park (see below).
  • Playground at Vasona Lake County Park
    Playground at Vasona Lake County Park

    Oak Meadow Park playground
    Playground at Oak Meadow Park

    Campbell Park Playground

  • Alameda Park, Santa Barbara: OK, so this isn't in the Bay Area, but I used to live in Santa Barbara and visit it often (see my Santa Barbara page.) Alameda Park has one of the most amazing play areas I've ever seen. It includes a huge castle-like structure that was built by volunteers. Across the street is Alice Keck Gardens, which has one of the most beautiful gardens I've even seen.

Silicon Valley Parks

  • La Colina Park, San Jose: This is a 25-acre park in my neck of the woods, so my kids came here often. It has large playing fields for recreational sports. It has a nice new playground at the base of a hill. The hilltop provides great views of the neighborhood and the Santa Teresa Hills.
  • Houge Park, San Jose: This neighborhood playground is north of Good Samaritan Hospital, near Los Gatos. Nothing fancy, but it's a big playground with lots of play equipment for children of all ages, including a par course for adults. A few blocks away is the Mozart Avenue over-crossing of Hwy 17 that leads to the Los Gatos Creek Trail.
  • Brigadoon Park, San Jose: This park is in East San Jose near Silver Creek High School. Its landscaping simulates lakes and islands. The long concrete slides shown below are thrilling rides.
  • Coyote Creek Trail Parks: The Coyote Creek Trail runs from San Jose to Morgan Hill, one of the longest trails in the Bay Area. There are numerous parks all along it. Even after the trail ends, there are still many parks along the banks of the creek, which flows into the Bay near Fremont. Parks along the trail include Metcalf ParkShady Oaks Park, Hellyer County Park, and Stonegate Park, After the trail ends, there's the Coyote Creek Park Chain, Kelley Park, William Street Park, Roosevelt Park, Watson Park, and North Coyote Creek Park. Just before it enters the Bay, the creek runs through the Coyote Creek Lagoon, and past the Alviso salt ponds, which are bordered by the Bay Trail.
  • Graystone Park, San Jose: This is a pleasant, redwood tree-shaded park in the Almaden Valley near Los Alamitos Creek. It has 2 playgrounds and lots of picnic tables. The Alamitos Creek Trail is across the street.
  • Almaden Lake Park: The main attraction of this regional park is its lake, which has swimming, fishing, and boating. However, there is a large playground here near the lake. Nearby is a snack bar and picnic areas. The Alamitos Creek Trail runs through the park. The runs by several other neighborhood parks in the Almaden Valley, including Pfeiffer Park, which has a new playground.
  • Almaden Meadows Park, San Jose: this small park in the Almaden Valley is very close to Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Part of the park is developed, with picnic tables, lawns, and a playground. Part of it is a rugged, undeveloped hill, cut by a small steep ravine. The hill becomes covered with grass and wildflowers in the spring.
  • Almaden Meadows Park
  • Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, San Jose: This is a large (62.7 acres) park in the Almaden Valley. Part of the park is flat, with lawns, sidewalks, parcourses, picnic areas, and playgrounds. This part is long and narrow and runs under huge powerline towers. Another part is undeveloped and includes oak groves and rocky hills. Trails lead through the groves and up over the hills and provide fine views of the Almaden Valley and the South Bay.
  • Alum Rock Park, San Jose: This is a big (700 acres) park in the East Foothills of San Jose. It is primarily known for its hot mineral springs and hiking trails, but it also has picnic and play areas. The Youth Science Institute there teaches kids about nature. Penitencia Creek runs through the park. Outside the park, the creek flows through Penitencia Creek County Park. The park has playing fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, and ponds. A short distance away is the beautifully-landscaped, Chinese-themed Overfelt Gardens.
  • Lake Cunningham Park, San Jose: This regional park is located on the east side of San Jose, near Eastridge Mall. Its central feature is Lake Cunningham, a 50-acre lake stocked with trout and catfish. Boats are available for rent. There are picnics and playgrounds around the lake. The Raging Waters water park is along the west shore. 
  • Guadalupe River Park: One of the largest and most ambitious park plans in the Bay Area is the 3-mile Guadalupe River Park in downtown San Jose. The park is currently under construction, but many parts are complete. Parks with playgrounds include McEnery Park and the Arena Green. The latter also has a carousel and visitor center across the street from the huge San Jose Arena (AKA the HP Pavilion). In Discovery Meadow is the Children's Discovery Museum and a giant Monopoly game.

  • Arena Green Carousel and Playground
  • Belgatos Park, Los Gatos: This is a beautiful park in the foothills of Los Gatos. There is a large grassy field with a shady playground near the entrance. Trails lead along a shady creek and up into the hills, with spectacular views along the way. Hillside trails connect with the larger undeveloped Heintz and Santa Rosa Open Space Preserves. 
  • Santa Clara Central Park: Santa Clara is in the heart of the Silicon Valley. It doesn't have hillside open spaces or Bayshore like many of its neighbors, but its Central Park is an oasis of green in the highly urbanized city. The park is divided by a deep creekbed, with bridges joining the halves of the park. There are artificial lakes here and several playgrounds. On one side of the creek is a tot lot. Nearby is a large group picnic area covered by a huge tent-like chain structure. Across the creek is a unique playground for older kids made up of huge concrete pipes and logs. This park is also next to the Olympic-class Santa Clara international swim center.
  • Serra Park, Sunnyvale: This Sunnyvale park has an amazing array of play equipment and landscaping. One of its features is the riverboat shown below. Next to is are walls that look like a western town. There is also a forest of poles that sprays water in all directions. There is a natural-looking artificial rocky creekbed that runs by the redwood-shaded picnic areas. This flows into ponds and fountains that kids can splash around in. (The creek and ponds were dry when I revisited the park in 2003.)
  • Riverboat play structure at Serra Park
  •  Las Palmas Park, Sunnyvale: This beautiful park won awards for its design. It has large reflecting ponds and hilly climbing structures with water sprays. (The ponds were dry when I revisited the park in 2003.) One of the playground sections is on an palm-covered island reachable by a causeway across the pond. On it, the playground equipment is designed around a pirate ship made up of logs. Across the pond is a long sinuous concrete structure with spray towers.
  • Baylands Park, Sunnyvale: This artistically-designed park is on grassy open fields near the bay. The bay breezes make this a great place for kite-flying. There are picnic areas and unique playground equipment. The park is connected to the Bay Trail, which runs around creeks, sloughs, salt ponds, and water treatment ponds. The trail can be take to Alviso and will someday connect to Mountain View's Shoreline Park.
  • Shoreline Park, Mountain View: Shoreline at Mountain View is a huge 660-acre park complex located near the Bay west of Stevens Creek. The park was built on a retired landfill. It is adjacent to salt ponds and sloughs, fed by waters from nearby San Francisco Bay. This is a prime wildlife viewing area. For young children, there is a 50-acre lake with boat rentals (kids love the paddleboats) and a playground on the lake shore. They can fly kites here and ride bikes on the paved trails. The Bay Trail runs through this park and connects to the Palo Alto Baylands. The Stevens Creek Trail is a beautifully-developed recreational trail that runs inland from Shoreline Park and connects to several parks, including Landels Park, Creekside Park, and Whisman Park, which all have playgrounds.
  • Cuesta Park, Mountain View: This venerable park, the second largest park in Mountain View after Shoreline, was built in the 1960's on a former orchard. It is a beautifully-designed and landscaped park, with small rolling hills and valleys and tall mature trees for shade. It has playgrounds, picnic grounds, and numerous sports facilities. Its large playground area, with a wide variety of new equipment, was voted the Best Playground in Silicon Valley in a 2002 Mercury News poll. It was awarded Best Park/Picnic Area in 2003 by the Mountain View Voice. Next to the park is the Cuesta Park Annex, a former orchard, now used as an open space park.
  • Memorial Park, Cupertino: This beautifully-landscaped 28-acre park is across the street from DeAnza College. It's built around a complex of lakes, fountains and artificial creeks. It has picnic areas, an Alpine-style gazebo, and an outdoor amphitheater. There are several play areas here. One of these used to be a simulated western town with a huge cave-like structure made of logs. This has since been replaced by large pre-fab playground equipment, but the kids still have a lot of fun, with less splinters.
  • Shoup Park, Los Altos: This is a small, lovely community park in the very upscale neighborhood of Los Altos. It's along Adobe Creek, with picnic areas shaded by large redwood trees. There are separate play areas for small children and older children. A short distance away, along the creek, is a nature preserve, with boardwalk trails through a shady redwood grove and hillside trails.
  • Rinconada Park, Palo Alto: This 19-acre park has several facilities. It has playgrounds, picnic areas, the Palo Alto Junior Museum, the Community Theater/Children's Theater, the Lucie Stern Community Center, the Children's Library, and a swimming pool complex.
  • Mitchell Park, Palo Alto: This 21-acre park has toddler playgrounds, a children's wading pool, picnic areas, and playing areas for a variety of sports.
  • Bol Park, Palo Alto: This is a 13.8-acre park with large lawns, playground areas with climbing structures, and a bicycle path that runs from Gunn High to Arastradero Road. Matadero Creek runs alongside the park and is shaded by large trees.
  • Ed Levin County Park, Milpitas: Santa Clara County Parks tend be either medium-size urban parks or huge wildland parks. Ed Levin is a combination of both. It covers 1544 acres, much of which is undeveloped open space. It includes rugged trails in the hills, up to 2594-foot Monument peak. Hang gliders can be seen launching from the hills. The park also includes Sandy Wool Lake, which is stocked with trout. It is surrounded by lawns and picnic areas. Below the lake is a playground. 

Peninsula Parks

  • Redwood Shores Bay Trail: Redwood Shores occupies a manmade peninsula along the shores of San Francisco Bay south of Foster City. It is actually a part of Redwood City. Along the edge of the peninsula runs the San Francisco Bay Trail. As it runs next to sloughs and artificial lagoons, the trail runs next to several public and private parks, some with playgrounds. These parks provide views of wetlands and waterfowl. 
  • Foster City Parks: Like its newer neighbor to the south, Foster City occupies an artificial peninsula on San Francisco Bay. Homes, parks, businesses, and manmade lagoons cover the land. Trails run throughout the area, including the San Francisco Bay Trail, which runs along the perimeter of the peninsula. A number of parks are along the Bay Trail or the internal lagoons. The largest park is 20-acre Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park, along the largest part of the lagoon system. It has lawns, an amphitheater, a recreation center, boating, and a gazebo on the lake. Along the western edge of Foster City is Marina Lagoon. The west side of the lagoon is in the city of San Mateo. There are several parks along the here, including Bayside/Joinville, Tidelands, Mariners Island, Lakeshore, and Parkside Aquatic Parks. The latter have sandy swimming beaches with playgrounds. Joinville has a swimming pool.
  • Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Mateo: This is a huge and very popular recreation area near the San Francisco International Airport, on a dramatic rocky promontory that juts out into the Bay. There are picnic areas in eucalyptus groves and near the Bay, the Coyote Point Environmental Museum, a marina, a golf course, a swimming beach, wide open grassy fields, and several playgrounds. Some playgrounds are in the eucalyptus groves. Others are near the beaches. The San Francisco Bay Trail also runs through Coyote Point, running nearly uninterrupted to the edge of San Francisco Airport in Millbrae to the north and south to Redwood Shores, connecting to many parks along the way. 
  • Central Park, San Mateo: This shady park is located in the heart of San Mateo on El Camino Real. It has playgrounds, a Japanese garden, and a miniature train ride.
  • Junipero Serra Park, San Bruno: This hilltop park overlooks SFO and the Bay, with fantastic views. Trails lead through eucalyptus groves.
  • Mountain Lake Park, San Francisco: This beautiful park at the edge of the Presidio has a playground, duckpond, picnic areas, and jogging trails.

East Bay Parks

  • Central Park, Fremont: This is a huge 450-acre park near the Fremont Civic Center, along the shores of Lake Elizabeth. A rocky creek flows into the lake. It has 4 playground areas. The lake has paddleboats for rent. There's a large swim lagoon next to the lake.
  • Alameda Creek Trail Parks: Alameda Creek is the longest creek in the East Bay. The Alameda Creek Trail runs along the creek from the narrow Niles Canyon to the wide open salt pond flats along San Francisco Bay. The trail runs on both sides of the creek through Fremont and Union City for about 12 miles. The south side is paved. The north side is mostly unpaved and can be used by equestrians. Along the way or nearby are a number of parks, many of which have playgrounds. These include David Jones Park, William Cann Park, Northgate Park, Quarry Lakes Park, Niles Community Park, Arroyo Park, the Shinn Ponds, and the Niles Staging Area. (See here for information on Fremont Parks and Union City Parks.) Quarry Lakes has fishing lakes and a swimming beach. The Union City trail system intersects the Alameda Creek Trail and leads to a number of parks, including the beautiful Union City Civic Center Park. Near the Bay, the trail runs by Coyote Hills Regional Park, which has miles of trails through marshlands, by a restored Indian village, over high rocky hills, and along salt ponds. The park has an interpretive center and several picnic grounds. A short distance from the trail is Ardenwood Historic Farm, a restored farm which has programs to show visitors what life was like in a turn-of-the century farm.
  • San Leandro Marina Park: Marina Park sits along the San Leandro Shoreline on San Francisco Bay. It forms a U-shape around Laguna Del Sol. The San Leandro Marina, with its fishing piers, picnic areas, and restaurants, is across a channel to the north. Planes can be seen flying low over the water as they approach Oakland International Airport. The park has 2 large playgrounds with water features. There are big lawns and many picnic areas. Trails lead through the park. The Bay Trail runs from here south to Hayward Regional Shoreline. Along the way are several sandy pocket beaches on the Bay. A short distance to the north is Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline.

Marina Park Playground, San Leandro
  • Codornices Park, Berkeley: This tree-shaded park is in a scenic location in the Berkeley hills, near the Municipal Rose Garden.
  • Emerald Glen Park, Dublin: This is a new park in an area that is experiencing rapid growth and development. The park is currently 26 acres, but will eventually be over 48 acres in size. It has large playing fields, tennis courts, skateboard park, picnic areas and a playground with water play features.
  • San Ramon Central Park: This large community park complex is known as a prime spot for picnicking and sports. It has a skateboard park and community center. For small children, it has a playground with a waterfall tower and a wading creek that flows into a duck pond. The park is adjacent to the Iron Horse Regional Trail, one of the longest recreational trails in the Bay Area, which runs from Dublin to Concord, with many parks and playgrounds along the way.

Created by Ronald Horii 10/97
Updated 7/6/06

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