Ample Hills & More: Brooklyn’s Best Playgrounds

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Yeah, Brooklyn has more space, good restaurants and a certain coolio quotient, but as far as we’re concerned, Brooklyn is primo playground territory. From playground complexes in world-class parks and ship-shaped climbing structures, to newly-renovated spots and playspaces with something for everyone, the county of Kings offers some royally good times. Read on for our picks of the best playgrounds in Brooklyn!

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For a Play Sugar Factory with Amazing Views (and Tacos): Domino Park

Brooklyn Hood: North Williamsburg

Where: 15 River St. Entrances along Kent Ave. at South 5th, South 3rd, and Grand Streets

Why it's So Cool: This one is at the very least, the buzz of Brooklyn families, as it’s part of of the recently-opened Domino Park, a five-acre park built on the former site of the Domino Sugar Factory in North Williamsburg. Providing gorgeous views of the East River, Domino Park is home to a one-of-a-kind playground designed by Mark Reigelman that's inspired by the sugar refining process. It’s as fun to play in as it is to look at, with slides short and steep, ladders to scale, web tunnels to traverse, pulleys, platforms and stairs. There’s seating nearby for grownups, and faux turf for relaxing on. Tacos from the park’s food vendor Tacocina are nearby, but expect a line. Take note that wildly-popular pizza place Roberta's just opened a location nearby at 6 Grand Street. 

Restrooms: In the park, a short stroll away (very nice trailers when we visited).

Online: dominopark.com

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For a Natural Labyrinth and Sound Play: Pier 3, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Hood: DUMBO

Where: Pier 3, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Why it's So Cool: While not exactly a playground, Pier 3 is worth checking out with the kids for at least a couple of reasons. First, it's the final pier to be converted to park space in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Second, it's home to numerous interactive pieces, many of which happen to demonstrate scientific principals of sound and light. On one part of the pier, hedges of various shapes and sizes create a natural labyrinth—which will be even more impressive when it fills in a bit more—with surprises around every turn: a walk-in kaleidoscope (extra large mirrored panels) parabolic reflectors, sound tubes, dance chimes, and stone seating from Gunther Beltzig. When you're done, head to to massive open lawn to run around or lounge. 

Restrooms: Not here; the closest one is one pier over on Pier 2. 

Online: brooklynbridgepark.org

For Musically-inspired Play: Harmony Playground

Brooklyn Hood: Park Slope

Where: Prospect Park West between 9th and 11th Streets

Why It’s So Cool: Located next to the Prospect Park bandshell, this enormous playground was designed with music in mind. Little ones will find the harp and trumpet-shaped sprinklers totally refreshing in warmer weather. When they're done, they can clang out a tune on the larger-than-life xylophones. Jungle gym equipment areas featuring slides, ramps and ladders are available for both toddlers and big kids.

Restrooms: Restrooms are available.

Online: prospectpark.org

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For Almost Endless Options: Pier 6 Playgrounds, Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Hood: Brooklyn Heights

Where: Atlantic Avenue at Joralemon

Why It’s So Cool: With apologies to Manhattan's playground titans, this is the play spot to beat in NYC. It is, quite-frankly, absurd in its offerings. A giant wooden teepee with slide exit, large spherical climbing structures and more slides built into the landscape are just a few of the highlights. On warm days, the Water Lab is packed with kids of all ages splashing around in the sprinklers and wading pool area. If they prefer to stay dry, your tots can put their building skills to the test in one of the city’s largest sandboxes. Looking for high-flying fun? Check out Swing Valley's ten swing sets and Tarzan rope. Not for nothing: the landscaping, nearby waterside, and yummy food vendors at the park don't hurt either.

Restrooms: Restrooms are available (at the Fornino Pizza building near the Water Lab)

Online: brooklynbridgepark.org

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For a Respite and to Pay Respect: Adam Yauch Park Playground

Brooklyn Hood: Brooklyn Heights

Where: Atlantic Avenue, Columbia Place, State St.

Why It's So Cool: Ok, the actual playground itself is nothing extraordinary, but the namesake of the park, is.  (Still, any kid would be happy to rock out here for a while.) Named for native Brooklynite and Beastie Boy/filmmaker/activist Adam Yauch, AKA M.C.A., this slice of park hugging the BQE was renamed in his honor in 2013, one year after his death. That's cool, but what's even cooler is that this is the park where Yauch himself played as a child, even, apparently, learning to ride a bike here. It's down the street from Megapark Brooklyn Bridge Park, and its old school but ample offerings — basketball courts, climbing structures, a sprinkler — are a nice and calm alternative to the flurry of activity by the water. The park is also home to an impressive variety of tree species such as silver linden, London planes, pin oaks and Norway maples, some charming bear sculptures, a tiny dog run and community garden.

Restrooms: None on site.

Online: nycgovparks.org

photo: Julienne Schaer

To Play Like a Pirate: Main Street Playground, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 1

Brooklyn Hood: DUMBO

Where: Plymouth & Main Street

Why It’s So Cool: Your little pirates will love this nautical-themed playground located in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. Climb aboard the ship-shaped playground equipment and peep through portholes, race across bridges, or whiz down the twisty slide. A boat-shaped sandbox provides yet another spot for sunny day diversions.

Restrooms: Restrooms are available nearby at Pier 1.

Online: brooklynbridgepark.org

photo: NYC Parks

For a Brand New Play Complex: Betsy Head Park

After a multi-year, $30 million overhaul, this Brownsville park has everything you could want. Additions include a skate park, a parkour course, an inclusionary basketball course for self-competition, handball and basketball courts, an event space, running track, athletic field, traverse wall and new play structures. Plus new plantings, game tables and renovated bathrooms. The park is also home to the city's second Imagination Playground—a collection of large blue foam building blocks that encourage creativity and collaboration. (The first one, located in Manhattan's Seaport District, is one of our favorites in the city.) 

Brooklyn Hood: Brownsville

Where: Dumont Ave. & Thomas S. Boyland St. 

Why it's So Cool: We're not sure there is any another park with a skate park, parkour course, Imagination Playground, inclusive basketball court, traverse wall, etc. etc. etc. in the city. Plus: there's a huge pool in the summer. 

Restrooms: Yes. 

Online: nycgovparks.org

 

 

For All Kids Big and Small: Vanderbilt St. Playground, Prospect Park

Brooklyn Hood: Windsor Terrace

Where: Prospect Park Southwest and Vanderbilt Street

Why It’s So Cool: Parents of toddlers will love the gated area designed for their little ones, complete with a small slide, steering wheels and noise-making equipment. Older kids can tackle the large spherical rope climbing structure, or test their balance on the dizzying spinning plates. And after an afternoon of climbing, spinning and jumping, you can cool off with a cone at Uncle Louis G’s across the street.

Restrooms: There are no restrooms.

Online: prospectpark.org

photo: Julie Seguss

For Little Naturalists: Donald and Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area 

Brooklyn hood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens 

Where: Northeast section of of Prospect Park

Why It's So Cool: When life throws an unexpected hurricane at you, you make the best of it. And that's exactly what Prospect Park did with the Zucker Natural Exploration Area, which uses natural materials like trees that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The result is a very natural and unstructured playground for kids of all ages, allowing children to closely interact with nature.

Restrooms: None on site

Online: prospectpark.org

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For a Shady Spot for Tots in BBP: Pier 1 Playground

Brooklyn Hood: DUMBO

Where: Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, near ferry and water taxi docks.

Why It’s So Cool: Yet another playground in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Pier 1 play space is notable for a couple of reasons. While we love the playgrounds at BBP, shade can be sparse in the relatively new park, where the vegetation is still growing in. This playground, however, is an exception, and is mercifully surrounded by greenery. (It's sort of tucked away and feels like a hidden sanctuary.) The playground is also a fantastic space for the beginner (at life) set; babies and toddlers can explore low-lying turtles, a colorful mini house and climbing structure, and enjoy some swing time.

Restrooms: None on site, although nearby

Online: brooklynbridgepark.org

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For An Escape Under a Train Line: St. Mary's Playground

Brooklyn Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens/Gowanus

Where: 422 Smith Street between Nelson and Huntington

Why it's so Cool: It sounds counter-intuitive, but this playground, located beneath the F/G train overpass, is a pleasant place to spend some time. It's brand new (it opened in the spring of 2018 after an investment of $1.35 million) and features ADA accessible playground equipment for kids of all ages, lots of room to roam, a safety surface underfoot, and gentle spray showers that are activated at the touch of a button. Plus, seating and shade. 

Restrooms: none on site; head to Court Street, or further down Smith for options at restaurants and cafes

Online: nycgovparks.org

photo: Jim Henderson 

To Discover New Territory: North Side Playground, Ft. Greene Park

Brooklyn Hood: Fort Greene

Where: Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Place

Why It’s So Cool: Also affectionately known as New Fort Greene Park, this playground can be a nice alternative to the often-crowded play area on the other side of the park. The main attraction is a huge, fort-shaped structure, complete with slides, ramps, monkey bars and a couple of treehouse-like hangouts. A separate toddler area is available for the smaller set, complete with baby swings and pint-sized climbing equipment. Take a break from playing to check out the pillars surrounding the playground to learn the official state animal of each of the thirteen original colonies. (Spoiler alert: New York's is not a pigeon, it’s a beaver.)

Restrooms: Restrooms are available

Online: nycgovparks.org/parks/fort-greene-park

Less is More: Imagination Playground, Prospect Park

Brooklyn Hood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens

Where: Ocean Avenue and Parkside Avenue

Why It’s So Cool: This playground has minimal equipment, but that’s exactly what makes it so cool. As the name implies, the playground is designed to encourage kids to use their imaginations from the moment they are greeted by the giant, bronze dragon-shaped sprinkler. Peek inside one of the animal-shaped cutouts, or use the circular stage to put on a show. If all of that imagining leaves them tuckered out,  the “Peter and Willie” sculpture, which was inspired by characters in Ezra Jack Keats’ beloved children’s books, is a great place to relax.

Restrooms: No restrooms in this playground, but you can find them nearby at LeFrak Center or Lincoln Road Playground.

Online: prospectpark.org

photo: Mimi O'Connor

For a Massive Playscape on Historic Grounds: J.J. Byrne Playground

Brooklyn Hood: Park Slope

Where: 5th Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets

Why It’s So Cool: After a major makeover in 2012, this Park Slope gem is now loaded with activities for kids of all ages and tons of room to roam. (It's the site of the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776, under the leadership of General Washington.) The littlest kiddos will love the colorful farm animal cutouts, interactive panels and scaled-down slides. Older kids can test their balance and climbing skills on a giant, caterpillar-shaped structure. On warm days, kids flock to the sprinkler area, which is complete with water cannons. If all of those features leave your kids wanting more, ongoing public garden projects can be found on the west end of the park near the Old Stone House, and large athletic fields are beyond that for kicking or throwing a ball around.

Restrooms: Restrooms are available in the Old Stone House.

Online: nycgovparks.org

photo: photo: NYC Parks

To Play Like A Viking: Leif Ericson Park Playground

Brooklyn Hood: Bay Ridge

Where: Shore Road between 3rd and 4th Avenues

Why It’s So Cool: Named for Viking Leif Ericson, one of the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil, it’s fitting that the equipment at this playground has a Viking theme. Climb the oar ladders and run across the wooden planks, or run through the flower-shaped sprinklers in the water play area.  While the park tends to get crowded, it still has a true neighborhood feel.

Restrooms: Restrooms are available.

Online: nycgovparks.org/parks

— Mimi O’Connor

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