San Diego’s Best Parks & Playgrounds

A girl on a playground laughing at summer jokes iStock

We’ve searched high and low and came up with the 11 of the coolest playgrounds in San Diego. From an old classic, a few that have undergone million-dollar renovations and others that are entirely brand new, each of these parks has something unique that you won’t find anywhere else. Tell your kids about the turf hill they can slide down on cardboard, the stream they can play in, the Belmont Park-inspired pink tarp slide, the story-book walking trail or the 3-story slide. Plan ahead because a couple of these even have splash pads or have a wheels track your kids can bike, scoot or skate around.


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Maruta Gardner Playground

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Dubbed locally as the “Pink Park”, it’s named after late community activist Maruta Gardner and designed to model Belmont Park right across the street. You can’t miss the uncanny resemblance of the pink tarp slide in the shape of a roller-coaster, the silly swings circle around like a carousel, and the climbing ropes of the ropes course. The paved pathway lines the beach at Bonita Cove so bring the sand toys and make it a beach day. Walk across the street to Belmont Park for a few rides, eats and treats that will make for one special day!


1100 W Mission Bay Dr.
Mission Bay
Online: sandiego.gov

Veteran’s Park

GameTime

The city’s first inclusive net climber at the newly rebuilt Veteran’s Park in Chula Vista allows kids in wheelchairs to access the play structure. GameTime built this playground with surfacing at each side for wheelchair access and a transfer platform for kids to climb up and into the net and slide down the other side. This is part of the recreation center where you’ll also find many community classes, sports, skate area, dog run and picnic tables.


785 E Palomar St.
Chula Vista

Olympus Park

Activity Hill at Olympus Park has all kinds of ways to slide down it. BYO Cardboard for the turf hill or concrete slide system or slide down the whimsical covered tube slide that hugs the hillside. When kids tire of this hill, they’ll find a zip line, tire swing, merry-go-round, a cool climbing cube, botanical garden, skate park and walking trails. There’s so much to do here you might as well pack a lunch and spend the day!

Parking: Residential street parking only. This one is popular on the weekends and some parents have been ticketed when this park initially opened for parking violations. Make sure you’re parked legally nearby and know that you may have to park a few blocks over.


701 Olympus St.
Encinitas

Cottonwood Creek Park

Build dams and float leaf-boats down the manmade creek alongside this open playground. Climb up the giant boulder, play on the play structures, run over bridges and meander the walking paths. This ocean-aired park is just a few blocks from Moonlight Beach and walkable to coffee, ice cream and pizza shops one street down.


95 N Vulcan Ave.
Encinitas

Poinsettia Community Park

When the playground inspector reports “this is one of the most unique playgrounds I’ve seen in over 20 years!”, you know it’s good! With a recent extreme makeover designed for ‘inclusive play’, this playground boasts tons of fun for everyone. Rock climb up to the slide, swing across the orange circle bars, balance over the obstacle wall slides, swing on the platform swing and teeter-totter under the futuristic shade canopy.

6600 Hidden Valley Rd.
Carlsbad
Online: carlsbadca.gov

Maruta Gardner Playground

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Dubbed locally as the “Pink Park”, it’s named after late community activist Maruta Gardner and designed to model Belmont Park right across the street. You can’t miss the uncanny resemblance of the pink tarp slide in the shape of a roller-coaster, the silly swings circle around like a carousel, and the climbing ropes of the ropes course. The paved pathway lines the beach at Bonita Cove so bring the sand toys and make it a beach day. Walk across the street to Belmont Park for a few rides, eats and treats that will make for one special day!


1100 W Mission Bay Dr.
Mission Bay
Online: sandiego.gov

Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park

Beth Shea

Bring your energy and maybe some wheels to spend the day at Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park. This large newer park has so much to do, but littles can start at the tot lot for baby swings, group swing and monkey bars, and older kiddos will love the unique and challenging climbing walls and domes and a 4-person seesaw. There’s a Discovery Area with a sand lot, musical elements and a (fake) climbing rock. Roll your way over to the skate plaza or the popular bike pump track. Kids of all ages and interests will surely love playing here, whether it’s climbing around the playground, biking, skating or just running free.

5977 Village Center Loop Rd.
San Diego
Online: sandiego.gov

Waterfront Park

Bonnie Taylor

One of the coolest, most unique playgrounds is downtown at the Waterfront Park with all kinds of futuristic yet whimsical play structures. Rock climb over a ribbon of twisted metal, crawl inside an orb of cargo nets or take a spin on the merry-go-round that’s unlike any you’ve ever seen. Most of these seem best suited for older kids, but walk over to the fountain jets where littles and all ages alike will love splashing and running through the wading pools. One of the best things about coming here, besides the city skyline views, is there’s no need to pack up any food because you can grab breakfast or lunch from the reasonably priced on-site snack shop.

Parking: The best place to park is in the paid parking garage that’s directly underneath this park ($10/day). Metered parking is available nearby or take the trolley to the County Center/Little Italy Station two blocks east.

1600 Pacific Hwy.
San Diego
Online: sdparks.org

Grape Day Park

Make it a GRAPE day at this fun playground in Escondido. Slide through this bunch of grapes, climb through the grapevines, or play on the harvest-themed play structures. Afterward, walk past the registered historic homesteads situated at this park and over to the decommissioned locomotive engine docked next to the old train station. Walk across the street to the fun Children’s Discovery Museum to make it a full day of fun and play.

321 N. Broadway
Escondido
Online: escondido.org/grape-day-park

Civita Park

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Civita Park in Mission Valley is an urban oasis with all kinds of play features. Two playgrounds have separate age features, a nature themed play area is a nod to the quarry this area was dug out from, miles of trails, a bird house and pollinator parks, chess and ping pong tables (BYO equipment), a grassy amphitheater for concerts and even a splash pad. Plan your visit for a Tuesday evening when they have weekly food trucks and live music.

Parking: The main parking lot is at Civita Blvd. + Russell Pkwy, but you can also park all along Civita Blvd. (bring a stroller because little legs might tire from this long-ish walk).

7960 Civita Blvd.
Mission Valley
Online: civitalife.com

Mast Park

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Curious explorers will love the nature discovery area at Mast Park; which boasts repurposed Mast Park trees, leaves, bark, sticks and rocks to explore. Let little ones use their imagination to build and create with these elements or head to the renovated forest-themed playgrounds with a three-story slide, swings (including 1 ADA) and a Global Motion Spinner. Walk the 1-mile loop trail with the enclosed dog park in the center, but start at the end with the story book trail and read a page from this story as you walk along. This trail will line the disc-golf course and end with the concession stand open on weekends.


9125 Carlton Hills Blvd.
Santee
Online: cityofsanteeca.gov

Lakeview Park

Lake views and sunset hues will delight your senses, but kids will love this forest-themed park with new playground equipment. Bring some wheels to scoot, ride or just walk around the ¾ mile flat paved lake trail. Take the side trail down to the dock and watch the ducks (no feeding signs are posted). Head back to the playground’s splash pad to catch one of the posted timed water fountains.

650 Foxhall Dr.
San Marcos
Online: san-marcos.net

——Bonnie Taylor, Nikki Walsh, Jeannette Swanson & Beth Shea

RELATED STORIES:

Ultimate Guide to San Diego Summer Camps
Best Indoor Playgrounds for San Diego Kids
7 Park Ranger Programs for Kids

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