Field Guide to Philadelphia Playgrounds
Kids Castle, Doylestown
Soaring eight stories high, with turrets and parapets and twirling 30-foot-tall slides, this Bucks County playground feels like it belongs in a sculpture garden. The community raised the money, chose the fairy-tale theme (in homage to the castle of the nearby Mercer Museum), and hammered it together in the late ’90s. This past fall, Kids Castle added elements like swinging bridges, climbing rocks, and other ways to wear the kids out. Go Here For: A day trip — make sure to stroll through Doylestown’s adorable downtown. Central Park, 425 Wells Road.
Herron Park, Pennsport
Even those of us with fresh blowouts can’t resist a run through the random sprinkles, arches, shoots and deluges of water at this large urban sprayground. Sensors control the flow, and softer streams are perfect for fledgling walkers. On the dry side of the well-kept park, there’s a playground for daredevils complete with a scooter on a semicircle track, climbing obstacles, and a fun electronic game where you race to turn off flashing lights hidden around the jungle gym. Go Here For: Cooling down without a pool. 250 Reed Street.
Jake’s Place, Cherry Hill
You’ll immediately notice what sets this cheery, shaded 10,000-square-foot play space apart — the many slides, ramps, spinners, swings and towers are all wide, low and super safe. That’s because this fun zone was built as an “all-access” playground, so on any given day you’ll see children of varied physical abilities — some with wheelchairs, others without — mixing it up together. The project (completed in 2011) was spearheaded by the family of Jacob Cummings Nasto, a local boy born with a rare cardiac defect, as a way to memorialize his life. It’s regarded as a model: The Cummingses now help others create boundless playgrounds. Go Here For: An experience beyond play. Challenge Grove Park, 101 Bortons Mill Road.
Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, Fairmount Park
In 1899, about a century before “unplugging” was a thing, the wealthy Smith family planned a 16,000-square-foot, three-story brick mansion, called the Playhouse, after recognizing that the kids of Philadelphia needed a safe place to romp. It got a massive overhaul in 2004, and now it’s filled with trikes, books, puppets, and room upon room of things to discover. The surrounding six acres boast a playground that goes way beyond your basic swing set: The tot lot has a climb-in pirate ship and train; the big-kid area has robot-like articulated swings and an enormous climbing spider web; and the 39-foot-long coffee-sack wooden slide will make even Grandma squeal. Go Here For: Indoor and outdoor fun. (Plus, it’s free!) 3500 Reservoir Drive.
Lulu’s Casita, Ardmore
This adorable, upbeat romper room has 4,000 square feet of indoor space with places to jump in a ball pit, read stories, build on Lego walls, play dress-up or zoom around in cars. The owners weave their heritage into the experience: Story times feature books in both English and Spanish, and snacks include taquitos. Go Here For: A break. There’s a cafe for parents with La Colombe coffee. 6 Cricket Avenue.