Serious Child's Play

Serious child's play
Beyond the teeter-totter: the Bay's best half-pint hot spots are worth a trip across town.
By Karen Solomon

The historic carousel of Golden Gate Park still spins in all its ornate glory, as it has since 1888. But its famous adjacent playground remains shrouded in a dust cloud due to extensive renovations. With water-play areas, grassy knolls, and state-of-the-art play structures, the finished product (slated for spring 2007) is sure to be spectacular. But patience, children, patience. While waiting to get that premium sand in our shoes, we cased the Bay Area for the satisfied parents and kids who swear by these five beloved parks.

Even some of northwest Berkeley’s posh stroller-pushers are in want of their own backyard. Thus, the townsfolk did what they always do in Berkeley: created their own utopia. The result is a fully fenced, cheery, toy-laden play space and community center for the preschool set. Neighbors put their own backs into creating it, building the colorful play structure at the park’s center, complete with slides and a shaded play deck. 1644 Virginia St. at McGee Ave., Berkeley.

When the Pac Heights set goes out play, they hit this park for its stunning Presidio location and the on-site arts and crafts center, which always has a class going on to enrich the creative spirit of school-age Picassos. This place doesn’t just swing—it bounces, swivels, and soars with a plethora of climbing equipment, slides, ladders, and some equipment likely new to your child (and to you). W. Pacific Ave. at Arguello blvd., S.F.

Oakland has been keeping this waterfront oasis to itself since it quietly opened last year. Take the kids to nine acres of marina vistas, sparkling fresh play equipment with a nautical theme, too-easy parking, picnic tables, clean restrooms, barbecue facilities in pristine condition, and—best of all—no crowds, even on a sunny Saturday. Just don’t forget sunblock: the park’s one drawback is that the trees are still too small to provide sufficient shade. 2311 Embarcadero E., between Dennison and Kennedy sts., Oakland.

This mammoth green space was one of the first parks in Berkeley, and it’s still one of the two best. Jungle gyms are ample and in excellent condition, and it boasts such features as slide-across monkey bars, a basketball court, a softball field, an under­ground tunnel, and a gargantuan concrete slide—cardboard recom­mended to prevent sand wedgies. Outstanding creekside picnic areas are icing on the cupcake. 1201 Euclid Ave., between Eunice St. and Bayview Pl., Berkeley.

This former abandoned parking lot near the 16th and Mission BART station is now a safe, clean place for frolicking that’s bumped Hoff Street up from a pass to a pastime. Mission-hipster parents take in the multiethnic mural, community garden, and decorative fountain, while the kids scramble around the climbing dome and take a twirl on the tire swing (tumbles are softened by the playground’s bouncy surface). There’s paid parking across the street. Hoff St. between 16th and 17th Sts., S.F.