Unofficial Guide to Central Park Playgrounds

Sunshine on our faces, splashing in puddles, finding critters – this month is all about these outdoor delights and where could be a better play for city kids to get outside than a huge park?

And if you happen to be in New York City then obviously you’d go to Central Park. The park however is HUGE and this can be a little overwhelming.

If you just want a general guide to Central Park then this is where you want to start, but if you’re trying to figure out which of the 21 playgrounds is best then you are in the right place.

Central Park NYC with Bambini Travel

The vast majority of playgrounds are situated on the edges of the park. This makes them easily accessible from the neighborhoods that are situated along the park. Families who live in the area are going to naturally gravitate the playground closest to home and since they are all pretty awesome this works great.

For people popping off a train or visiting from out of town or families just looking for a different playground for a change of pace however, the quantity of playgrounds can be a little daunting.

You can glean some information from the Central Park website (I found this part of their site and the interactive map helpful) but if you want even more information then this is the spot for you. We have done a ton of research for you  (tough work I know!) and learned everything we could about the many playgrounds of Central Park.

Find the Central Park Playground for You

Just for a sense of geography and order, I am going to go through the playgrounds starting at the southern end of the park and working clockwise around the park.

1. Heckscher Playground

This one sits on the southern end of the playground and is the oldest and one of the larger playgrounds in the park. It can be overwhelming if you are trying to supervise more than one child, but my kids love the different climbing spaces, but there are also slides, swings, and a sand area.

Water Feature: in summer.

Best For: School Age but would be manageable for older preschoolers.

Bathroom: Yes!

Attractions Nearby: This is at the very southern end of the park. It is close to Time Warner Center and Columbus Circle (we like the holiday market). Inside the park, the Central Park Carousel and Central Park Zoo are also not a terrible walk.

Adventure Playground in Central Park

2. Adventure Playground

Heading up Central Park West, this is the next one you find. Adventure Playground has similar climbing structures to some of the newer ones on the East Side of the park and is SO much fun. Our kids loved climbing in the tree house and the water is one of the best in the park.

Best For: Preschool and School Age

Bathroom: The closest is at Mineral Springs or walking back to the Heckscher Playground.

Attractions Nearby: The Lake in the park is not far and Columbus Circle is about a 6 block walk. This is also the closest older kids playground to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

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3. Tarr-Coyne Tots Playground

This playground is right across from the Adventure Playground and aimed at younger kids. It is newly renovated and beautiful.

Best for: Infants and Toddlers

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: The closest is at Mineral Springs or walking back to the Heckscher Playground.

Attractions Nearby: The Lake in the park is not far and Columbus Circle is about a 6 block walk. This is also the closest toddler playground to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Next you will find a clump of playgrounds in the middle of the park along the western edge starting around 81st street.

Diana Ross Playground Central Park

4. Diana Ross Playground

This is a pretty shaded playground. Our kids had a lot fun on the different climbing equipment and it encourages imagination in part because of the beautiful wooded backdrop. This playground has climbing, slides, bucket swings, sand, and a water feature.

Best for: Preschool and School Age

Water Feature: Sprinkler

Bathroom: Closest is at the Delacorte Theater near Belvedere’s Castle.

Attractions Nearby: Museum of Natural History, New York Historical Society, and in the park; Delacorte Theater, Belvedere’s Castle, Shakespeare Garden, and the Ramble.

Tot Playground in Central Park

5. Toll Family Playground

This playground was recently updated and is a great space for the 3 and under crowd. Small, lower equipment. A super fun little sand and water play area. There is also a separate sprinkler area, bucket swings and cute details like chalkboards.

Best for: Toddlers

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: Closest is at the Delacorte Theater near Belvedere’s Castle.

Attractions Nearby: Museum of Natural History, and in the park; The Reservoir, the Great Lawn, Delacorte Theater, Belvedere’s Castle, Shakespeare Garden, the Ramble.

Spector Playground Central Park

6. Abraham and Joseph Spector Playground

This is one of the largest playgrounds in Central Park. Huge sand area and lots of space to run. Good standard play equipment with two climbers – one for older kids and one for younger. There are also bucket swings. On the Central Park Playground Map this one is labeled for school age as well but my kids found this playground too simple at age 5.

This one is across a wooden path from Toll Family Playground so if you’re visiting with a toddler I would start there.

Best for: Preschool

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: Closest is at the Delacorte Theater near Belvedere’s Castle.

Attractions Nearby: Inside the park the Reservoir is super close.

Pinetum Swings Central Park

7. Pinetum Playground

Located within the Arthur Ross Pinetum, a small arboretum within the park. I wouldn’t consider this a playground, because the only equipment are some swing sets. This is however a great place for a picnic and space to run around.

Best for: Preschool and Up

Water: None

Bathroom: Closest is at the Delacorte Theater near Belvedere’s Castle.

Attractions Nearby: The Reservoir

Continuing up the Western side of the park you will find;

Safari Playground Central Park

8. Safari Playground

The fun hippo sculptures are a highlight of this playground. There are also tree houses, picnic tables, and a sprinklers. The climbers are limited and best for preschool and up. Toddlers would be entertained by the hippos. Generally I am underwhelmed by this playground.

Best for: Preschool

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: Tennis Courts have the closest.

Attractions Nearby: The Reservoir

Tarr Coyne Wild West Playground

9. Tarr-Coyne Wild West Playground

This is a fun, newer playground. Lots of opportunities for climbing that is best for preschool and up. There is a spray fountain water feature that works for toddlers and up.

Best for: Preschool, School Age

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: Closest is at the Tennis Courts

Attractions Nearby: The Reservoir

10. Rudin Family Playground

Beautiful simple playground. I liked the way this playground was laid out with play spaces all around the outside of a covered trellis. It made for pleasant play for the kids and watching for the grown ups.

Best For: Preschool and School Age

Water: Posts with arc of water.

Bathroom: North Meadow Recreation Center has the closest.

Attractions Nearby: North Meadow and North Meadow Rec Center.

11. Tarr Family Playground

If you have a child that likes to climb this is an awesome playground. There are climbers and slides there is also a huge spider web like climbing structure. Lots of little nooks and details to this playground. There is also a water feature.

Best For: Preschool and School Age

Water: Sprinkler and Area to mix water and sand.

Bathroom: The closest are at the North Meadow Recreation Center

Attractions Nearby: Inside the park the Peter Jay Sharp Children’s Glade and the North Meadow are closest.

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Along the top of the park there are 3 playgrounds;

12. West 110th Street Playground

The highlight of this small playground at the top western corner of the park is it’s location. It is settled into a little valley which makes it well shaded and pretty.

There is not much in the way of playground equipment – a tire swing, webbed climber, etc. We came here right after the Tarr Family Playground and my kids were underwhelmed. We did enjoy the rocks just past the playground for an excellent picnicking spot.

Best for: Toddlers and Up

Water: Posts that spray water

Bathroom: Closest is hiking up the Great Hill

Attractions Nearby: The Great Hill, Block House, and the North Woods are the closest inside the park.

13. East 110th Street Playground

This playground at the opposite corner of the park is more impressive. Large with lots of climbing and balancing opportunities. The Central Park website suggests this for school age and up, but our 3 year olds had fun balancing.

In the summer this has some simple water fountains at the front. This felt recently renovated and our kids had a blast. The water feature is small and gets crowded, but is appropriate for toddlers if you can find a less busy time.

Best for: Preschool and Up

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: across the path.

Attractions Nearby: Charles A Dana Discovery Center and the Harlem Meer.

14. Bernard Family Playground

If you are up in this corner of the park, I would personally walk a little further to the East 110th Street Playground which is more innovative. This one is fun and full of pretty standard playground equipment that kids enjoy.

Best for: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Bathroom: At the Discovery Center further north by the East 110th St Playground.

Attractions Nearby: Charles A Dana Discovery Center and the Conservatory Garden.

Heading down the East Side of the park there are playgrounds all along the edge.

15. Robert Bendheim Playground

Our twins basically lived in the sandbox at this playground which was interesting because so many of the playground in Central Park have a good sand box.

There is a variety of standard, but fun playground equipment here along with bucket swings and a water feature you can run through in the summer.

This playground was designed to be accessible to children with and without disabilities and has some wheelchair accessible ramps.

Best for: Preschool and School Age but toddlers would find some appropriate choices including the sandbox and bucket swings.

Water: Corkscrew feature that mists and you can run through.

Bathroom:  At entrance to playground open late March through early November, otherwise the North Meadow Rec Center is the closest.

Attractions Nearby: The Reservoir, Conservatory Garden and Butterfly Gardens. The Museum of the City of New York and El Museo del Barrio are also close by.

16. East 96th Street Playground

This is another of the largest playgrounds in the park and it certainly feels open with space for running. There is a variety of climbing equipment, a tree house (which my kids thought was a boat), and bucket swings.

Best fro: Preschool and School Age

Water: Small sprinkler.

Bathroom: The one at the Bendheim Playground to the North is the closest but open only late March – November or the North Meadow Rec Center.

Attractions Nearby: The Jewish Museum and The Reservoir and Butterfly Garden in Central Park are close.

Central Park Ancient Playground

17. Ancient Playground

With the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the background and one of the newest constructed playgrounds in front of you, this is impressive. There are lots of innovative quirks that allow you to activate the water features, climb, hide, and play. There is also a sandbox and various swings.

Best for: Preschool and School Age

Water: 2 user-activated water features. One runs through the main climber. The younger is a gentle spray from the wall for younger kids.

Bathroom: In playground area.

Attractions Nearby: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum and Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum are nearby, as well as the Reservoir inside the park.

18. Ruth and Arthur Smadbeck-Heckscher East Playground

This park is commonly called the Three Bears Playground due to the scupture created by Paul Manship. It is a smaller playground geared more towards toddlers and younger preschoolers. There are bucket swings, a sandbox, slide, and sprinkler.

Best for: Toddlers

Water: Sprinkler

Bathroom: the one at the Ancient Playground to the north is the closest and there is one near the Delacorte Theater/Belvedere Castle.

Attractions Nearby: Metropolitan Museum of Art, and inside the park the Delacorte Theater and Belvedere Castle are close.

Central Park Playgrounds

19. James Michael Levin Playground

The playground equipment here is limited, but the huge fountain in the center with spray around it is a lot of fun in the warmer months. It kept our group of kids ages 2 to 7 happy for over an hour.

Best for: Toddlers and up.

Water: Fountain

Bathroom: the bathrooms in the Ramble Shed are probably the closest but I think the boathouse ones to the South are a little easier to navigate too.

Attractions Nearby: the Ramble, the Boathouse are close inside the park. The MET is also not far.

20. East 72nd Street Playground

This playground was renovated in 2015 and it shows. Similar to the Ancient Playground above it and the Adventure Playground and Tarr Family Playgrounds, this has fun climbers and lots of opportunities for kids to test their coordination.

The playground includes tire swings and strap swings, slides, chain net climber, sand table, and an engaging water feature.

Best for: Older Preschool and Up

Water: Multi-level spray with ramps and tunnels.

Bathroom: North by the boathouse are the closest.

Attractions Nearby: the Boathouse, Conservatory Water and Bethesda Fountain.

 

Billy Johnson Playground

21. Billy Johnson Playground

This is one of the prettiest spots in the park – especially for kids. The playground is fairly simple – a slide, a sand area, and a water area, but it is built into a quiet, beautifully landscaped space that truly feels like an oasis.

Best for: Toddlers and Preschool.

Water: Fountain

Bathroom: Closest is in the Petting Zoo part of the Central Park Zoo but you have to have a membership or pay entrance, otherwise walk a little further to the Zoo cafe and you can use that bathroom for free.

Attractions Nearby: Central Park Zoo, Victoria Gardens Amusement Park,  Wollman Rink and The Pond. This is the closest to the Southeast corner of the park by The Plaza and Grand Army Plaza.

This ends the loop back around the Central Park Zoo.

I considered labeling favorites but it was impossible to decide. There are excellent parks on all ends of the park.

Depending on the ages of your kids and where you are headed your needs will vary greatly but there is a playground in Central Park to match those needs. I’d love to hear though – what is your favorite Central Park playground and why?

Note: This post is not affiliated with Central Park or the New York Rec Department. It was written purely based on our numerous experiences and in hopes of helping other families to navigate this impressive, but overwhelming park with their kids. Furthermore, although I will attempt to keep it up to date, the wonderful people at Central Park are always improving and updating the park. If you visit and notice a change that should be reflected here please let me know!

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