Timeout New York Kids

Make the most of your city

Best fountains and sprinklers

Who needs a lakefront house? Or even a backyard hose? New York City is filled with cool-down play spots.

  • Photograph: Central Park Conservancy

    Ancient Playground

  • Photograph: Julienne Schaer

    Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6

  • Photograph: Lindsay Maclean Taylor

    Hecksher Park

  • Photograph: Danielle Parhizkaran

    Imagination Playground

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    J.J. Byrne Playground

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    J.J. Byrne Playground

  • Photograph: David Handschuh/NY Hall of Science

    Playground at New York Hall of Science

  • Photograph: David Handschuh/NY Hall of Science

    Playground at New York Hall of Science

  • Photograph: Robin Holland/Battery Park City Authority

    Teardrop Park

  • Photograph: Robin Holland/Battery Park City Authority

    Teardrop Park

  • Photograph: Phyllis B. Dooney

    Union Square Playground

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Pearl Street Playground

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Pearl Street Playground

Photograph: Central Park Conservancy

Ancient Playground


MANHATTAN

Ancient Playground
A big draw at this Egypt-inspired playground, built by architect Richard Dattner in the '70s and completely restored in 2009, is its novel spray fountain. In a nod to the mighty Nile, a not-too-torrential blast of water pours down several steps onto a stretch of sand that represents the Delta. Other pharaonic flourishes include scalable pyramids and Cleopatra's Needle--style obelisks. Central Park, enter park from Fifth Ave between 84th and 85th Sts (centralparknyc.org).

Catbird Playground
This simple, spacious water feature is essentially an asphalt pit with side sprinklers and a drain in the middle. Speaking of pits, Brangelina's brood have been spied splashing here. Carl Schurz Park, East End Ave at 86th St (nyc.gov/parks).

Chelsea Waterside Park
Bask under one of the grooviest water features in the city: towering, turquoise blue sculptures resembling exploding raindrops, which drench those passing underneath. There's also a wall of faucets for frontal soaking. W 23rd St at Eleventh Ave (hudsonriverpark.org).

Claremont Playground
All the Riverside Park playgrounds have animal themes. In this serene and shady spot, the motif is dolphins. From their blowholes the sculptures spritz water all over the play area. Riverside Dr at 124th St (nyc.gov/parks).

Dinosaur Playground
Water gushes into this old-school splash pit so quickly that a wading pool forms at the center. Riverside Dr at 91st St (nyc.gov/parks).

Heckscher Playground
Central Park's oldest and largest playground is also one of its best. Kids not only get to a scale stone pyramid but, after crossing a small bridge, an actual cliff, too. Colorful, rubber-topped humps change up the usual flat landscape and divide the area for smaller kids, complete with a dedicated tot water area and an enormous sandbox with a climbing net, from the main complex of tunnels, moats and bridges, and the bigger kids' spray fountains. Central Park, midpark between 61st and 63rd Sts (centralparknyc.org).

Hester Street Playground
This superbusy playground with Asian accents (a swing set with the elegant curvature of a pagoda, teahouse-like enclosures), made over in 2011, has exquisite equipment including a hoop-shaped spray shower and a pair of balancing tire swings. Sara D. Roosevelt Park between Grand and Hester Sts (nyc.gov/parks)

Hudson River Park Pier 25 Playground
The dazzling makeover of Tribeca's pier, a stone's throw from Battery Park City to the south, is a dream for sporty types of all ages. Fountains with a mind of their own—and others that are user-activated—make cooling off fun for all. Hudson River Park between Harrison and North Moore Sts (hudsonriverpark.org)

Hudson River Park Pier 51
A playful man-made brook runs through this sunny kid spot on the Hudson River Park, affectionately known as the Water Park or Pirate Park. We're big fans of the playground's equipment—including a challenging set of monkey bars and a spiral ramp leading to a pirate's lookout in the playground's center—and tot-friendly sand area, but its outstanding feature is the soak-worthy fun it provides via giant kid-activated water gushers and buckets. Don't forget the towels. Hudson River Park at Jane St (hudsonriverpark.org).

Hudson River Park Pier 84
More futuristic fountain than playground, this site is home to movable canal gates, a metal windmill that scoops and dumps water, and bridges from which kids can dangle their legs when their feet need a dunk. Twelfth Ave at 43rd St (hudsonriverpark.org).

Imagination Playground
Eschewing standard playground design, architect David Rockwell hands kids the building blocks (some literal) for their own fun: blue foam shapes that fit together every which way, spurting sprinklers and barrels with hoses they can cool down with, and park helpers there at the ready to facilitate mini builders' grand plans. John St at Front St (866-986-5551, imaginationplayground.com).

John Jay Playground
After a much-needed face-lift, this UES playground now boasts revamped waterfront-themed fixtures like a boat-shaped jungle gym. Kids can play to their hearts' content among the sprinklers and fountains. John Jay Park, E 77th St at Cherokee Pl (nyc.gov/parks).

Moira Ann Smith Playground
Among the highlights of Madison Square Park's playground are a 15-foot waterwheel sprinkler, which should keep your kids from trying to splash their feet through the park's fountain, and giant, water-spouting alphabet blocks. A staffer is usually on hand to supervise activities and keep an eye on the knee-high crowd. Madison Ave at 25th St (madisonsquarepark.org).

Morningside Park
One whole side of the cheery playground is given over to water as ground sprinklers throw arcs into the air. Morningside Ave at 116th St (morningsidepark.org).

Pearl Street Playground
Kids in Lower Manhattan now have a new and improved place for splashing around after Pearl Street Playground, located near the South Street Seaport, reopened in 2012 after a two-year makeover. The spot has an oyster-shaped sand-and-water play space—a nod to the former oyster shell heaps that once lined the waterfront. Pearl Street Playground, Pearl St between Beekman and Fulton Sts (nyc.gov/parks).

Rockefeller Park
Spend the afternoon at the enclosed playground, chasing your tot from the manual merry-go-round to the well-shaded dodo bird sculpture, then on to the climbing net and the gazebo. On your way home make a final stop: a wall covered with stone dog and elephant gargoyles (outside the playground) that spit at passersby. Battery Park City, Chambers St at River Terr (bpcparks.org).

Tarr Family Playground
Before its renovation in 2009, this playground's splash zone resembled a miniature amphitheater. Now it looks more like a meteor crater—in a good way! A wall surrounding two thirds of the area emits arcs of water over kids' heads. Spray posts shoot directly at little torsos. Central Park West at 100th St (centralparknyc.org).

Teardrop Park
What appeals to kids most about this amazing (and amazingly hidden) spot is its wild side and the sense of discovery it awakens. Canopied paths wind past huge boulders and grassy lawns, a ginormous metal slide seems part and parcel of a mini rocky mountain, and the tiered rocks surrounding the water-play spot make it feel more like a natural spring than part of a playground, let alone one in the city. River Terr between Murray and Warren Sts (batteryparkcity.org)

Union Square Playground
Three distinct sections offer age-appropriate water play, from the western tot lot's gentle water-and-sand ledge to the central area's spray showers for bigger kids. Union Square Park, Union Sq East at 16th St (unionsquarenyc.org)

BROOKLYN

Brooklyn Bridge Park Playground at Pier 6
Taking its cue from Hudson-fronting playgrounds like those of Pier 51 and Pier 25, this park ups the ante with a number of awesome amenities, including the Water Lab, a stone-strewn area with water underfoot to splash in, water tables and a spinning water wheel, and Sand Village, a huge sandbox with molecular-looking climbing structure and flanked by two long metal slides. Furman St at Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn Heights (brooklynbridgeparknyc.org).

Fort Greene Park
This oasis offers two playgrounds with splash zones. The larger New Fort Greene, at Willoughby, features a compass-shaped sprinkler. The smaller and busier playground, on the corner of DeKalb and Washington Park, harbors a hydrant that squirts from all sides. Go on a Saturday to hit the adjacent farmers' market for an organic doughnut. South Oxford St at DeKalb Ave, Fort Greene (fortgreenepark.org).

Imagination Playground
Don't confuse this lovely Prospect Park playground with the South Street Seaport play space of the same name. A giant bronze water-breathing dragon soaks kids to the bone. After a dousing, tots often like to climb onto the statue's back, à la Bastion riding atop Falkor the luckdragon in The NeverEnding Story. Prospect Park, enter park from Ocean Ave at Lincoln Rd (prospectpark.org).

J.J. Byrne Playground
Park Slope tots can cool off under the recently reopened playground's sprinkler system before they practice their pumping skills with J.J.'s old-fashioned water mill (a.k.a. a "runnel"). Older kids too will be hooked once they get their hands on the ground's aim-and-shoot water cannons. J.J. Byrne Playground, Washington Park, Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Sts, Park Slope, Brooklyn (nyc.gov/parks).

South Oxford Park
In this playground designed like a garden, jumbo faux cattails direct water droplets onto overheated heads. 187 South Oxford St at Atlantic Ave, Fort Greene (nyc.gov/parks).

Vanderbilt Street Playground
Refurbished in 2010, this Prospect Park playground bordering Windsor Terrace has crazy spinners, a mega climbing structure and antenna-like sprinklers bursting from the ground. Prospect Park, Prospect Park Southwest at Vanderbilt St (prospectpark.org)

QUEENS

Science Playground at the New York Hall of Science
This outdoor playground, accessible only through the museum, has myriad niches that let kids discover for themselves the laws of the natural world—a.k.a. physics—in a way that enchants them. An elaborate Archimedes screw connected to a water table and two plastic slides with a drop that mimics that of a roller coaster are just some of the ways in which this spot sparks and satisfies kids' curiosity in equal measure. New York Hall of Science, 47-01 11th St, Flushing Meadows--Corona Park, Queens (718-699-0675, nysci.org)

Travers Playground
The newly refurbished Queens green space boasts new basketball courts and a roller hockey rink. But in the summertime, the spot's leaf-and-vine water feature is the main attraction, providing kids an escape from scorching temperatures. Travers Park, 34th Ave between 77th and 78th Sts, Jackson Heights, Queens (nycgovparks.org).

Rockaway Park
This beachside playground features a state-of-the-art water play area where kids can shoot water at each other through spray cannons or run through a series of archways that squirts water at them from all directions. After sustaining damage due to Hurricane Sandy, the spray shower at Beach 17th Street has reopened. Seagirt Blvd at Beach 17th St, Far Rockaway, Queens (nycgovparks.org).

THE BRONX

Playground for All Children
Built in 1984, this Queens playground designed to accommodate children with and without disabilities has a mini village that beckons kids with a one-room schoolhouse, complete with a chalk blackboard, a fire station, a house with flower boxes, and vehicles like a fire engine and a bus to drive, all cozy nooks for play-and-pretend. Basketball courts surrounded by amphitheater seating, plus a faux river encircling a sprinkler area with ample shading, ensure unfettered fun for every child who visits. Corona Ave at 111th St, Flushing Meadows--Corona Park, Queens (nyc.gov/parks).

Printers Park Playground
One of the Bronx's newest additions is also one of its greenest. Built on land that once belonged to the inventor of the rotary printing press, the playground boasts a spray shower that recycles runoff water for irrigation of the plant beds and tree species like dawn redwood and golden weeping willow chosen for their ability to absorb stormwater. Hoe Ave between Aldus and Westchester Aves, Bronx (nyc.gov/parks).

River Avenue Park
Formerly a parking lot near Yankee Stadium, this space now attracts local youth with a skate park and play equipment. Passing subway trains activate the playground's water jets and lights, offering little ones an earthshaking way to beat the heat. E 157th St between Gerard and River Aves (nyc.gov/parks).

Starlight Park
The recently renovated park on the Bronx River features two new playgrounds with spray showers for hot summer days. E 174th St and Bronx River Ave (nyc.gov/parks)

STATEN ISLAND

Seaside Nature Wildlife Park Playground
Imagine a breezy oceanside fishing cove with rustic paths meandering through salt marsh vegetation to the beach and you have a pretty good idea of this playground's exceptional location on Staten Island's South Shore. As they catch a breeze off the ocean, kids explore the nautical-themed playground's shipwreck, shark and lighthouse features. Spray showers and a sand play area allow your crew to feel like they're spending a day at the beach. Nelson Ave at Tennyson Dr (nyc.gov/parks).

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