What does the perfect day at the park feel like? The kids burn off energy and engage their muscles, imaginations and social energies. You refresh yourself by being in a pleasant setting. Everyone returns home feeling better than before. The size or the fanciness of the facilities doesn’t matter so much as what happens when you get there.
But some parks are more comfortable and inviting than others, so today we look at some of Seattle’s loveliest neighborhood parks. They aren’t the fanciest, the biggest, or the most famous. (For a guide to those, try this story.) But people love these parks and return to them again and again. If your family’s schedule lands you in the right neighborhood on a nice afternoon, check them out.
We’ve added less-trafficked alternatives, in case there’s a long wait for a spot on the climber.
This playground combines comfort (close bathrooms, clear sight-lines, accessible climbers) with enough whimsy to inspire a whole universe of pretend play. There’s a boat, a whale tail, a sandbox stocked with neighborhood toys and a climbable tree. Even though there’s a spectacular beach less than a block away, it’s easy to see how many families spend hours here.
Backups: Hiawatha Playfield
The official name of this place is “Roxhill Park” but the neighborhood kids call it “Castle Park” for its elaborately turreted climbers. Beyond the climbers, there’s more to explore here: playfields, a skate park, picnic areas and trails through nearby wetlands.
Backup: Westcrest Park
There is so much to do in this park. Explore the large, up-to-date playground with a sandbox and a zip line. Test your skills on two basketball courts, one for big people and one for smaller people. There are tables with chessboards embedded in them, a big slide in a hillside, and lots of steep grassy slopes to run or roll down. There are trees big and small — some of them are climbable — and an ancient pear tree, mostly fallen down, that kids like to play house in. There’s also a stage set up in a spot that makes a natural amphitheater.
Backup: Brighton Playfield
This rectangular patch of land has a big playground packed with things to climb and spin on, a tricycle maze, and broad shade trees. There’s also room to play basketball, toss frisbees and picnic. The bathrooms are in a whimsical building that looks like a castle. It’s a true community hub, and on nice weekend days, it’s often packed.
Seattle is a city of scenery, so this Magnolia neighborhood spot is far from the only playground with a dramatic view. But it is the only park with both a view and a big open field that puts people in an open space with far horizons, an unusual sensation in Seattle’s landscape of buildings, trees and hills. Plus: tourists don’t come up this way.
Backup: Bayview Playground
If you’re looking for shade, there’s plenty under this park’s giant Douglas fir trees. The big sandbox is stocked with toys from the neighborhood. It’s fun to race toy trucks down one of the steep slopes near the playground, or play games in the trees, or help your friend zip faster on the zip line. One drawback: the bathrooms are steeply uphill and just out of sight of the playground.
Backup: Loyal Heights Playfield
Set between a century-old apple orchard and a landmark historic building, the Meridian playground has a certain amount of old-world grace in its atmosphere, helped along by the whimsical art celebrating beloved children’s books. Beyond the playground and the orchard, there’s a gazebo nearby to run around in, and a mostly-flat playing field that hosts the Wallingford Farmer’s market on summer Wednesdays and turns into a giant mud pit every October.
Backup: University Playground
This park provides a leafy oasis in the middle of a dense and hectic part of town. To the south, the University District; to the north, the urban area around Roosevelt High School. But in the ravine, green and relevant quiet, and a nicely set up playground, complete with charming turtle structures.
Backup: Froula Playground
This is a very inviting 16 acres. You can linger by the flowers at the playground which is next to a children’s garden. You can zip on the zip line, run on the field, wobble a bike or a unicycle along a paved surface, or try a game of basketball.
More about playgrounds