On the edge of the Hudson River, nestled between a park lawn and a little-traveled drive, the Rockefeller Playground in Battery Park is a surprisingly bucolic play spot. The breezy, shady atmosphere and sailboat dotted views combined with design touches like arbor covered picnic tables and a mini-carousel beneath a gazebo give this playground a bit of a GAP-ad Americana vibe that feels just right for a summer late afternoon of play.
The playground welcomes all ages with play areas dedicated to babies, toddlers and big kids spread evenly throughout a long, narrow space. Gates keep wandering toddlers in, though once they discover the water features, there’s not much worry about great escapes. There are plenty of slides and opportunities to climb ladders and run across decks and bridges, but there is a lack of big kid swings. However, the playground’s proximity to the new Shake Shack makes me forgive that oversight.
The Water: This is one of the gentlest water sprinkler offerings we’ve found in our travels, making it great for the just-walking baby or splash-shy toddler. A hippo and elephant sculpture positioned like bookends shoot single jets of water at each other in arcs tall enough to traverse under and stay mostly dry. Several dog head statues projecting from a wall “drool” water into a channel that’s just the right height for little hands to splash and fill buckets and bottles. A fanciful Tom Otterness dodo bird-meets-earth sculpture bubbles for babies.
The Sand: Unlike many playgrounds where separate sand boxes takes kids away from the jungle gym action, this one is integrated into the jungle gym structure and serves as a soft landing spot for several slides. It’s close enough to the water feature that it frequently features several kid-make lakes. But that also means its close enough that your child is likely to be shellacked in hard to rinse off wet grit.
The Carousel: Beneath a small gazebo and featuring bicycle style seats in place of horses, this unique playground feature has room for 8 kids to go round-and-round. It’s supposed to be kid powered, but between the creaky pedals and short legs, don’t be surprised if you have to jump in there and push to get the thing spinning. It’s happy work though as the little faces light up.
The Webs: Spanning between wooden platforms and bridges, red nylon webbing “decks” adds a festive dash of color and a new way to play. They have enough give to make them fun to jump up and down on trampoline-style, but not so much that you have to worry about projectile tots. My son likes to fall on them and lie atop as if they’re hammocks.
Bathrooms: Battery Park Conservancy-maintained bathrooms are in The Solaire, a residence about one block from the playground on River Terrace between Warren and Murray.
Eats: Shake Shack (215 Murray) provides relatively inexpensive and unquestionably delicious burgers, dogs, shakes and fries in a setting featuring good seating both inside and out. A new Le Pain Quotidian (2 River Terrace) is right next to—gulp—the Irish Hunger Memorial. The World Financial Center and its ever-changing array of restaurants is also just two blocks south. We like Blockhead’s Burritos and Quality Burger.
Directions: Take the A, C to Chambers Street. Exit on to Murray Street. Walk west about 5 blocks to River Terrace. You should see the playground through the trees to your left. Or take the 1, 2, 3 to Chambers. Walk west on Chambers about 5 blocks until it ends in River Terrace. Turn left and walk about two blocks. The playground will be on your right.
The thing that most prompted me to start exploring playgrounds beyond the one just two blocks from our home was boredom. Day in and day out on our local set-up was getting stale, but with so many playgrounds sporting the same basic equipment and design, some of our early explorations weren’t that successful. Oh, look, another curving slide at this end and two slides together at that end. Then we started encountering the new playgrounds opening up primarily in Manhattan in the last few years. The unusual metal forms and exaggerated slides were really cool, but as they get replicated across even more playgrounds, it seems as if we’ve gone from same-old thing to same-new thing.
Battery Park is a nice antidote to both, combining the charm of the old wooden decks and platforms with more inventive touches like a pedal carousel and red nylon-web net decks that work as gentle trampolines or hammocks for lying back and admiring the sky.
If you’re looking for a playground that breaks the mold on same-old or even same-new structures, Battery Park’s BLANK is a good option. The main jungle gym equipment is more inventively laid-out then the old-school playgrounds but offers more charm than some of the metal and plastic forms that are quickly going from unique to everywhere as the city remodels playgrounds in all five boroughs.