DUMBO: Play It Up Down Under

Taking the kids to DUMBO can be a blast! Here is a cheat sheet for visiting this Brooklyn neighborhood.
The words Brooklyn Bridge Park, automatically bring to mind the new playgrounds and greens of Pier 1 and Pier 6. But while those spots were still in design, the original Brooklyn Bridge Park was quietly winning fans over in Dumbo. Located just south of the Manhattan Bridge, this little gem of a spot offers a terrific little playground, plenty of green space, and postcard views of the city. There’s even a prototype of the stoop at Pier 1, only this one connects with a real beach on the river. Be warned: If you have a toddler drawn to water or rock climbing, be on alert when you explore this part of the park—the beach is short and the water and slippery rock bulkheads are quickly reached even on short legs.
The design of the playground here is lovely and perfectly compliments its riverside environs—everything is a boat. Water sprinkles out of a steam boat, the sand box is a big row boat, and the jungle gyms are a sloop and a schooner. The schooner itself is a larger-than-average jungle gym set up that includes a handicap-accessible ramp, something I haven’t seen yet at other playgrounds. There’s also a tire swing rigged up at the southern end.
The playground is rarely that crowded, so there’s not too much tussling over who gets the tire swing next. If I had to speak to the playground’s biggest drawback, it would be the noise. The rumbling of the D and R trains over the Manhattan Bridge is deafening, and adds a lot of gaps to conversations with other parents or your kids.
Note: As of my most recent visit in August, the steamboat water sprinklers weren’t working, but a standard geyser style one was.
The “Schooner” Jungle Gym—a bow, a stern, and three-masts anchor this large piece of play equipment and provide as much fodder for imaginative as opportunity for physical play. The platforms—or perhaps I should call them gangways—are high-up in the air giving kids a good perch from which to view the river and bridges and thus creating sizeable “hull” space beneath the decks where kids discover portholes and benches, and where I discovered that walking hunched over is really not my forte.
The grass—Not just a great space to picnic and play, but also to people-watch. There’s almost always an event going on here during the summer. One week we saw a fleet of large, outrigger canoes. Another time, we discovered the Dumbo Kite Society and had the opportunity to fly one of their kites. Bands have popped up and wedding parties tend to appear for photography too. If your kid is an “anything with wheels” freak like mine, it’s a good spot to sit and sort of watch but mostly hear cars and trains pass up above.
The sand box—It’s a boat full of sand that’s recessed enough to contain kids long enough for you to sit down on its edge until they can climb out the stern. The sand is remarkably free of food and cigarette scraps.
Bathrooms: There are no facilities in the park. I use the ones inside Front Street Pizza, two blocks away at Front and Washington Streets. We do make a point of buying something while we’re there—see EATS below.
Eats: Bubby’s is right on the corner of Plymouth and Washington. Great food, , but always packed. Front Street Pizza at Front and Washington serves better than average slices. Jacque Torres Chocolate, and in summer, ice cream too, is at 66 Water Street between Main and Old Dock. Across the street, his bakery shop—Almondine—makes awesome sandwiches.
Directions: Take the F to York Street and exit onto Jay Street. Walk two blocks to Water Street and pass under the Manhattan Bridge to Washington Street. Turn right and walk about a block and a half. OR, take the A to High Street and exit onto Cadman Plaza. From here, things get tricky. The Brooklyn Bridge anchorages and the BQE block passage down certain blocks. Your best bet would be to cross the part of Cadman Plaza containing the war memorial and arrive at Adams Street. Turn left and walk beneath the Brooklyn Bridge ramp. Follow it down to Front Street and turn left one block to Washington. Turn right on Washington and you’ll discover the park after two blocks.
NOTE: As of this writing, Empire Fulton Ferry State Park, which flows naturally from Brooklyn Bridge Park, is closed and fenced off for renovation. This means taking Water Street, rather than hopping across the lawn, over to the Brooklyn Bridge should you want to include a visit to Pier 1.
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