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New Cove Playground at Ballard Commons Park Adds Sea-Inspired Fun

Play pirate all summer long at this nautical-themed playground in Seattle

Published on: April 26, 2024

A girl slides down a yellow slide at the newly opened Ballard Commons playground in Seattle
Meredith Charaba

My toddler’s imagination never ceases to amaze me. Where I see a green couch, she sees a car waiting to be driven to the library — and she even knows when we’ve hit traffic or finally arrived at our imaginary destination. The bathtub easily transforms into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and the front yard serves as a local restaurant for bugs and birds alike. But sometimes, even her imagination benefits from a boost. Enter The Cove, a brand new playground addition to the Ballard Commons Park.

If your kids are anything like my imaginative 2-year-old, the nautical theme to the playground will have them shouting “Land, ho!” or “Ahoy, matey!” as they use their imagination to steer the playground’s large ship toward Treasure Island, or zip line over shark-infested waters.

A girl climbs a rope ladder on a sunny day at the recently opened Ballard Commons Playground
A young girl climbs the rope ladder on this nautical-themed playground. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Climbing aboard the ship

The playground’s footprint is small but intentional. The centerpiece is the large ship, complete with multiple points of entry and plenty of opportunities to play. My 2-year-old immediately ran up the smaller set of steps, but other kids went for the rope wall and bigger stairs up to the slide. Getting off the boat is just as, if not more, fun: There’s a pole, a slide and even a zip line.

Man helps young daughter across the zipline at the new Ballard Commons Park playground.
A girl is helped across the zip line at the playground. Photo: Meredith Charaba

On the boat itself, my daughter happily spun the orange wheel to command the ship, peeked through telescopes and climbed to different levels of the ship. I quickly noticed that the middle of the ship offered limited visibility from the ground, so I checked in regularly from the different entry points to keep an eye on her. But with each glance, she seemed to be having more and more fun.

A young girl looks at the treasure box under the playground’s ship at Ballard Commons Park.
A young girl looks at the treasure box under the playground’s ship at Ballard Commons Park. Photo: Meredith Charaba

The space under the ship offers additional areas for play, with rope ladders to climb and low swings perfect for little ones. My toddler was excited to crawl under the ship and discover a new world. She tested out the swings, waved happily at me from the clear globe and hunted for treasure in an attached box with an oversized lock.

Small child swinging underneath the ship at new Ballard Commons Park playground in Seattle
The playground area under the ship offers smaller kids opportunities to play. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Spaces for little and big kids alike

Also a hit with my daughter and other smaller adventure-seekers: a double toddler slide. The steps are easy to climb and the blue slide is a blast for them to go down. Having a double slide also puts a pin in the whole “wait your turn” mantra I say regularly, as two toddlers can go down at once. My daughter loved making new friends at the top of the slide, sitting next to them and counting down to “whoosh!”

Young girl slides down a small blue slide at the new Ballard Commons Park playground in Seattle.
Toddlers can’t resist the smaller slide at the new Ballard Commons Park playground in Seattle. Photo: Meredith Charaba

After a few times down the toddler slide, my 2-year-old ran over to a seal-shaped spring rider and rocked to her heart’s content. Over near the zip line is a cup-shaped tilted spinner that — much to our surprise — reached high speeds quite quickly.

Older kids can climb to the top of the large rock structure, giving them a great view of the ship, splash pad and grassy field (or a chance to reenact a scene or two from “The Lion King”).

Safety flooring with artificial grass gives the playground space some added bounce, as well as protection when landing a jump from the ship. A seat wall offers a place for parents to relax and watch the boisterous activity.

The community enjoys the newly added playground at Ballards Common Park, named The Cove, with a seat wall for parents.
Parents and caregivers can watch their kids play on the playground from the seat wall. Photo: Meredith Charaba

A long awaited playground finally unveiled

The initial planning and design phase for The Cove began in late 2017. Seattle Parks and Recreation partnered with the Ballard Alliance to bring it all to life. But the construction drawings and permitting stage set for 2018 was put on hold due to COVID — halting construction until summer of 2023. Further complicating the process was the year-long park closure, prompted by safety concerns.

The long-awaited unveiling of the playground addition called for celebration, including a Seattle Parks and Recreation’s formal ribbon cutting. As an avid watcher of “Parks and Rec,” I must admit I geeked out a little hearing AP Diaz the director and superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation speak about the planning process and inspiration behind the new park. (Leslie Knope would have been proud.)

Local vendors, musicians and families also joined in on the fun. Salt & Straw passed out free scoops of ice cream at the opening (their Ballard location is just a couple blocks away), and we enjoyed our scoops in the grassy field across from the playground, soaking in the first of the summer sunshine.

The Ballard Commons playground features a nautical theme with a large pirate ship, climbing rock, slide, and zip line.
The nautical theme includes a large ship, climbing rock and zip line for kids to play. Photo: Meredith Charaba

A skate bowl, spray park and games add to the fun

The Cove is an addition to the existing skate bowl and spray park at Ballard Commons Park. The public plaza also includes an oversized chess board for playing.

The spray park won’t be turned on until summertime, but I imagine it will be perfect for cooling off in the sun. It was hot and bright out on our visit, and there aren’t any spots with shade.

Seating and sculptures with a nautical theme offer parkgoers a place to sit.
The plaza includes nautical art and seating for parkgoers to enjoy, while the spray park is turned on in the summer. Photo: Meredith Charaba

Across the street is the Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library, and one block down is a QFC. I eyed both when it was time for a family bathroom break, landing on QFC to also pick up a cold drink and snack. Ballard Commons Park has a stainless steel, single-occupancy restroom next to the spray park, though it’s decorated with graffiti and the changing table is in rough shape.

An effort in public safety and community spaces

The city of Seattle recently expanded its park ranger program in an effort to keep parks safe. Indeed we noticed a police presence at the opening event. While the park has a history of public safety concerns, an effort has been made to transform it into an area that the entire community can enjoy.

After you play

The neighborhood surrounding the park is home to plenty of local cafes, restaurants and shops. After testing out every area of the new playground, we walked around and noted places we’d like to try on our next visit. Salt and Sugar Cafe and Bakery is a cute spot to grab a coffee before a playdate, and CrackleMi Vietnamese Grill & Cafe looked appealing for a banh mi or noodle bowl to power your afternoon. If we return on a Sunday, we plan to head to the year-round Ballard Farmers Market nearby or check out the Ballard Locks.

If you go …

Find it: Ballard Commons Park is located at 5701 22nd Ave. N.W. in Ballard.

Open hours: Ballard Commons Park is open daily, 4 a.m.–11:30 p.m.

Special events: Ballard Commons hosts “Movies in the Park!” on Thursdays in August. The spray park is turned on from May 25 to Sept. 2.

Parking: Street parking is available, but it’s only free on Sundays.

Facilities: There is one single-occupancy restroom.

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