Credit: Natasha Dillinger
As cabin fever sets in, I’m always looking for an opportunity to head outdoors, but my homebody kids sometimes need a little nudge. It felt like a perfectly timed winter holiday gift when the City of Kirkland cut the ribbon to open Juanita Beach Park's new bathhouse and all-abilities playground.
To beat the crowds, I rushed the kids through breakfast, threw our masks and jackets in the car and headed out to play.
Inclusive and accessible by design
The first thing I noticed on our recent visit was how the playground’s level entrance and turf play surface feel welcoming to wheelchairs, strollers and wobbly toddlers.
The city’s website touts the play structures as inclusive of all abilities with features like adaptive swings (including a fun double swing) and space to zoom around with minimal barriers. I would have liked to see a ramp to at least one of the two climbing structures — one structure designed for ages 2–5 and the other for ages 5–12. But I appreciated the protected spaces underneath for kids who need a little breathing room.
My young son mostly stuck to the swings and the smaller climbing space that included his favorite element: the roller slide. With many of the access points to the play elements located lower to the ground, he could also follow his big sister to fun, mid-level sensory features such as drums, steering wheels and spinning colored discs.
At close to 5 years old, my daughter was at the perfect age to enjoy both play structures. She spent our visit alternating between encouraging her younger brother’s exploration and clambering up the climbing wall to spy on birds with the telescope.
This park's scenic lakefront site can draw a crowd, and the fun new playground will only add to its attractiveness. A great aspect of this park, though, is the ability for families to spread out and choose their own adventure. In addition to the playground, families can watch the ducks on the short boardwalk, take one of the side trails through wetlands or relax by the beach.
As I take my kids on most of our weekday adventures by myself, I appreciated that the playground was intentionally set closer to the beach. This offers clear sightlines for caregivers of multiple children who may want to alternate between the sand and the play area.
The park also offers a preview of our coming summer when the pandemic might be under control. Large new picnic pavilions with covered grills will offer families space for outdoor dining in sight of the playground. (There aren't yet any picnic tables in place, to discourage gathering.)
In addition to the new bathhouse where families will be able to change into and out of swimsuits, the park will offer food concessions and non-motorized boat rentals.
More than a decade in the making
Over a century ago, Juanita Beach Park was a popular privately-owned beach destination with a two-story bathhouse. Its ownership transferred first to King County, and then to the City of Kirkland. In 2006, the city and community developed a master plan for a $3.6-million renovation to the 22-acre space that included a playground, picnic pavilions, boating concessions and a seasonal bathhouse.
Savor the space with a morning visit
You know the saying about the early bird getting the worm? It definitely applies to this playground. Because the space is shiny and new, friends have told me the play equipment gets really busy in the afternoons.
We made sure to bring our masks and hand sanitizer on an early morning visit and had discussed a back-up plan (a hike at nearby Saint Edwards State Park) to minimize disappointment if the playground was too busy. Arriving a little before 9 a.m. on a weekday, we played for an hour and only temporarily shared the space with a masked little boy and his mom.
The joy on my kids’ faces when they could run and climb to their hearts’ content was worth the chaos of rushing out the door. My daughter is already video chatting with her grandpa to brag about how high she climbed!
If you go…
Hours: Kirkland waterfront parks open at sunrise and close at 10 p.m.
Parking: Two adjoining parking lots offer space for about 200 cars; there are several ADA spots. Parking is allowed in 4-hour sessions.
Restrooms: Newly constructed gender-specific and gender-neutral restrooms are right next to the playground, alongside a seasonal bathhouse for changing into and out of swimming gear.
Nearby snacks: I made up for our rushed, dry toast breakfast by dropping by Urban Coffee Lounge for hot chocolate and a croissant after our play time. Mobile ordering is available and the kind employees will even bring your drinks to the car so you can wait with your kids. (I recommend the salted maple latte.)
If your family has an adventurous ice cream streak, stop by the new Salt & Straw at Totem Lake Village, a couple of miles away.