Seattle Children's PlayGarden. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve enviously watched other people’s kids race joyfully to the playground without so much as a glance back. They’ll run and climb, utterly delighted, freeing their caregivers to stare at their phones from a park bench.
I have two able-bodied kids, but they’re kids who inherited my clumsy gene and are deeply anxious about anything physical. I can’t even count the playground meltdowns over the tunnel slide or the rock climbing wall.
On a recent visit to check out the revamped Seattle Children's PlayGarden, my kids took one look and gleefully dove right in.
Seattle Children’s PlayGarden is a fully accessible public park where kids of all abilities and ages can play safely. There’s tons to explore: the playground, the garden bursting with veggies and flowers, the big rubber mountain, a quintet of musical instruments, a wild trail area and the coop with chickens, ducks and bunnies. It’s magical.
Amazing new playground
The PlayGarden has been around for several years, but it re-opened last month with lots of improved features. There’s a new swing set, with a seat shaped like a big saucer, big enough for a whole gaggle of kids to sprawl out on. Instead of the traditional merry-go-round, there’s a spinning disk tilted at a slight angle.
While many playgrounds feature a big structure at the center, with a slide or two and various climbing routes to get to the top, the structures here are low and wide, so it’s easy to lift a child from a wheelchair on for a ride.
A pile of heavy rubber bumps serve as stepping stones or launch pads, depending on the user. And back from the old playground, there’s the big seesaw and a Kompan spinning ring, both great for balancing on or just going for a ride. It’s stuff that kids in chairs can use, and that’s fun for everyone.
Wood chips have been replaced with cushy artificial turf, making it wheelchair/stroller/bare feet friendly. "¿Dónde están tus zapatos?" — Where are your shoes? — I heard one dad ask his child. With that carpet underfoot, we saw several kids without their shoes and babies tumbling happily.
A semi-circle of bushes shields the play area from the street. I looked closer. Wait, could those be… blueberries? Strawberries and apples, too. Have you ever been to a playground where you can snack on the landscaping? There’s no other park like this in Seattle.
The PlayGarden, located at the north end of Beacon Hill, welcomed its first campers in 2006. It has added programs over the years, including a preschool and Open Play program. During Open Play, two enthusiastic staff members will welcome your family and lead a kids’ activity. Past events have included a bug hunt, kite-making and soap-making.
The PlayGarden is open to the public Monday through Thursday after summer camp ends at 1:30 p.m., and all day Friday through Sunday, through Aug. 31. Once September comes, it’s open daily from sunrise to sunset. The front gate is closed for the kids’ safety – something you’ll appreciate if you have runners. Be sure to close it behind you when you go in or out.
Garden of surprises
There’s so much to explore in this outdoor space that there’s something for everyone. Don’t like one thing? Here’s another. You’ll find surprises tucked in corners: a low table filled with birdseed for sensory play, a gravel digging pit, a bin full of playground balls. We counted five ducks, six chickens, three bunnies and one honking goose. My 3-year-old discovered a wheelbarrow just his size. Kids practiced riding bikes around the basketball court.
Play “I-spy” and see if you can find all the shrubs pruned into funny shapes: a dinosaur, a giraffe, a bunny riding a bicycle and a giant smiley face. Clearly, a gardener with a sense of humor works here. In the edible garden, my city kids encountered some new and mysterious sights: ears of corn growing from a stalk! Grapes hanging off vines! Other interesting plants include a fig tree by the restroom and carnivorous pitcher plants by the classroom.
Towering sunflowers and a riot of black-eyed-Susans lift your spirits; rosemary and lavender bushes beckon you to lean in and inhale. My 7-year-old’s favorite: an old Mazda truck-turned-planter with kale growing out of its flatbed and a strawberry patch in place of an engine. He cautiously opened the door, climbed into the cab, then hoisted himself onto the roof with a big smile.
A shady path leads to a tree fort with swings tied to its branches. On the sandy slope, my 3-year-old got scared and cried, “Mama!” Another little boy, not much older than my son, instantly reached out for his hand. From the most fearless to the most timid, the PlayGarden is a place for all kids to play together.
Bring your kids. Come play!
If you go...
Hours: The PlayGarden is free and open to the public year-round from sunrise to sundown, except for camp hours. Through Aug. 31, it’s reserved for summer campers Monday–Thursday, 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Come September, the PlayGarden is open daily, sunrise to sunset.
Open Play: The Open Play program, when staff is onsite, runs Tuesday–Thursday afternoons, 3–7 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; and Saturdays,10 a.m.–2 p.m., through Aug. 31. Open Play is free and open to the public, with no registration needed.
Cost: The PlayGarden is free and open to the public.
Bonus nearby: The Northwest African American Museum is directly next to the Seattle Children’s PlayGarden. It’s open Wednesday–Sunday and admission is $5–$7. Or reserve a free pass with your library card through the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program.
More inclusive playgrounds: 5 Sensory Playgrounds for kids of All Abilities