Best Little-Kid Playground: A hospitable zone for gung-ho toddlers
Dream Land for Kids at Aquatic Park
Outdoor play areas have become increasingly uniform since Gen-Xers were little. For example, most elementary schools now boast, atop a mat of recycled rubber, some variation on the standard metal-and-plastic mail-order play structure -- a central platform, a slide, and a few routes up and down via steps or twisty metal poles. These things get dull after a while. But ask kids to describe their fantasy playground, and something different emerges. In 1999, Berkeley did just that -- city schoolchildren met with tot-lot architect Bob Leathers, and community members donated their labor to create Dream Land for Kids, a sprawling wooden romping zone at the edge of the city's Aquatic Park. A larger sibling of Frog Park in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood, Dream Land has multiple peaked wooden towers with windows to peer through, slides, bridges, tunnels, a tire swing, play spiderwebs, picnic tables, a sand area, tot and big-kid swings, and a little butterfly garden, all enclosed by a wooden fence so your offspring can't easily escape. Older kids can kick a ball around on the fields next to the playground or try out the park's Frisbee golf course while you chase your three-year-old. A bona fide railroad runs right past the playground, too, and its speedy Amtraks and rumbling freight cars provide endless entertainment for Thomas-obsessed toddlers. To get past the tracks, take Addison Street to Bolivar Drive. Go left and park where Bolivar dead-ends at Bancroft Way.