Top Five DC Area Playgrounds for Little Ones

Published on January 16, 2020 - Updated on November 12, 2020

Top Five D.C. Area Playgrounds for Little Ones

As a mom who spends a considerable amount of time at playgrounds around the area, it is not unusual to see women in the late stages of pregnancy strolling the parks and watching families interact. Excitement plays a role, of course, but it also serves as a practical way to gauge where the newest set of tots will be hanging out. While the busiest periods at any playground are roughly around the same time each day, most spots attract staggered crowds of different ages since families and caregivers tend to establish compatible daily routines. Even more importantly, certain neighborhood playgrounds just so happen to have a cluster of little ones (or big ones) living in close proximity at any given time, which is helpful to consider.

Blessed with so many options in a community that prioritizes parks and public spaces, it is vital to have insider knowledge when deciding where to explore first. Ultimately, when the time comes, you will hit the ground running with tried and true playgrounds for the littlest ones. Indeed, spots evolve as the little regulars grow themselves, but we’ve selected our top five with that in mind. Each of these picks consistently attracts infant and toddler caretakers for a variety of reasons. They are each safe, social, aesthetically pleasing, and provide comfortable, often shaded areas to nurse.

Friendship “Turtle” Park

4500 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, DC

Located at the junction of 45th and Van Ness Streets amidst the American University Park and Spring Valley neighborhoods, this extensive space underwent an $8 million renovation between 2015 and 2017. The money was well spent. The nickname “Turtle Park” derives from the concrete turtles found at the playground, but it is also aptly named because this uplifting outdoor space draws even the shyest little ones out of their shell to play!

Two features that shout “Tot Park” to us are playhouses and sandboxes. Turtle Park maintains a sandbox, one of only a few well-kept sandboxes we have discovered at DC area playgrounds, as well as playhouses. There is a climbing web, slides, AND swings, which for insurance and safety reasons many of the newly renovated parks leave out of design plans.

Warmer months set the splash park in motion, and baseball fields, basketball courts, and tennis courts get a lot more action. There is equipment to keep your older children happy, but also features designed for very small children, which is obviously not the case at every playground. The neighboring recreation center furnishes water fountains and bathrooms with changing tables for all park visitors.

Drive three minutes or walk less than fifteen for a visit to the Tenley-Friendship Library, which is one of our favorite kid-friendly libraries in DC. The library stands on Wisconsin Avenue, by the Tenleytown Metro stop. If you are hungry, go about half a mile up Massachusetts Avenue and you will arrive at Millie’s Spring Valley, a family-friendly hot-spot in the neighborhood.

Jones Point Park

Jones Point Drive, Alexandria, Virginia

Located on the outskirts of Old Town flanking the majestic Woodrow Wilson Drawbridge, this is an ideal destination for an afternoon of fresh air, exercise, and playtime. Your family can also learn about the historical significance of Jones Point, and the grounds of the 1800's era lighthouse. There are educational placards scattered across the vast parkland, and even the etched footfalls of a variety of animals to further connect your kids with the natural world.

The nautical-themed playground encourages big imaginations to run free and brings an immediate social element to play. The equipment is safe and suitable for little ones, but there are also a string of swings safely tucked to the side so big kids can reach for the skies without much risk of wobbly tots underfoot. There are also adjacent infant swings. The play area is entirely fenced in, and a soft rubber surface lies beneath the large play structures and the swings. There is even a smaller climbing structure with a playhouse for toddlers.

Adjacent to the playground lies an open field, the bridge shelters a few basketball courts, and a second climbing playground on the opposite side of the bridge is appealing to the older set. On the south side, you'll find another massive open space that's a hotspot for dog owners, where you can check out the Jones Point Lighthouse. Adults will be happy with the well-kept bathrooms and the availability of benches.

Additionally, Mount Vernon Trail runs right through the park, so Jones Point serves as an excellent place to tire out your little ones so they will nap while you head south on the trail for exercise and nature. If naps aren't going to happen for your hungry little humans, move north on the trail passing right by Windmill Hill Park. Keep going a bit further for lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso or an afternoon treat at Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, both located on King Street down by the Old Town waterfront.

Quincy Park Playground

1021 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, Virginia

Quincy Park is a "universally designed playground" for children of all ages to enjoy and features unique, fun equipment that will keep kids entertained for a long time. Creative activities include a seated merry-go-round, swings, and climbing walls and other structures, all on astroturf.

Designers regarded aesthetics with value, as the playground is lovely and boasts a huge personality. Fun literary quotes move throughout the space, displayed in mosaic tiles. There are many bright, colorful accents, but they did not overdo it with primary color overload. Pleasant musical elements found a way into the design as well.

There are covered picnic tables, and nursing mothers welcome the unusual presence of Adirondack chairs to replace the typical benches in at least one seating area. The comfortable chairs aren't the only evidence that Quincy’s builder considered caregivers in the design. One of the featured toys can seat an older child on a swing and a younger child in a bucket seat at the same time - what a treat for a parent with more than one child!

There are many unique features at Quincy that plant it firmly on our top five. It is both kid-friendly and caregiver-friendly. It is safe, fully-enclosed, comfortable, and spread out. It considers the needs of waddling ones, while still meeting the more adventurous requirements of their older siblings. A parking lot lies adjacent, and Arlington's Central Library is steps away. Ballston Quarter lies about half a mile from the park, with Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, Ice Cream Jubilee and plenty of shopping at your fingertips. The Ballston Metro is across the street.

Palisades Park Playground

5200 Sherier Place, NW, Washington, DC

During DC's hot summer months, this playground is an oasis for kids, and a splash park with excellent dumping buckets, fountains, water jets, and a small water slide is ideal for little children. Unfortunately an often uncommon feature, but truly appreciated, is the existence of a bit of shade, positioned close enough to sit at a comfortable distance and watch your kids at play.

Renovated as part of the Play DC Initiative, Palisades also offers fun, creative play and climbing structures, including a fake rock mountain. Native American culture and the Potomac River inspire the design of the playground (many of the parks renovated under the initiative have locally influenced themes), and elements carved from concrete with nature in mind appear throughout the large play area. There are balance beam log climbers, and a soft surface shaped and colored to look like the river runs through the colorful space. A small cabin furnished with a mailbox encourages imaginative play, and a rolling hill provides a safe place for toddlers to run and play.

Bathrooms, located in the recreation center, are accessible when the center is open during the week and from 10 am-4 pm on the weekends. If you're so inclined, the park also has some basic exercise equipment for adults, though it mostly seems to attract the curiosity of the children. The fully fenced playground is a hot-spot, and the surrounding grounds and center contribute a lot of recreational activities for the entire community, so if the lot reaches capacity, ample street parking is also available.

Picnic tables are available at the park, so pick up a delicious lunch at Jetties Foxhall on your way to Palisades. If coffee is what you crave, grab one at Black Coffee on MacArthur Boulevard. The cafe serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch, including great options for children, so try out the creative menu, or simply drop-in to select a special treat for your kiddo while you caffeinate.

Cabin John Regional Park Playground

7400 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, Maryland

Nature plays a huge role in the personality of this fresh air adventure at Cabin John Regional Park, which neatly aligns with the value system at happyly. Seeking enjoyment in the great outdoors fundamentally sums up the goals we hold dear. Cabin John perfects the merger of constructed fun with nature’s backdrop.

As you approach the brightly colored equipment, its home is what catches your eye. The rustic landscape takes your breath away, as tall trees weave in and out of the loosely arranged play structures. The arcadian setting creates a rare mingling of sunlight and shade - I cannot think of a similar example. Children immediately run free and enthusiastically explore the wooded area as much as they play on the equipment itself. Their delighted sounds echo in the deep woods.

The play areas are numerous, varied, and provide hours of entertainment on their own. Additionally, there is a miniature train a short walk from the playground that takes families on a 20-minute tour through the woods. Picnic tables are available along six miles of paved and natural trails running through the park.

Hiking to The Locust Grove Nature Center is an option if you pay close attention and jump from the playground loop to the Cabin John Trail, and finally, the Locust Grove Trails themselves. It will be at least a couple miles each way. If you have limited time, however, make your way over in your car. It’s a fabulous Nature Center and outdoor play area, so save enough time to explore, or if hunger determines your next move, head over to Le Pain Quotidien Cabin John less than five minutes away.

Check out our blog for additional inspiration from Family Friendly Hikes in Rock Creek Park, Convenient Road Trips from the Washington D.C. Area to A Guide To Dressing For the Weather and much more. As always, please share your family’s highlights by tagging us on Instagram @gethappyly.

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