The Best Playgrounds in Toronto
The best playgrounds in Toronto might, to the untrained eye, look just like the worst playgrounds in Toronto. Acreage might vary, but each one will likely feature the same tough, simple swing set and a well-worn but safety-tested jungle gym in differing configurations. Add a sandbox and perhaps a splash pad and you've got the basic model of almost any Toronto playground.
What makes a playground great are near-intangibles - a handful of mature trees for shade; a few decent benches in that shady spot; a sandbox full of new, clean sand. And of course - location, location, location.
The top two playgrounds on this list are no-brainers; they're big, beautifully-located, well-appointed and full of kids every day the sun is shining. Others may surprise - some are little gems hidden out of sight, or unique accidents of place and people coming together to give a playground life.
Here's the list of the best playgrounds in Toronto.
Jamie Bell Adventure Playground
Some human stain tried to burn this High Park institution down late one spring night last year, but a group of locals and parents joined up with Mr. Fix-It Mike Holmes to re-build, and it reopened four months later. You don't have to know this little story of tragedy and triumph to enjoy this bustling kidtropolis of a playground, but it helps, as does the ice cream truck that's parked a minute's walk away most days.
The Treehouse Towers in Kew Gardens are essentially Jamie Bell East - a deluxe complex of a play structure located in one of the most venerable parks in the city. Just a short walk from the eastern beach, under a canopy of mature trees, this might be the most inspiring playground in the city - at least for parents, who might be tempted to turn a half hour's worth of kiddie ya-ya blowout into a whole afternoon's wander.
Reopened last year, this Oriole Park playground is a prototype of sorts for the kind of accessible play structure that parents with disabled children would love to see down the end of their street. You can learn Braille or sign language off of the panels on the climbing gym or play with the music panel. With sand, dirt and wood chips replaced by all-weather rubber padding, you also won't have kids tracking a planter's worth of organic material back home every day.
Cherry Beach Sports Fields
It's out in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Port Lands, next to a vast plain of artificial turf, which gives the Cherry Beach fields playground - also known as the Pirate Ship - an atmosphere unmatched by any other playground. It usually hosts the younger siblings of kids playing out on the soccer fields, or teams of wired players burning of that little bit of extra steam climbing the hull of this landlocked ship while their parents gossip by the entrance to the parking lot.
David Crombie Park
The tiny, perfect mayor got a sprawling playground named after him, just off the Esplanade in the shadow of St. Lawrence Market. There's the standard jungle gym in primary colours on its pad of sand, a massive wood structure with two red slides, a truly epic wading pool/splash pad, a hockey/basketball court and a big asphalt plain painted with the sorts of games that I'd like to hope kids still instinctively know how to play.
Withrow boasts one of the busiest dog parks in the city, but when you've graduated from fur babies to real ones, it has a playground as well, fenced in to keep the dogs and kids apart. There are bits of playground all over the park, but the real playground is on the north side, between the tennis courts and the baseball outfield where they hold the farmer's market. Withrow is the hub of Riverdale, which means the playground is very well used, but in for an overhaul beginning this fall.
This big, busy, happy hippie wonderland might be the most beloved park in the city. It's certainly a value added feature that real estate agents are happy to point out when showing houses nearby. Beyond the usual swings and slides, there's the groovy adobe house with its sinuous walls and the vast adventure playground with its ring of mildly anxious parents watching their kids dig canals and pour water down the channels in a frenzy of grubby inspiration.
It might be hard to believe that people are raising families in the forest of condos sprouting along the old rail lands downtown, but they are, and this is one of the few places they can set them out for some sun and air. The standard climbing structure has been given a railway theme, which might also make it attractive for the trainspotting parents and grandparents towing their restless bloodline along with them when they visit the Roundhouse rail museum next door.
Ed McCleverty Park
This playground next to Ted Reeve Arena in the Upper Beaches was the city's first stab at an accessibility playground, opened in 1998 and outstripped in the meantime by Neshama Playground. There are a variety of unique play structures and a nearby shaded area for parents and nannies. If all else fails, escape the sun and catch whatever game is on inside the arena.
Vermont Square Playground
This Seaton Village park features a playground recently renovated with a nautical theme, next to a splash pad in a park full of mature shade trees. There are separate areas for toddlers and bigger kids, and a tap by the sand box, which you can either use to fill your water bottle or set up a mud pie factory.
Jean Sibelius Square
This century-old Annex park didn't begin its life named after a Finnish composer, and it was only recently renovated to meet the rather exacting needs of the new locals raising their families nearby. The natural ice rink was maintained, but the wow new feature is the new climbing structure in the playground - an impressive and imposing cat's cradle/spider's web that might give nervous nannies pause while calling to any child to get their limbs tangled in its strands.
Well-named, you have to know this Leslieville park is there if you want to try and find it, tucked into the alleys behind the backyards near Pape and Dundas East. They've managed to tuck a lot into this dogleg of a space, including an off-leash area, a splash pad and a decent-sized play structure shaded by the houses and old trees that surround it. Not to be overlooked are the wide assortment of used (and sometimes broken) toys left here by neighbourhood residents as well as the annual Easter egg hunt.
This Rosedale playground feels suitably exclusive, at the end of a discreet path just off Scrivener Square, a short walk from the high-priced grocers known informally as The Thieves. The Pricefield Playground feels new and well-kept, if a bit lonely, though its proximity to the showpiece LCBO in the old Summerhill train station means that, on one rainy morning last week, there were empty cans of Laker piled up under the jungle gym.
Little Norway Park
Just over the fence from the city-side ferry terminal to the Island Airport, the playground at Little Norway Park catches the lake breezes in sight of the growing condo forest, but it also showcases the finest piece of playground sculpture in the city. A huge reclining lion gazes sleepily over a massive paw draped over a play tunnel, it looks like the sand sculpture to end all sand sculptures, rendered in soft-hued concrete. I'm not sure what would draw you down here if you didn't live nearby, but if your Porter flight is ever cancelled, you might want to check it out.
Charles G. Williams Playground
Space is tight and the sloping ground next to the play area has been scoured free of grass by the surplus ride-on toys that families abandon in this playground between Parkdale and Roncesvalles Village. The equipment is well used, the sandbox always spilling over into the rest of the park, but it's a busy place where a place to sit often comes at a premium - the model of a playground that works not because it offers anything special, but because it's where every family goes.
Corktown Common Playground
The city's newest and greatest playground is a masterpiece of materials, design and location, perched on top of the flood barrier holding the Don back from the new Canary District, and featuring an adventure playground, a storey-high slide, a sheltered pavilion for adults to rest and the nicest water park ever, full of timed and triggered jets and fountains built on plush rubbery ground cover, with a commanding view of the downtown beyond.
David Crombie Park photo by Jason Cook in the blogTO Flickr pool.