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There’s nothing wrong with a basic playground. Plop most kids into a space with a slide, a few swings, and some run-of-the-mill monkey bars, and they’ll be happy as can be. But everyone needs a little magic now and then. These jaw-dropping playgrounds throughout the United States promise to wow kids of all ages and perk up little ones after a long day of sightseeing.
Maggie Daley Park: Chicago
This 20-acre lakefront lakefront park in downtown Chicago became an instant must-visit for local families and tourists alike when it opened in 2014. Highlights include a quarter-mile ice-skating ribbon, tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, and a picnic area. But for kids, the main attraction is the three-acre Play Garden. It’s divided into six themed areas—each marked with signs indicating age-appropriateness, including the Enchanted Forest, which contains unusual tree species, a mirrored maze, and a tea party table; and the Slide Crater, where kids can test their mettle on different types of slides and a suspension bridge.
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City Museum: St. Louis
This massive, fantastical indoor-outdoor wonderland should be on every family’s playground bucket list. Housed on the former International Shoe Company warehouse grounds and filled with play structures made mostly of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, there is truly something for everyone at City Museum. Highlights include a five-story slide, vintage pinball machines, an elaborate model train display, an art studio, a “puking” Steampunk pig, and a rooftop observation wheel and school bus.
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Domino Park Playground: Brooklyn
This five-acre park on New York City’s East River was built on the site of the former Domino Sugar Factory. It includes a sand volleyball court, dog run, taco eatery, and a fog bridge that creates a creepy-cool mist around the factory’s massive, old syrup tanks. Artist Mark Reigelman designed the Sweetwater Playground with a nod to the site’s history, taking kids through the sugar refining process via spaces including the Sugar Cane Cabin, Sweetwater Silo, and Sugarcube Centrifuge, all built using reclaimed materials from the refinery.
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Artists at Play Playground: Seattle
Part of Seattle Center, Artists at Play Playground, designed by artists who interviewed kids about their dream features, is just a stone’s throw from the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit, and the Seattle Children’s Museum. There’s a 30-foot climbing tower; a human-powered, ADA-accessible carousel; listening stations where kids can talk to friends across the playground; and a labyrinth that leads kids to a Rebus puzzle at its center.
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Sugar Sand Park: Boca Raton, FL
Your family could visit this 132-acre park countless times and never get bored, thanks to picturesque nature trails, baseball fields, basketball courts, and other outdoor amenities. But kids will first make a beeline to the Science Playground, a tri-level space offering hands-on, science-themed play. It includes accessible swings, slides, and a sensory wall, and it’s designed to allow parents to find fast-moving little ones easily. There’s also a splash pad and train-themed toddler area. A carousel has 30 horses that are reproductions of originals designed for 19th- and early-20th-century steam-powered models, plus two wheelchair-accessible chariots. The indoor Science Explorium, intended for ages 5-12, has interactive exhibits centered around the physical sciences.
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Lions Park Playscape: Greensboro, AL
Students at Rural Studio, an architecture program affiliated with Auburn University, designed this maze-themed playground using 55-gallon galvanized drums to encourage as much running, jumping, climbing, and hiding as possible. Within the maze, kids will discover hidden sound tubes, sensory rooms, undulating floors, and a jungle gym. The park also includes fitness equipment and a skate park.
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Sunbird Park: Vail, CO
Inspired by a combination of local ski culture and bird habitats, this small-but-magical playground, also known as the Vail Nests, features three giant, tree-house structures supported with vintage ski-like poles. They’re connected by bridges and rope structures, and outfitted with slides and “hideaway pockets.” Ramps ensure the space is accessible. At night, light beams shoot from the center of each nest, turning the playground into an art installation. A skate park and ice-skating rink are nearby.
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Jungle Gym: Nashville
There’s arguably no better place to let your kids carry on like a bunch of wild animals than the 66,000-square-foot-playground at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. Its 35-foot-tall treehouse, snake tunnel, massive slides, and swings have long been a favorite zoo attraction. Later this year, the planned opening of an addition called Promise Park will add modified swings, climbing structures, slides, and zip lines to make the park more inclusive for children with physical and developmental disabilities and sensory disorders.
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Music Box Village: New Orleans
This all-ages “playground” for music lovers in the Bywater neighborhood is a sculpture garden containing interactive musical houses that are actually instruments themselves—think xylophone walls and rooftop whistles—designed to be played. It’s a perfect place for kids to explore with sound, and a one-of-kind spot for adults to see live musical performances.
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