Seattle's urban playgrounds are no joke, sprawling over acres of trails, old-growth forests and native plant gardens, interspersed with climbing structures, sand pits, fountains and wading pools. From casual neighborhood slide-and-swing parks to expansive discovery state and beach enclaves, it's easy to snag an hour or a full day of fresh air and active family time in the city.
Lincoln Park in West Seattle is one of the city's most diverse parks, perched on Puget Sound bluff near the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. Miles of walking paths and bike trails meander through forest and meadows near a rocky beach, with expansive playfields and five picnic shelters. Playgrounds feature jungle gyms, swings and a children's zipline. Summer months fill the park with family fun in its Olympic-size outdoor heated saltwater swimming pool overlooking Puget Sound, with a giant tube slide, 3M diving board and portable access stairs. Take along some binoculars for spotting owls and bald eagles.
St. Edwards State Park, a former Catholic seminary, spans 316 acres with a dog-friendly day-use park along the shorelines of Lake Washington in Kenmore. The playground has separate structures for toddlers and older kids, with age-appropriate features such as sand pits, slides, swings and climbing walls. Hiking and walking trails through century-old old-growth forests of Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrona trees lead to the beach, giving access for boating and fishing. Note that trails to the beach are winding and steep in places, with a 400-foot distance to the water, so allow plenty of time for little legs to make the trek; consider short, level trail sections instead. There are also five unsheltered picnic areas with various features such as horseshoe pits, picnic tables, grills and a beach-style netted volleyball area. Parking is abundant, but entrance does require either a day pass or annual Discovery Pass, both available from an automatic pay station.
Cal Anderson Park on 11th Avenue Capital Hill is the family gathering spot of the neighborhood by day, keeping both kids and adults active with features such as promenade paths, oversize chess boards, climbing structures, meadows and fountains. It's also splash-ready for summer with seasonal wading and texture pools, as well as a shelterhouse and lighted sports field. The park is family-friendly from sunrise to sunset, but can get rowdy after dark. Bus routes service the area, and street parking is metered.
Greenlake Park is for those living in North Seattle, featuring a glacial-carved lake with a 2.7-mile jogging trail suitable for all ages. Little ones are more than welcome, with courteous dodges from rollerbladers, unicyclists, runners, strollers and even wheelchairs. A large playground area near the water is stocked with fort-like play structures, enclosed curving slides and climbing areas. There's also an indoor playgound for infants and toddlers inside the community center, which charges a $2 drop-in fee. An indoor full-size pool is open year-round, and there's a wading pool on the north end of the lake, open in the summer months. Activities on the lake, with rentals available, include kayaking, paddleboarding and rowboating. Just across the street from the playground is a string of casual cafes and eateries, with ice cream, tacos and fish-and-chips. The park is extremely family-friendly, with free parking along the streets or paid parking in lots across Greenlake Way.
Jefferson Park on Beacon Avenue South caters to families in South Seattle, and has one of the most extensive playgrounds for young kids. It's set up like a miniature amusement park, with Kompan play equipment such as a trio of dodecahedron climbing structures, as well as spinners, twisters, swings, teeter-totters, slides and sandboxes. There's an area reserved just for toddlers as well. The park is a favorite spot for kite flying and has majestic views of the water and mountains. There's also bike trails, circular loops and concerts in the summer months. An open gym for toddlers at the Jefferson Community Center next doors gives some extra play time when the weather is rainy or cold.