Friday, March 14, 2014

Playground Review: War Memorial Playground (Santa Clara)

From my first visit last summer, War Memorial Park in Santa Clara (fondly known to many as "the ant playground") has ranked high on my list of toddler favorites. It's not the biggest park around, nor the most exciting, and its play structure is moderately sized and pretty basic -- particularly compared to its close neighbors like Alvarez, Newhall and Fremont parks. But it's hard to debate that the small scale of War Memorial, along with its well-planned layout, cute theme, and fun features, make it one of the most toddler-friendly parks in the South Bay. Here's my review:


  • Clean, modern, perfectly maintained playground area, surrounded by lush green lawn, nice benches, and a fence (though no gate), with restrooms and water fountains.
  • Creative (dare I say unique?) design, with a cool ant theme included in the ground surface, sculptures, play structures and sand box. 
  • Toddler play structure is small and very toddler friendly (not too high, with just one opening -- a curved ladder -- that would pose problems for young toddlers). 
  • Toddler area also includes a fun ant hill climbing feature and another insect-like structure, both of which are pretty cool. 
  • Very nice sand play area with the best sand I've seen at a playground -- somehow it's a different, almost pebbly consistency that let's you sweep/shake it off clothes, shoes and sand toys with ease. Genius! 
  • Sandbox area is situated away from the toddler structure, and the swings are even further away than that -- a safe design to avoid swing collisions.
  • Ground surface is primarily the squishy stuff I like, with some sand under one of the baby swings (there are two of them).
  • Big kid play options aren't really a "structure", but three different climbing apparatuses which pose very little threat to toddlers.
  • Parking available in lot immediately next to the playground.
  • Off the beaten path and not visible from the main street, such that it's not very crowded any time but when sports teams are playing on the adjoining fields.

  • Though the toddler structure will provide plenty of entertainment for 1-2 year olds, it's pretty small compared to other local offerings (Alvarez Park and Fremont Park come to mind), and older toddlers might prefer more options and challenges. (Though the other features of the park -- the nice sandbox, climbing options, swings -- are plenty to entertain a child.)
  • Not much shade on the playground (though there is some under the trees on the surrounding lawn).
  • Not fully-fenced, though the playground feels enclosed because it's built at the bottom of a bowl.
  • Gets very crowded (and with some rowdy, older kids) during junior football games on the neighboring fields.
Overall, War Memorial is a park where a toddler parent can relax a bit. The play structure isn't too high (very little risk of falls), the swings aren't too close to the play area (very little risk of collisions), the entire playground is in sort of a sunken bowl (a toddler can't escape too easily), and you can see the whole playground easily from pretty much any vantage point. The structure isn't the most exciting around, but sometimes it's nice to go to a park where you're not constantly worried about what your toddler will do next. The relaxation factor, plus the cute design, make War Memorial a great toddler park.

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