Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Playground Review: Las Palmas Park ( Sunnyvale)

Main View and the Toddler Section
UPDATE: Since the time I published this review, Las Palmas Park's playgrounds have been COMPLETELY renovated and updated, with several of the concerns I indicated in this review now being resolved. How exciting! This is now one of the more toddler-friendly parks I've visited, and I'm excited to update this review.

"Ooh. Ooh! Oooooh!" It was all I could say as I pulled into the parking lot at Las Palmas Park in Sunnyvale on Friday and got my first glimpse of the mirage-like scene -- a gorgeous blue lake, with towering palm trees bordering an island playground. How had I never visited this place before? Had I discovered a new "best toddler playground"?

And then, "Stop. Stop! STOP!" It was all I could yell to keep Toddler X from hurdling himself into the aforementioned beautiful blue lake, which immediately borders the path to the playground and has NO boundary - no fence, no landscaped border, not even a raised lip -- to keep toddlers from jumping right in. Did they think the small "No Wading" sign would do the trick?

That was just the start of our adventures in a park that has tremendous visual appeal, but promises hazards galore for toddlers and heart palpitations galore for those who don't want them to get head injuries, scaldings or lake baths.

If your toddler is tremendously obedient and not the least bit curious or impulsive (are you sure you actually have a toddler??), then this is a great park. If not, I say wait a few years. Read on for details...

  • Very cool visual impact as you approach. Huge blue lake (much cleaner/less grungy than many park lakes) with towering palm trees and a playground on an island, accessible only by bridge. I miraculously didn't see any geese (the bane of a lake park's existence), just a happy family of mallards.
  • Separate toddler area, with play structure, baby swings and fun spring toys. Ramp to the play structure was covered with metal plates and bordered with metal bars, which Toddler X enjoyed stomping/banging on.
  • Plenty of shady sand space in the toddler area for digging and playing on the spring toys, as well as shade for the neighboring picnic tables.
  • Fun bridge to cool "big kid" play area on the island.
  • Lots of open grassy space, parking lots, bathrooms.
The "Big Kid" Island
  • The very thing that makes this park pretty -- the big, beautiful lake -- makes it a nightmare for a toddler-watcher. Like I said above, it is basically a straight shot from play area to water, with no actual (or even visual) barrier to keep a toddler from running straight into that fascinating wet stuff. On the island, it's even worse, with a slope leading straight into the water. I had to physically restrain Toddler X on multiple occasions from going to meet those friendly ducks on their home turf.
  • The toddler play structure is antiquated, with wood framing, not too many exciting features, and a METAL slide! I haven't seen a metal slide in years. I can't imagine how hot it must get mid-day.
  • The entire play surface is sand. I hate sand unless it's in a sandbox. When we got into the car after our visit, Toddler X took his shoe off and I heard a cascade of small particles fill the back seat. I know I’ll be vacuuming them up for weeks to come, a constant reminder of our day at Las Palmas.
  • The border of the toddler play area is hard concrete. Toddlers are notoriously unstable on their feet, particularly when running in deep sand. This edge is just a head injury waiting to happen.
  • The massive water feature that abuts the toddler play area looks amazing – best water feature ever! – until you realize that it doesn’t work. The huge spray pillars, the “river” that winds into a pool, the wet slide…they would all be a lot cooler if water were actually present. Apparently you can call in advance and have the water turned on for a cost of $60/2 hours. I say skip it and hit Ortega Park’s FREE water feature, just a few miles away.
See photos below for my "cons" -- the desert-like water feature, the easy lake access, the concrete playground edge, and sand galore.

I’m sorry if I sound very negative about  Las Palmas, but having visited about 30 playgrounds in the last few months with toddler-friendliness in mind, I’m getting kind of picky. The overly-accessible water, antiquated play structure, sand play surface and defunct water feature won’t bring me back to this park until we’re through with the toddler years.


  1. Such a great review of Las Palmas. You're right on with the "accident waiting to happen" comment. We live nearby and never go. I have to add, in all the times I've been to the park with my kid or dog (probably a dozen or so), the lake is always drained. Maybe the lake is a summer only feature?

    1. That's probably why it looked so pretty and clean -- the water was just added that day! Perhaps they knew I was coming to do a review. :)

  2. Las Palma's parks owns for all the reasons you listed as cons. I really hope overprotective parents don't ruin it for everyone else. This place is a great place for toddlers to really let loose. The world needs more metal slides.

    1. Neil, I'm glad you commented and I totally appreciate your perspective. That's why I explain my rationale in detail in my reviews -- things that might make a park appealing to me might deter others, and things that I list as cons might be viewed as pros by some.

      I don't see how "overprotective" parents risk ruining this park for "everyone else" -- I'm not starting some campaign to change it, I'm simply choosing not to take my 2 year old there. If anything, I'm giving your toddler more space to really let loose, and shortening the line for the metal slides you enjoy so much.

      Seriously, though, I appreciate your perspective as a reminder that it's important to include details in my posts so that parents can decide for themselves whether the park in question is a good match for their child.

  3. FYI, Las Palmas is closed for renovations, see here http://sunnyvale.ca.gov/Departments/CommunityServices/Parks/LasPalmasPark.aspx
    I understand all your cons (you forgot Windy, it's always windy), hopefully they will make it better. One of the pros too is that Las Palmas is home of green parrots, look up and you can see them and hear them. They are nowhere to be seen except at Las Palmas Park


Hmm...what to do today?