Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Playground Review: Jeffrey Fontana Park (San Jose)


On Thursday morning, Toddler X and I visited Jeffrey Fontana Park in the Almaden area of San Jose. I found Fontana the way I find most parks these days -- by pulling up a map, identifying where I need to go that day (in this case, the Whole Foods on Blossom Hill), then zooming out to look for splotches of green parkland nearby.

Fontana is a long, narrow park, set up underneath the power lines that run through Almaden, and it connects to TJ Martin park, also underneath the lines, and the much larger, forested Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, which seems to have some beautiful walking trails.

Toddler X and his buddy definitely enjoyed their visit to Fontana Park, and we may meet up with friends there again the next time our travels take us to the area. There are a few negatives and it definitely doesn't break my Top 10 list, but overall it is a very nice playground. Here's the scoop:

Pros
  • Toddler play area, separated from the "big kid" area by about 30 feet (but not separately fenced), features a toddler play structure, sand box, two cute spring toys and two nice baby swings, along with benches around the perimeter to relax while your kiddo plays. (Top four pictures above)
  • The toddler play structure is nice and modern, of medium size and medium height (maybe chest high at its highest level), with two slides of different heights (both side-by-side designs, so technically four slides), a tunnel, a few features (a periscope and steering wheels), and only two places where a toddler could conceivably fall off (both just above waist high). I felt secure letting Toddler X climb on it without hovering within arm's reach. 
  • The setting itself has pros and cons. The pros are that the park is set in the midst of a nice Almaden neighborhood, but against the backdrop of the pretty, forested Guadalupe Oak Grove Park. There are trees around the toddler play area and leaves on the ground, and you almost forget that there are houses nearby -- it's very pleasant and peaceful.
  • If you want to get some exercise, there are lots of walking paths inside the park and in the connected Guadalupe Oak Grove Park (but I probably wouldn't walk there alone, as it appears somewhat forested and isolated).
  • If your toddler is a canine-lover, there is a large dog park close to the playground and lots of friendly pups being walked in the park.
Cons
  • Neither the toddler area nor the playground as a whole is fully fenced. There is fencing on the sides closest to the street and the forested area adjacent to Fontana, though, so the only concern is your toddler running off into the rest of Fontana Park (which is exactly what Toddler X did, and found a par course workout structure that he liked even more than the play structure).
  • There is no parking immediately next to the playground. The nearest street parking (on Golden Oak Way -- there is no parking on Thorntree, which is closest to the playground) requires a short hike across the grass to reach the play areas. While it's certainly not a long distance in the grand scheme of things, it was slow going with a dawdling toddler, and annoying when I realized I had left the sand toys in the car and we had to walk all the way back. Plus there are mushrooms on the grass, and mushrooms freak me out.
  • As I mentioned, the setting has pros and cons. The power lines are a con, in that the buzzing you hear as you walk from your car to the playground isn't exactly soothing. However, I have to say that once we actually got to the playground itself, I didn't notice or think of them.
  • Another con is that, even though it is in the midst of a nice neighborhood, the playground area feels somewhat isolated, set away from the street behind a rise, against the backdrop of the forested Guadalupe Oak Grove Park. Toddler X and I were at the playground alone for about 30 minutes, and there were a few moments when I really wished another mom and her kids would show up. It was probably totally irrational and nothing that I can put a finger on -- and perhaps it was just the really gloomy weather -- but I was a teensy bit uncomfortable. If you're super sensitive about things like that, maybe plan to meet a friend here.
  • Despite many oak trees in the area, there isn't a lot of shade on the playground.
  • No bathrooms that I could see.
  • The sand box is filled with rubbish from nearby trees, including some strange fruit things that must have been carried in by squirrels, and which of course seemed like fun toys to my ball-loving toddler.
  • Ground covering is tanbark, which I detest.
  • The big kid play structure (bottom left picture above) is decidedly NOT toddler-friendly. It is at least 6 feet high at its highest level, with several openings where a toddler could fall off, a very steep slide that drops off well above ground level, and a setup that makes it hard for a parent to quickly get from one side to another to prevent a dangerous leap. Given that its not separately fenced and is only about 30 feet from the toddler structure, it's a dangerous attraction for little ones.
Again, in the overall analysis, I really liked this park. The toddler area was nice, the play structure was fun, and the surrounding trees and nice benches made for a pleasant setting. If you're in the area and the negatives mentioned don't worry you, then I would definitely check it out. Just don't forget anything in your car (or bring a stroller or wagon), don't visit with a full bladder, and be sure to keep your toddler away from those big mushrooms -- yuck!

1 comment:

  1. I went to this park once, and like you, we were the only people at the playground. And, I got that same creepy feeling like I shouldn't be there alone even with many dog owners nearby at the dog park. I couldn't put my finger on it, but we left after about 15 min.

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