Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Playground Review: Serra Park (Sunnyvale)


The second stop on our tour of Sunnyvale: Serra Park, located at the corner of Hollenbeck Road and The Dalles Avenue. I used to visit Serra as a child, and loved the river boat-themed play structure and the huge pond, where I'd catch tadpoles and take them home to watch them grow into frogs (you can guess how that ended). I was very excited to visit 30 years later with Toddler X, and overall we had a very enjoyable afternoon. Here are my findings:

Pros
  • One of the best themed playgrounds in the South Bay, Serra features a river boat theme for the big kids' play area and a treehouse theme for the toddler area. They remind me a bit of Disneyland, with the riverboat and Tom Sawyer's island. Very visually appealing.
  • The toddler play area is fully-fenced, with sand and my beloved squishy stuff as the ground surfaces.
  • There is a lot of afternoon (and, judging from the positions of the trees, I would guess all day) shade over both the big kid and toddler play structures, and throughout the park as a whole.
  • The toddler play structure (top two photos above) is small but fun and modern, with a dual slide and several cool features (a few of which directly tie in to the treehouse theme, such as log steps and a climbing wall). The toddler area also includes baby swings and benches.
  • The big kid play structure (bottom two photos above) is amazing -- still the river boat theme I remember from my childhood, but a completely new, modern structure. The structure was not designed for toddlers and definitely requires close supervision by an adult (I would say directly following the toddler, as it is very tall and has some big drops), but if you're feeling adventurous, it is worth exploring. (One caveat: if it's very crowded with rambunctious older kids -- who, of course, have the right to be there, as it is the big kid structure -- you may want to stay off for fear of your toddler blocking the paths or stairs, or being run over.)
  • There is a large concrete water feature (pictured below), which appears to be operated with a timer, but was not being used during our visit (I have to admit, I didn't go over to test it because I didn't want Toddler X to get wet at 5 p.m. -- playground reviewer fail.).
  • The park has large grassy areas, nice tennis courts, picnic tables, and bathrooms.
Cons
  • The toddler section, though very fun, is also small and was VERY crowded when we were there -- like, uncomfortably so. Kids were crawling all over each other on the small structure, there was a wait to use the swings, and the gate was being opened and closed so constantly that it barely had any containment value. This was a Monday afternoon between 3:30 and 5:00, so no doubt the after-school crowd contributed to this congested feeling. I imagine it would be more enjoyable at other times of day.
  • The gate on the toddler section does not latch. I'm not sure what the point of having a fence and a gate is if a toddler can just open it by pushing. Yes, it slows them down a bit, but it definitely does not prevent escapes.
  • The big kid play structure is phenomenal, but can be hard for even older toddlers/preschoolers to manage -- even with a 3 or 4 year-old, you may have to step in to help them down from higher levels or big drops. The density of the structure makes it a bit nerve-wracking for the parent of an adventurous younger child -- there's no one place that you can stand and keep an eye on your child throughout the structure.
  • Neither of the two parking lots -- one next to the tennis courts on Hollenbeck, and one that you enter via The Dalles -- is immediately next to the playground. Herding toddlers along park paths and over bridges, with the attractive nuisances of drained creekbeds and murky pools of muddy water (more on that below) on every side, while lugging sand toys and food and extra clothes and all the other toddler necessities, is a tremendous hassle. Getting a reluctant toddler back to the car afterwards, with the same load and the same distractions, is darn near impossible.
  • As mentioned above, the big pond and creek features, where I delighted in catching those ill-fated tadpoles as a kid, have been drained -- apparently relatively recently, judging from the still-muddy remains and the interesting smell. Perhaps they're just cleaning and the pond/creeks will be full again soon, but if not, they form a very unattractive feature in an otherwise pleasant park.
  • The water feature switch is at the outside edge of the features, close to a street exit. Keep an eye on kids if they head up there to turn on the water.
Overall, I give Serra Park two thumbs up. The toddler play structure was small but fun, and the theme and play features kept Toddler X and his buddies entertained. The shade was awfully nice too -- although going into fall, that's less of a factor than during the summer.

Next time we go (and we will go again), I will definitely try to visit during a less busy time of day (when I discover what that time of day is, I will let you know), and with fewer big kids around, I look forward to doing some exploring of the river boat structure with Toddler X. And of course, I look forward to the day that the pond and creek are full again -- but I swear that this time, I'll leave those poor tadpoles alone.


1 comment:

  1. Mornings are quieter, anytime between 3 to 6:30pm is very busy due to the French American School and other preschools/daycare nearby. There is another structure in the back when you follow the stream path. Designed for 5+ but still good for toddlers to explore.

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