Friday, March 14, 2014

Playground Review: Shoreline Park (Mountain View)


I love trying a new (to me) park, and I especially love it when that new park is awesome! Today we joined our friend Toddler H and his mom at their favorite spot, Shoreline Park in Mountain View, and we were delighted with the total change of pace from most of the parks we visit.

I've been to dozens of events at Shoreline Amphitheater over the years, and have gone for runs on the trails nearby, but I never even knew of the existence of the playground until today, and I bet many of you didn't either -- it's kind of off the radar. You take Shoreline Boulevard in towards the amphitheater, but continue past the entrance (and the zillions of Google buildings), past the dog park, past the kite flying field, and past the gatehouse, winding around the whole park to the lake/boathouse/cafe area and the parking lot there.

Park in front of the boathouse/cafe and, facing the water, take the trail to the right, winding around the lake. It's a short (forgot to GPS it, but maybe 1/4 mile?) walk from the parking lot to the playground on a paved path -- a long enough distance that you'll want to make sure you bring everything you need from the car, and you probably will want a stroller to haul your toddler and stuff. (Older toddlers might enjoy a tricycle, balance bike or scooter -- we saw a bunch out there.) When you see a big sailboat on your right, you'll know you've found the playground. Happy toddling!


Pros

  • A really nice change of pace from the average park playgrounds, with their cool but somewhat repetitive play structures, slides, swings, and spring toys. Shoreline's "structure" is a big wooden boat set off to the side of the path, with a wooden, rope-lined ramp leading up to it, and surrounded on all sides by sand. The climbing structures "on board" represent a wheelhouse and a lookout tower. The boat, with the surrounding sand, comprises the whole playground.
  • The boat structure is great -- Toddler X had an absolute blast just running around the deck and up and down the wooden ramp (the kid is really into ramps right now). The wheelhouse climbing structure (with very low steps and no potential fall points -- a piece of cake for any toddler to climb) has a steering wheel, some portholes, and neat little hiding places underneath. The lookout structure is more of just a climbing platform, again with very low steps and fully enclosed up top. There were several younger toddlers there, and the play area seemed very secure for them. 
  • The boat also has two telescopes that Toddler X really enjoyed.
  • The boat's ground surface is the squishy stuff I like. 
  • Surrounding the boat on all sides is some of the best playground sand I've seen, a small pebbly type that wipes off easily (almost none made it back to the car -- hooray!). The sand circling about 75% of the boat is unfenced, opening out into the park itself, but there is one fantastic little area that is walled off a bit by the wooden ramp, where you can put your toddler in and know that it would take them a reasonable degree of effort to escape. 

  • There are benches lining the ramp, and more in the surrounding area.
  • The setting is downright delightful, looking out over Shoreline lake. Though there isn't much shade, there is often a breeze from the lake to cool the playground down.
  • One of the many jogging/walking paths meanders right by the playground, so it's a great opportunity to combine play time with a workout. There are no roads or cars nearby.
  • Parking is ample in the lot near the boathouse/cafe (but, as mentioned above, it's a good walk to the playground).
  • The boathouse bathrooms are nice and clean, and though there isn't a changing table, there is a bench inside that would suffice.
  • The Lakeside Cafe (located at the boathouse) looks like a very pleasant place to grab lunch, a snack or a picnic in conjunction with a playground trip -- the view of the lake from the patio is really nice. We didn't have a chance to eat there -- I just peeked in to check it out -- but it offers yummy-looking sandwiches, salads, panini, baked goods, etc., and I did see a high chair and a booster seat. Here's a link to the restaurant so you can check out their menu.
  • If the ship-themed playground has you hankering for the water, kids 2 and up are actually allowed on the rental watercraft at the lake. Here's a link to the Aquatic Center for details.

Cons

  • The playground doesn't have swings, slides or many of the standard features of other playgrounds. When I heard this from my friend, I was kind of disappointed -- Toddler X loves his swings -- but when we arrived it was immediately apparent that there was plenty to amuse him here, and slides and swings would have been superfluous. So not really a "con" in my book, but it might be to you.
  • There is a walk from the parking lot (and the bathrooms) to the playground. Plan to bring everything you need from your car, because there's no quick jog back to grab your sand toys or snack. I was happy to have my stroller, particularly because I didn't want Toddler X running off after the waterfowl on our way to/from the playground, but also so I didn't have to carry diaper changing gear, sand toys, water and snacks while minding my toddler as well.
  • The waterfowl. Ah, the waterfowl. There are geese here (and, of course, goose poop) to rival Vasona or Memorial Park -- if you build a lake, they will come. The grass and paths are littered with their droppings, and geese can actually be quite mean, so they're not the greatest things for toddlers to chase. While they seem to stay away from the playground itself -- the structure and the sand were all clean -- the surrounding grass and paths are minefields, so be sure to check your shoes and your toddler's (and your stroller wheels, if you brought one) before you get back in the car.
  • The park is not fenced at all. There are no cars nearby, but there is a path where bikes are allowed (we didn't see any adult cyclists this morning, but I imagine they're more prevalent on weekends), and toddlers are not known for looking before they go running across paths. There is also this little thing called a lake. Toddler X took off after some older toddlers (perhaps even preschoolers!) as they charged off to the shore, and another mom and I had to chase them down before they hopped off a two foot high mud cliff into the lakeside muck. If your toddler has a penchant for taking off running, perhaps stay close at hand (or at least remain at the end of the ramp to block any exit attempts).
  • Not much shade.

Overall, I loved this park -- the setting, the novelty of the structure, the sand area -- and we will definitely be back. I highly recommend you give it a try.

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