Thursday, November 6, 2014

Playground Review: Somerset Square Park (Cupertino)

It's official -- I have now visited every single playground in the City of Cupertino, all thirteen of them. And boy, am I happy I didn't stop at twelve, because it was the 13th -- the very last Cupertino park on my list -- that turned out to be my favorite. Folks, I'd like to introduce you to Somerset Square Park.

I occasionally use the term "hidden gem" to describe parks, but none compare to Somerset in either the "hidden-ness" or "gem-ness" categories. Tucked waaaay back into a Cupertino neighborhood, in a little triangle at the end of a dead-end street, bounded by the railroad tracks and the Highway 280 sound wall -- well, nobody has ever just "happened upon" this spot. (In fact, it's so hidden that some GPS features, including mine, miss the mark.) But that's just as well -- if it were in a more obvious location, it would lose some of its charm.

Ready for my review? Here goes!


  • A delightful, under-the-radar park, tucked in at the end of a quiet Cupertino street, in an unexpectedly green glen with plenty of trees and a nice lawn ("unexpectedly green" because of its proximity to the sound wall for a major freeway and a large power structure).
  • The biggest pro: the ADORABLE play structure! I've been to well over a hundred playgrounds in the past year and a half, and this structure is unique among them (the closest would be the equally awesome Katie's Playground in Truckee). The structure has a foresty, tree fort theme, with tree canopies, a cool bridge/stairway styled to look like a bear, stump, log and rock climbing options (all plastic), a little fort kitchen with a built in chair, and three nice slides, including a low side-by-side, a medium, straight fast one, and a tall twisty one. The structure is rated for ages 2-5 -- toddlers rejoice!

  • One baby swing and one big kid swing.
  • Three picnic tables with bbqs in the shade just feet from the play structure afford a great "home base" where parents can relax.
  • Plentiful shady benches along the perimeter trail around the park.
  • Easy street parking, with four pull-in spaces and plenty of curb availability.
  • Visitors have an awesome vantage point for watching the train when it goes by -- it didn't while we were there, but the tracks are just a dozen feet away from the park's fence.
  • No crowds AT ALL
  • It's strange when a big pro is actually the biggest con, but here goes: no crowds AT ALL. Like, for most of the time we were there, we were the only people at the park -- for a few minutes, there were two women walking their dogs, but that was it. Tucked in an the end of a dead-end street, in a narrow triangle bordered by the freeway sound wall and the chain-link fence enclosing the railroad tracks, you are really isolated back there, and it was actually kind of creepy. While you could see someone coming from the narrow street-side entrance, there are also a few openings in the fence (far from the playground, fortunately) that leads to the railroad tracks, and it made me uncomfortable thinking that someone could approach from that direction. As much as I love this park, I won't choose to go here alone again in the future, particularly mid-day on a weekday, but I will absolutely go whenever I can with friends.
  • No bathrooms.
  • Tanbark.
  • Not fully-fenced, but as I mentioned, there's only a small opening to the very quiet street, and it's not super close to the playground; the other two sides of the triangular playground are bordered by the sound wall and the chain link fence along the railroad tracks, so the park as a whole is pretty enclosed.
  • If your toddler doesn't like trains or loud noises, the proximity of the train tracks might be a concern.
  • Chatting with the two women who were walking their dogs, it appears that many people use the lawn as a de facto off-leash dog park. We don't mind dogs, but if your family does, this may not be a great park for you.
  • Some of the play structure features, though awesome, would be tough to manage for younger toddlers -- even Toddler X, who is a pretty confident playground-er, was kind of bewildered as to how to climb the bear bridge.

Overall, there was something about this park that made it an immediate favorite for me -- primarily the play structure, but also the shade and the convenient picnic tables where I could relax while Toddler X played. Though I won't choose to visit again solo, I plan to go back often with family and friends. I highly recommend you check it out.

To get to Somerset, coming from the Highway 85/Stevens Creek Boulevard exit, turn away from De Anza College, and head toward the hills. Turn right onto Peninsula Avenue (if you pass the post office, you've gone too far), then left onto Dempster Avenue, then left again onto Stokes Avenue, which will dead end at the park.

Happy toddling!

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