Friday, March 13, 2015

Playground Review: Balermino Park (SJ)

I LOVE being one of the first to visit a new park, and with San Jose's new Balermino Park being less than a week old, I had just such an opportunity today. Located on the outskirts of Willow Glen, right where Almaden Road and Almaden Expressway meet (1501 Almaden Road is the actual address), the park is bordered by body shops on one side and nice, new apartments on the other. The park is named after Roberto Balermino, an Ohlone rancher who grew up and owned property in the area, and the ground design resembles traditional Ohlone patterns.

A bird's eye view from the top of the slide
While Balermino Park has some practical drawbacks -- the only parking is on a busy street, for example, and there are no bathrooms -- the playground itself is unique, very cool, and very toddler-friendly. I definitely recommend a visit -- just plan to bring a travel potty for your toddler, 'cause you could be playing here for a while.

Update: After I posted this review yesterday, I got feedback from two readers that reminded me of a crucial fact: when Toddler X and I visit a playground, my review just reflects a snapshot of the park (literally, in the pictures, and figuratively, in my overall impressions), as the park exists at that moment and in our particular situation. We visited on a Friday morning around 10:30 a.m. I went alone with Toddler X, and the other families we saw there each had one child, or a child and an infant. There were no older children present because it was during school hours, and no other adults who would add an uncomfortable element (with the exception of the last few minutes we were there, when two 20-something men began sitting at one of the picnic tables, though they were minding their own business).

Readers who visited at other times and in other circumstances had different experiences. Those who visited in the afternoons found the metal equipment too hot, and the park overrun with not-so-respectful older children, as well as a less pleasant element of teens and adults. And those who visited with two mobile kids in the 1-4 range -- old enough to be fast, not old enough to be trusted to stay away from traffic -- were very uncomfortable with the un-fenced proximity to a major street.

This is just a reminder that experiences may differ depending on the day and time you visit, and of course on the other people who happen to be at the park. I hope that if you visit this park, you have a great experience like I did, but it's worth recognizing that at other times of the day or week, your visit may be less than stellar.

Now on to the review...

Balermino Park Features:

Parking: Street parking on Almaden Road, a relatively busy street. You'll need to be careful with your toddler while unloading the car, particularly if his/her carseat is on the street side.

Fenced-in Playground: The playground is not fully-fenced, though there is fencing along most of the street side. Readers with two mobile children under age four have expressed concerns about the lack of fencing and the proximity to traffic.

Playground Ground Covering: All rubberized, no tanbark or sand.

Play Structures: The play structures here are SO cool! There's no single typical play structure, like you find at most parks -- instead, there are a variety of play apparatuses spread across a wide swath of playground, almost all of which are toddler-friendly.

The closest approximation of a typical playground structure is a small toddler-friendly creation with grating all around a couple of fun tunnels, with two chest-high openings (no slide).

But beyond that is where the fun really starts!

There are two fantastic see saws, both of which seat four people...

A couple of weird spinning devices, which of course Toddler X loved...

A big bowl swing of sorts, which is one of the most relaxing playground experiences around...

A neat rock-climbing structure for bigger kids...

A tall slide (for bigger kids, but obviously a draw for all) that, though metal, is situated so it doesn't get too hot... (though visitors later in the day may find that not to be the case)

Bars for hanging and climbing...

Several little ride-on spring toys...

And a toddler-height roller slide (a fun little structure unto itself).

As someone who visits a LOT of playgrounds and can categorize almost all into four or five structure types, it's really neat to find a new playground that defies categorization.

Swings: Four big kid swings (in two separate locations) and two baby swings, plus that big bowl swing thing I mentioned earlier.

Sandbox: None.

Water feature: None.

Accessibility: I'd say this park gets good, but not great, grades for accessibility. The open setup and rubberized ground surface make it accessible, and the bowl swing is a feature I've seen at several accessible playgrounds. One of the see-saws, which has actual seats that don't require as much balancing, could also be accessible. But there are no ramp-accessible structures or anything like that.

Shade: Ugh -- one big drawback. There is NO naturally-occurring shade at this playground -- no trees or even buildings to block the sun. Fortunately, the designers constructed a metal shading structure over four or five picnic tables, which is helpful when you want to sit and eat, but not when you want to play.

You can see the shelter/sun shade in the background here.
Picnic Tables/BBQs: Yes picnic tables (including some in the aforementioned shading structure), no BBQs.

Overall setting: Bordered on two sides by nice, new apartments, on one side by busy Almaden Road, and on the other side by a body shop.

Crowds: Pretty low today -- one group of moms with their toddlers (who all seemed to be having a blast), and then two other parents with their kids. The spread-out nature of the park's features suggests that it might be comfortable even with a larger crowd. However, it's worth noting that age 2-5 features and age 5-12 features are all mixed in together, so if it's crowded with grade-school kids, it might not be as comfortable for toddlers. (Note: readers who visited in the afternoons found it to be crowded with older kids, as well as an unpleasant teen element. If you're hoping for a peaceful experience like mine, I'd recommend trying to come on a weekday morning, if possible.)

Other Park Features: A basketball court, a beautiful big lawn.

Overall, I loved this park, mostly because it's such a refreshing break from all the cookie-cutter parks out there. Toddler X really enjoyed testing out the features that he doesn't see frequently, and I enjoyed the wide-open, spacious feel and the newness of it all. The park is very aesthetically pleasing, and I hope it stays that way. The big drawbacks are the location along a busy road, the lack of shade, and the lack of bathrooms. I'd recommend checking it out before the summer heat sets in if you can, or as an early morning or cloudy day outing.

Happy toddling!

Some day I'll learn to take a good panoramic pic.
Until then...

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