Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Playground Review: Steve Carli Park (Santa Clara)

Steve Carli Park has been around for a long time, but its recently-renovated playground is brand spankin' new and a sight to behold, with fun theming, great shade, and features galore. We stopped by to check it out this afternoon and here's what we found:

Location/Parking. Steve Carli Park is located on Los Padres Boulevard between Homestead and Benton in Santa Clara. It's set in a pleasant family neighborhood, alongside an elementary school. Between the playground and the school is the home field for the Westside Little League. As with any park adjacent to a little league field, it's likely to be hopping on Saturday mornings in the spring, so plan your visits accordingly.

There is no parking lot, but ample street parking (as long as it's not baseball season). Because only one side of the park (and a narrow side at that) touches the street, however, you may have a bit of a walk from your car to the park itself. Fortunately there are sidewalks and a crosswalk right at the park to keep you and your kiddos safe.

The Playground. Where to begin?! The newly-remodeled playground (it just opened on June 15th) is fantastic on so many levels, from its setting to its structures to its creative features. Here are some highlights:

The playground is set at the rear of the park, far from the street entrance. While the play area is not fenced, it is surrounded by grassy areas, which in turn are bordered on two sides by backyard fences and on a third by the little league field. In other words, even a child who likes to wander is unlikely to make it to the street before you can grab him. With the grassy area between the playground and the back fences, kids actually have a spacious, somewhat contained, area for free play. My first thought upon seeing it was that this would be a great spot for a play date/picnic with friends.

Shady, grassy areas bordering the playground
But what really separates this playground's setting from that of most newer playgrounds are the multiple, mature shade trees. The playground area is circled by these leafy beauties, such that at least part of the playground is in deep shade at any point in the day (in the spring/summer, at least). No, the shade doesn't cover the entire play area, but at least there are cool options available. There are benches underneath the trees, making it a really nice place to relax on a hot day and watch your kids play.

And play they will -- and play, and play, and play. I had a harder time getting Toddler X away from this playground today than I have at any other in recent memory.

First of all, he loved the "big kids" structure (ages 5-12), and it is easy to see why.

The structure is large and widespread, with several "branches" that allow it to feel spacious even when there are many kids running about. There are three slides and a whole bunch of climbing features to access the upper level -- ropes and ladders and twisty rope-ladders and log steps and a rock-ish wall.

There's a nice set of monkey bars, a little table and chairs, and a puzzle down below that Toddler X really enjoyed.

The theme is sort of a treehouse/forest mix, nicely done. As you can see from the pictures, the structure is very pleasant to look at and fits in well, aesthetically, with the tree-shaded setting.

Age 2-5 structure
A few yards away from this structure is the toddler structure (ages 2-5), which is also really nice (albeit a lot smaller -- but hey, so are the toddlers). It has the same treehouse theme and a couple of fun features. During our visit (late afternoon), it was completely shaded.

Toddler X enjoyed the tunnel that you could climb up or slide down -- several 4 and 5 year-olds seemed to think it was fun. We also found what he declared to be the best set of "talky things" (those devices where you speak into one end and can hear it far away) that he's ever seen.

The "talky thing"
The highest opening on the structure is about waist-high, and the structure should be manageable for kids 2 and up.

Aside from the two main structures, the park has a fantastic merry-go-round spinner of sorts that is unlike any I have seen -- Toddler X and the other kids at the park were loving it. You can climb aboard and get cozy in a seat while somebody spins you, or you can do the hard work yourself by tugging on the stationary green wheel in the middle (it was fun to see some teamwork among the kids!).

And finally, the swings. There is a swingset with two baby swings, two standards swings, and -- wait for it -- two parent/child swings that I've only seen in pictures before and was so excited to find in real life today!

Swings have long been the bane of my existence, as both my kids have loved them since their very first ride and would happily swing all day if somebody (read: me) would keep pushing them. The idea of a swing where I can do the work by swinging rather than pushing -- it's just mind-blowing. (In a "don't try this at home" move, I also put Toddler X to work swinging his sister before I read the instructions, which explicitly prohibit standing on the parent side. So please abide by the instructions, not our terrible example. :) )

Don't do this.
Though it's not fenced, this playground is a pretty good one for parents with multiple kids. The structures are close together and the playground as a whole is pretty compact, with a clearly defined boundary (where the wood chips end) that will help keep kids in place. The back side of the playground opens up to a grassy area, then backyard fences, so it seems like a low stress place to watch kids play.

Overall, there are only two things I don't like about this playground. the wood chip ground covering, and the location of the bathroom (it's far from the playground and close to the street, and getting there requires going around -- and not through, if there's a game going on, but try telling that to a kid who has to go -- the basketball court). But those are a small price to play for a spot that lets me stay cool while my child plays happily nearby. This playground is a winner, through and through.

The Rest of the Park. Aside from the playground and the little league field, the park features some smallish grassy areas that would be great for picnics, throwing a ball, or games of tag (several of them are shaded as well).

The park also has a very nice basketball court, some picnic tables (though they were all grouped together in the sun near the basketball court, and weren't all that nice), and restrooms (which unfortunately have a fly problem -- though I was impressed by changing tables in both the men's and women's). And, if you time it right, there's the little league snack shack -- visions of Laffy Taffy and Fun Dip candies are dancing in my head.

Conclusion. Los Padres Boulevard is a stretch of road that passes three pretty amazing (and very different) Santa Clara parks -- Alvarez, Henry Schmidt, and Steve Carli. With its new playground, Steve Carli becomes a great choice for an outing with your kids. Alvarez will always be a favorite of ours -- perhaps even our single favorite all-around park -- but the new features at the Steve Carli playground and the ample shade will definitely put it into our rotation. If your child enjoys creative play structures (particularly "big kid" structures -- the toddler one is fun, but not as extensive or creative) and you want to check out new features like the merry-go-round thing and the parent/child swing, it's definitely worth making the trip to this great new playground.


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