An Honest Mom’s Guide to Playgrounds in Sarasota


With 2 energetic little boys, our family frequently makes trips to playgrounds in Sarasota. But not all parks are created equal.  Here is an honest review and specific ratings of some of our favorite and not-so-favorite playgrounds in Sarasota.  top

Playgrounds in Sarasota: North

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Central

Playgrounds in Sarasota: South

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Lakewood Ranch

How Playgrounds in Sarasota are Rated (Low: 0, High: 10)

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: Is there a diverse option of playground equipment?  Are there multiple pieces of equipment for my kids to go between?  Are there multiple playground sets for older and younger kids?  If the park is crowded, will there be enough equipment for my child to play on?
  2. Approach Score: I love living in Florida, I really do.  But, come end of March to mid-October, I limit my outside time to certain times of day, and I plan my outside entertainment based on the amount of shade there is.  The approach score is basically how sweaty, hot, and exhausted will you be before you even get to the actual playground.  Is the parking lot a quarter of a mile away from the fun?  Is there shade or trees to get you pleasantly to and from on a hot, Florida summer day?  (Most Floridian moms know in the summer, you get to the playground by 10:00 am at the latest, and you leave that park before 11:15 at the latest, or else you face the risk of dying from heat disease.)  
  3. SPF Score: Speaking of the hot, Florida sun, the SPF score is the amount of shade the actual playground has.  Will your little munchkins be a sweaty mess within 10 minutes of arrival?  Can your little ones only last 20 minutes before you fear for their dehydration safety?
  4. Prison Break Score:  Is the playground confined with a fence or gate so that little ones don’t accidently wander off?  How likely is it that my little one will escape the safe confines of the playground (0: very likey, 10: he’s caged in like a lion at the zoo).  In other words, can I or can I not go on my iPhone for 2 minutes while at this park without fearing my children may run off?
  5. Crowd Score:  Are there a million kids swarming around, all vying for the one slidey skateboard thing?  Do I have to helicopter my kids to make sure they are taking turns and not pushing other kids around?  An overcrowded park in not an enjoyable experience. 
  6. Playdate Score:  How likely am I to get a decent, adult conversation in if two moms meet up for a playdate?  Is the equipment safe enough that my 3-year-old will not hang from the too tall monkey bars?  Is the equipment relatively close together so that said other mom and I can stand in one place, talk, and still keep an eye on our children?  Or will I be chasing my child all around and not be able to talk to my mom friend?
  7. Bathroom Score:  Is the bathroom close enough that your newly potty-trained toddler can make it to the facility in time or do you have to scoop him up, haul butt, and hope you don’t have an accident on the way? 

Playgrounds in Sarasota: North

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The Ringling Park

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Ringling Park
Playgrounds in Sarasota: Ringling Park

The Ringling Park is one of our family’s all-time favorite playgrounds in Sarasota.  It is located within the Ringling Museum grounds, which means you must check in at the front desk before you can get to the park, but it is one of the most beautiful playgrounds I have ever been to.  It has a whimsical gigantic slide, cool hammock -like swings, and a creative water area that is just the right amount of mess. And you don’t need to pay museum admission to get to it. The grounds are free every day.

Pros:  You cannot beat the shade at this park.  Even on a hot, summer day, this park remains well shaded by the banyan trees.  The slide, miniature house, swings, spring boards, and water area are unlike any other in the area. 

Cons: The walk in from the parking lot to the playground is a bit of a walk.  It is a beautiful, shaded walk, but it is a hike.  You have to park in the same parking lot as the museum guests, so the spaces are not just for playground use.  I do have to keep on eye on my 3-year-old because he tries to climb the too-tall-for-him slide, which he usually does successfully, but it does make a mama nervous if he happens to gets stuck 3 stories up without an easily accessible adult within arms reach.  The bathrooms are also a small walk to the nearby café.  Not too far, but not attached directly to playground.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 10 – The uniqueness and nod to the artistic nature of the Ringling make the equipment here make it one of the most unique playgrounds in Sarasota.
  2. Approach Score:  7 – The parking lot is not close.  On a warm, July day, the thought of the walk in may make me change my plans to the indoor inflatable jump house.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – Very well shaded.
  4. Prison Break Score:  8 – There is no fence located round this park, but the playground area is well defined, and if your little one escapes, the worst that will happen is they will wander off into the Ringling rose garden.
  5. Crowd Score:  7 – Over the past few years, this little known park has gained popularity.  Do not go on free museum Mondays.  I repeat.  Do not go on free museum Monday, when every tourist and local congregates at this spot.
  6. Play date Score: 7 – This is a decent park to get some quality mom conversation in.  Everything is close together, and you can stand in the center of the park and be within 10 seconds of each end.  The hardest part for me with a 3-year-old is monitoring his climbing up the tall treehouse slide. 
  7. Bathroom Score: 7 – The bathrooms are a short little walk from the playground.  Not too far, but definitely a place you’d have to run to in case of a bathroom emergency.

Conservatory Park

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Conservatory Park
Playgrounds in Sarasota: Conservatory Park

This park is located off of University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge, in a neighborhood called Country Meadows.  It is a bit secluded and a little bit hard to find.  We love this park because it is close to our neighborhood.  My husband and I are runners, so we run to this park with the double stroller.  There is a fitness trail, lined with random gym equipment for you to do in a 0.5 mile loop.

Pros:  This park is never crowded.  The nature/fitness walk is nice to take your kids on as a pseudo hike through the woods.  The parking lot is directly next to the playground and pavilion.

Cons: There are literally 2 pieces of equipment: a firefly seesaw and 2 swings.  The crowd size is small, but the seclusion almost makes it a little creepy.  So creepy that I will only go to this park if my husband is with me, and I would never walk the trail on my own.  There is also mace provided outside the bathrooms. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 1  – This park probably offers the least variety of the playgrounds in Sarasota and Bradenton.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – The parking lot is a few feet from the playground. 
  3. SPF Score:  5 – The park is not shaded, but there is a very close pavilion with restrooms and water fountains.
  4. Prison Break Score:  6 – There are no fences here.  After your child gets bored of the 2 pieces of equipment, they will most likely want to explore the nearby trails and bridges. 
  5. Crowd Score:  10 – There are rarely any other kids on this playground.  Your kids can have all 2 pieces of equipment to themselves.
  6. Play date Score: 9 – This would score high on the ability to hold an adult conversation with other mamas because your kids would most likely be the only kids there, and everything is confined to a small area.
  7. Bathroom Score: 8 – The bathrooms are seconds from the playground.

University Place Community Park

Playgrounds in Sarasota: University Place Community Park
Playgrounds in Sarasota: University Place Community Park

This little hidden playground in Sarasota is located behind the UTC Shops on the north side of University, between the Kohl’s shopping center and the BJ’s shopping center.  We love this park because it is never crowded, and the parking lot is steps from the equipment.  There is a pavilion with close bathrooms and a field for other recreational activities. 

Pros:  Low crowds, easy parking, close bathrooms.  This is my favorite play date playground because you and your mom friend can sit in the shaded pavilion and still be practically an arms reach away from any life-saving moves, if needed. 

Cons: The diversity of the equipment is mediocre.  There is the traditional multiple slide tower set-up, swings, a cool partner bouncy thing, and 2 old school character spring “rides.”  No shade to cover equipment but the pavilion is steps from the equipment.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 6 – Not the greatest but will keep most kids entertained for 20+ minutes.
  2. Approach Score:  10 – My favorite park to go to simply because the parking lot is literally 10 steps from the playground.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – This park has no shade, but it does have a pavilion with bathrooms and water fountains.
  4. Prison Break Score:  7 – It is not fenced in, and the parking lot is right next to the equipment, but it is rarely crowded or filled with traffic so parents can have a good sense of control over their children’s whereabouts.
  5. Crowd Score:  10 – This park rarely has more than 3-4 families here at a one time.
  6. Play date Score: 10 – Best in Sarasota/Bradenton area, in my opinion.  It is close, confined, and the equipment is safe enough for ages 3+ kids to navigate without parents having to helicopter.
  7. Bathroom Score: 10 – Within steps to bathrooms, which I find helpful when searching for playgrounds in Sarasota.

Longwood Park

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Longwood Park
Playgrounds in Sarasota: Longwood Park

Longwood Park is located off University Parkway.  It offers a toddler playground and a elementary-aged playground.  There is a basketball court, picnic area, tennis court, and a community center. 

Pros: The elementary ages playground offers a huge set, with lots of different pathways and diverse things to do.  Out of all the playgrounds in Sarasota this one has a sizable canopy that actually covers the entire playground, which doesn’t completely keep your kids cool, but it will probably add 5-10 extra minutes to your playtime due to the shade. 

Cons: Although usually fairly crowded and in a decent area of town, we have had a few sketchy encounters here.  We have seen adults park their cars in the lot, (perhaps enjoying a quiet place to take their lunch break?), but with no kids with them.  There is a back parking lot around the community center which is somewhat secluded near the Miracle League Field.  We have seen cars parked in the roundabout with random adults just sitting in their cars. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 8 – Two age appropriate playgrounds, equipment large and unique.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – Parking lot steps to playground.
  3. SPF Score:  7 – There is a shade covering the equipment which works semi-well, but we all know that nothing stays cool for very long in Florida.
  4. Prison Break Score:  7  – There is no fence around either playground, and the toddler playground is way too close to the parking lot, which can get some medium traffic.
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This park can get some crowds due to the presence of tennis courts, a basketball court, picnic area, and community center.
  6. Play date Score: 8 – This is a decent place to plan a play date because the equipment is close together and relatively age appropriate if your 3-year-old stays on the toddler set and not the elementary-aged set.
  7. Bathroom Score: 7 – Bathrooms are close but still a little bit of a walk from either playground.

Benderson Park

Playgrounds in Sarasota: Benderson Park
Playgrounds in Sarasota: Benderson Park

Sarasota loves Benderson Park; the most popular of the playgrounds in Sarasota. My running friends love to run there.  There are always so many people out riding bikes, walking dogs, bird watching.  I, perhaps in the minority, do not get the appeal of Benderson.  As a runner, up until 3 months ago, I noticed there were no water fountains.  Currently, there is no decent shade anywhere along the 3.25 mile loop.  As far as the playground, it recently opened.  The equipment is semi-unique.  But again…why do we not shade our Florida playgrounds?  There is no shade to be found in this Florida park built in 2016.  They have a cool, trendy solar powered cell phone charging station.  If you are not going to shade the place, I suppose those stations get quite a bit of use. 

Pros:  Close parking, close bathrooms, fenced in.  You and your partner can take turns running and watching your child if you are looking to get some exercise in.

Cons: No shade, crowded, parking lot is small. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 7 – The equipment is decent, although for being Sarasota’s newest playground, I would expect some more never-seen before type of equipment.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – The parking lot is very close the playground.
  3. SPF Score:  2  – No shade anywhere.  Anywhere. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  9 – This playground is fenced in, but I have seen 80% of the parents struggle with the opening/closing gate mechanism here.
  5. Crowd Score:  5 – This park is always packed.
  6. Play date Score: 8 – This park does have a fence, and the equipment is close together and generally safe for all ages (unless your 3-year-old likes to climb to the top of the giant spider web net).
  7. Bathroom Score: 8 – Bathrooms are close to playground.

*Update. Nathan Benderson Park now has ample shade over the entire playground!*

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Playgrounds in Sarasota: Central

Urfer Park

Urfer Park is popular among young and older kids due to the diversity of the playground equipment. There is a separate, fenced in area for the toddlers.  There is a nature/fitness trail if your little ones get bored with the equipment.  It is centrally located on Bee Ridge Road near the interstate.

Pros:  There are 3 separate playgrounds with a unique set of equipment that will please all ages.   

Cons: Crowds.  I have never been to Urfer Park when there has been less than 50 people swarming around like bees on all 3 sets of equipment.  It is always so crowded.  And there is little shade.  Also, it is close to 2 busy roads with a mere 2 slate wood fence to keep the kids in the play area.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 9 – There is a wide array of equipment.  Some pieces are unique to just this park, such as a skateboard slidey thing.  The toddler playground is fenced in.
  2. Approach Score:  7 – The playgrounds are not directly next to the parking lot, but they are close enough to the action.  As soon as you hit the sidewalk from the parking lot, you can let your children run free to the equipment.
  3. SPF Score:  6 – There are parts of this park that have the shade cover to them, but overall I find this park relatively hot on most days I have been.
  4. Prison Break Score:  10 (toddler area), 6 (other areas) – The toddler area is fenced in.  The other areas are not.  I suppose the other areas are meant for older children who would not run off like toddlers, but if you have big siblings, the younger sibling(s) is almost guaranteed to want to be on the bigger equipment with older sibling. 
  5. Crowd Score:  6 – This playground is almost always bustling with multiple families.  It can get pretty crowded.
  6. Play Date Score: 7 – Eh, if you are meeting up for a toddler play date, this park is great due to the fence around the toddler area.  For older children, again, it is ok to catch an adult conversation as long as you don’t have multiple children and any of them happen to be 3 or under. 
  7. Bathroom Score: 7 – The bathrooms are relatively close, especially to the toddler area.

Payne Park (aka The Circus Park)

Payne Park is a local favorite, with its cute circus theme and wide array of equipment.  It is brightly colored and has one of the most unique designs of all the SRQ parks.  There is a skate park for the older kids, a small running trail, and a delicious little café in the park.

Pros:  The circus theme and bright colors will attract any kid ages 0-13.  There are some really cool big kid things to do, not just toddler slides and swings.

Cons: I cannot emphasize how much I love this park, but how little time I actually spend going to this park due to the immensely inconvenient walk from the parking lot to the playground and the lack of shade once you get to the equipment.  There are no close parking spots no matter where you park.  The nearest parking is a field away.  You can park on the street in front of the police department, but even that is not a quick walk.  There are “shades” over the equipment that do nothing in the Florida sun, nor do the “misters” which only make you feel more humid and sticky.  The bathrooms are also a hike away.  

You have to experience this park, but do it in the evening or winter months.  Also, do not try to plan a play date here.  You and your mom friend, unless you bring the husbands, will end up following your child around in all directions because they will most likely not want to do the same things.  Elementary age kids – they are good to go though. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 10 – This park has amazing equipment.  The diversity and uniqueness and sheer amount of things to do here are top in the county.
  2. Approach Score:  4 – You can probably tell by now that I don’t like being in the hot, Florida sun for too long.  Anything that makes me sweat just by standing and breathing is on my hate list.  Although the walk in is really not too far from the parking lot, I always dread this walk because it just feels long because of the lack of shade.  If you happen to park on the street in front of the police department, that for some reason feels a bit better due to the trees on the way in, but it really frustrates me that there is no direct parking to this park. 
  3. SPF Score:  4  – The porous shade covers are an optical illusion.  They really don’t do very much for shade unless the sun is directly above you, and who in their right mind would go to this park at high noon – 2:00pm in any month from March-October. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  9 – This park is perfectly fenced in.
  5. Crowd Score:  7 – A very popular park, but crowds do not seem so bad here because the park is so large itself.
  6. Play Date Score: 6 – For older elementary aged children, this is a great place to meet up with mom friends.  The older kids are independent and can take care of themselves.  For the preschool age group, supervision is needed, and different moms at different times during your play date will have to rush off to save or check on their little one.
  7. Bathroom Score: 4 – The bathrooms are not close.  They are behind the outdoor café, up a bit on a hill.  On a side note, if you have not eaten at the Café in the Park, you are really missing out on one of Sarasota’s best kept secret restaurants. 

Rothenbach Park

This park is located east of the interstate, off of Bee Ridge Road.  It consists of a toddler playground, a school aged playground, swings, a nature trail, and a pavilion.  The crowds are usually low. 

Pros:  Low crowds, close parking, good play date park.

Cons: Minimal shade over equipment, diversity of equipment is low. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 7 – Fair amount of equipment for all age groups.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – The parking lot is directly adjacent to this equipment.
  3. SPF Score:  7 – There is a shade covering that does a mediocre job at providing some shade. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  7 – This park is not fenced in, but it has well defined borders.  The road is close to the playground, but it is not a high traffic road. 
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This park is rarely crowded. 
  6. Play Date Score: 9 – This is a great park to meet up for a play date due to low crowds, close proximity of equipment, and well-defined borders
  7. Bathroom Score: 8 – The bathrooms are directly attached to the playground.  Perfect for a quick bathroom trip.

South Lido Park

Locals know that Siesta is for tourists, and South Lido is the place to be to avoid the out-of-town crowds.  South Lido Park is a simple beach park.  It is relatively shaded, equipment is minimal and simple.  The main advantage to this park is you can go to the beach and give your kids a chance to run around a playground in the same trip.

Pros:  Close parking, shaded.

Cons: RACOONS. Seriously, every time we have ever been to this park, we have been harassed and scared back into our cars due to the over abundance of not-afraid-of-humans raccoons.  They try to get into the trash, and there is a family of them that are not afraid to scamper around you and your children.  The other con is that the playground itself is not that interesting and the bathrooms are a bit of a walk away.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 5 – This is a very simple playground, with swings, a couple of individual spinny seats, and a small pirate themed tower.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – You can usually find a close parking spot (usually in the shade) right in front of this playground.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – This playground is well shaded under trees.
  4. Prison Break Score:  7 – There is no fence around this playground, but equipment is far enough away from the parking lot that if your toddler does escape, you will have plenty of time to run after him. 
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This park is usually not very crowded. Usually beachgoers with small children visit this playground, so it is sparse of many children. 
  6. Play Date Score: 7 – The equipment is not fantastic to keep little ones entertained for too long, but it is a small, confined area that will allow two adults to have a decent-length conversation.  I have been to many a birthday parties at this park, and it really is a nice place to catch up with grown-ups.
  7. Bathroom Score: 6 – The bathrooms are located at the end of the parking lot, not a quick trip away.
  8. Raccoon Score: 10!!!!!  The raccoons are intense here.  We haven’t been back to this park in probably 6 months, so maybe the raccoon issue is not as bad anymore.

Ken Thompson Park

This park is located near Mote Marine.  It consists of one main playground, a smaller fitness area, swings, a large field, and a mangrove boardwalk to the bay.

Pros:  Close parking, close bathrooms, boardwalk is unique, great for Pokémon hunting

Cons: No shade, not much equipment to keep kids entertainedd for too long. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 5 – There is one basic jungle gym, swings, and a fitness area.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – Very close to parking, steps away.
  3. SPF Score:  6 – This playgroaund is not covered or shaded, but if you go in the late afternoon, you can catch the cool breeze from the bay.
  4. Prison Break Score:  6 – There is no confinement piece here, but there is a wide sidewalk between the equipment and the low-traffic parking lot.  Kids will most likely want to explore nearby boardwalk trail through the mangroves.
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This park has low crowds.
  6. Play Date Score: 8 – Due to the low crowds and the one main piece of equipment (the swings and fitness area are a measurable distance away), this is a pretty good play date spot.
  7. Bathroom Score: 8 – The bathrooms are a few steps away from the equipment.

Bayfront Park at Marina Jack

This is a favorite local and tourist park.  Located on City Island, it is beautifully surrounded by Sarasota Bay.  There is a walking trail around the island, a splash pad, a restaurant, and view of the bay.  There is one fenced-in playground.  The bathrooms are a bit of a hike, especially if you have a newly potty-trained toddler who needs a bathroom fast when they say they have to go.  I have been known to sweep my son up and run him to the bathroom down the hill.

Pros:  Beautiful setting, semi-diverse equipment, fenced in.

Cons: It is a hike from the parking lot to the playground. I am usually hot and sweaty by the time I reach the playground.  The bathroom is not conveniently located.  The splash pad is nice, except they have a play area at the top of a series of steep steps, which a toddler could easily fall or slip from. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 8 – Very nice equipment, enough to keep toddlers and elementary aged kids entertained for awhile.  I get a little nervous when my toddler climbs to the highest point of the play set, but there is really only one open area where he could potentially fall from the height. 
  2. Approach Score:  6 – I love this park, and the walk from the parking lot to the playground is nice because of the marina and bay views, but I don’t consider this park on my top go-to list because it is an effort and I’m super lazy.  Yes, the equipment and setting is ideal and so Sarasota, but my ideal park is a hop away from the car with close bathrooms, shade and a low likelihood that I have to dress/look decent because I might run into someone I know. 
  3. SPF Score:  6 (from parking lot to playground), 7 (actual playground) -If I go here in the summer, I am usually  sweating before I even leave my car (I know this post makes me seriously sound like a princess who hates to sweat, but I promise you I really do run long distances and sweat all the time).  Once I make it to the playground, it cools down a bit because this park is decently shaded with trees.
  4. Prison Break Score:  8 – This park is fenced in and well-confined.
  5. Crowd Score:  6 (usually very crowded) – The people of Sarasota love this park  – for good reason. It is a nice park in a bustling location.  The crowds are usually medium to high here. 
  6. Play Date Score: 7 – This is a decent play date location due to the fence around the playground and there’s only a small risk of younger children needing supervision on the elementary aged play set. 
  7. Bathroom Score: 6 – This park inspired me to include a bathroom score on this article.  It was at this park where my youngest, newly potty trained toddler, announced that he had to go potty.  As he is holding his pants, I scoop him up, and high tail it down the hill to the bathrooms.  We made it in time, but it was an intense 30 seconds.  The bathrooms are not attached to the playground.  They are for public use for all the other activities going on at Marina Jack.  If one kid has to go the bathroom it requires packing up your whole crew to make the trip. 

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Playgrounds in Sarasota: South

Potter Park

This park is located in South Sarasota, near the YMCA.  It consists of 3-4 smaller playgrounds, located under shaded trees.  We like this park because there are so many different things to do.  I like the shade and short walk from the car. 

Pros:  Diverse equipment, shaded, short walk from car, close bathrooms.

Cons: There are not too many cons on this one. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 9 – Great, multi-playground park.  They are divided into age appropriate sections and all have some unique element and appeal to that group. 
  2. Approach Score:  8 – The parking lot is a short walk to the equipment, but is it shaded by tress.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – The majority of this park is shaded by trees.  I get hot here, but there are always patches of shade to break the direct sunlight up. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  7 – Well defined areas.  Your child will most likely bounce between areas, but all playgrounds are relatively close together. 
  5. Crowd Score:  9 – This park is usually not crowded at all. 
  6. Play Date Score: 8 – Due to the small crowds and close proximity of the equipment, this is a great play date playground. 
  7. Bathroom Score: 9  – Bathrooms are in the middle of the equipment, close and convenient. 

Philippi Creek Park

Another one of the playgrounds in Sarasota is located on Philippi Creek Estate.  It consists of a small playground and a gazebo pavilion.   

Pros:  Usually not very crowded, great for Pokémon hunting.

Cons: Lack of diverse equipment, parking lot not directly in front of playground.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 7 – The equipment is the standard, small tower main platform, a few ride springy character toys, a spinning rubber ring, a few stand and spin poles, and some plastic characters in the ground.
  2. Approach Score:  7 – The playground is not directly adjacent to the parking lot.  The walk in is fairly short and not too bad. 
  3. SPF Score:  7 – This playground is not covered but there are some trees that provide decent shade if you go early in the morning or late afternoon. 
  4. Prison Break Score:   7 –  The playground is well-defined but your little one may soon get bored with the equipment and try to wander the Philippi Estate. 
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This playground usually doesn’t have more than 2-3 other families there at one time. 
  6. Play Date Score: 7 – This is a decent play date park because it is small and not crowded.  The cons are that there is not very much to do on the actual playground, and it can get hot during certain parts of the day. 
  7. Bathroom Score: 7 – The bathrooms are located next to the parking lot.  A short walk away.

Siesta Beach

This park is located at the Siesta Public beach.  It is relatively new, so the equipment is in good shape and themed appropriately to its beach location.  There are 2 sets of playgrounds and a set of swings.  There are picnic tables and a medium sized field for little or older kids to run around, although it is adjacent to the parking lot so you do have to keep an eye on the little ones.  It is located near the bathrooms, which are unfortunately a walk up a set up stairs to the second floor.  There is a shade cover at this park, but most people who visit this park are in their bathing suits anyway. 

This park can get crowded due to Siesta’s popularity, but I have never been when safety has been an issue. The biggest downfall to this park is that I would never go to this park solely for the playground.  You are fighting with beach-goers for parking spots, and no matter where you park at Siesta, you are bound to get hot walking into the main area.  If you plan on going to the beach and water, this isn’t really an issue.  But, if your sole purpose is to use the playground, it is not worth the walk or the heat. 

We have gone to this playground in the evening around sunset.  That was an enjoyable experience because you get the gulf breeze to cool you off at that time of day.  But, otherwise, save this playground for when your out-of-town guests insist on going to the #1 beach in the US. 

Pros:  Fun beach setting, separate playground close together, close to beach.

Cons: Anyone who has ever been to Siesta knows that parking is a headache of all headaches, so the walk to the playground is long and hot.  You usually only go to this playground if you are going to the beach for something else anyway (the beach, beach runs, sandcastle festival, sunset, drum circle).   Bathrooms are located upstairs in pavilion.

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 8 – The new equipment and the fun beach theme make this playground a unique experience.
  2. Approach Score:  5 – You are battling beach-goers when you park for this playground.  Hopefully, you are not just making this trip for the playground because the time and effort to park warrant at least a few hours at Siesta before relinquishing your parking spot. 
  3. SPF Score:  6 – It is at a beach, so of course it is going to be hot, but it is somewhat covered.  I have never been to the playground at the hottest time of day in summer, so I don’t know how well those shades work.  I would imagine not too great, depending on the angle of the sun. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  6 – There is no fence to keep the little ones in, but my youngest (who is usually an escape artist) has not had an issue with wandering past the playground equipment.  There is a small field and then a wide sidewalk before the parking lot, so there is a low risk of toddlers running into the parking lot. 
  5. Crowd Score:  4 – We have never been when this playground has not been swarming with 10+ families.
  6. Play Date Score: 5 – Due to the high crowds, poor parking, lack of shade, lack of fence, and laterally spread out equipment, I would not recommend this playground for a play date.  It’s good to let the kids get some energy out if you are at Siesta anyway, but do not plan a separate play date around this playground.
  7. Bathroom Score: 5 – The bathrooms are next to the playground, except they are on the second story of the pavilion so you do have to climb stairs to get to them.  Or, take the handicap ramp, which takes a bit longer but for some reason is an appeal to my kiddos. 

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Playgrounds in Sarasota: Lakewood Ranch

Summerfield Park

Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Summerfield Park
Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Summerfield Park

This is a great, diverse, large park located off of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.  It has 3 separate playgrounds including swings, a tennis court, basketball court, baseball field, soccer field, and pavilion.  We love these playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch because my kids are always kept busy here.  We usually have to drag them away.  It is shady and there is definitely a Lakewood Ranch community sense about it, with the other fields around making it feel very homey.

Pros:  Diverse equipment, somewhat shaded under trees, close parking. 

Cons: Playgrounds are somewhat spread apart. If you have more than one child who want to do different things, you do have to bounce around and keep a good eye out.  Also, there is the carousel of death, which is an old-school merry-go-round type of equipment that my kids love. However, it always ends in one kid crying because they fell/jumped off too soon. This is my least favorite piece of equipment at all playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch. Oh, and the bathrooms used to be locked for residents only.  This was terrible for obvious reasons, but I do believe the last few times we have been, they have been unlocked for all. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 10 – Excellent diversity of equipment.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – Close to parking lot, shaded.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – Relatively shaded with trees.
  4. Prison Break Score:  5 – If you have more than one child, this park can be a bit of a challenge to keep an eye on both kids because it is so spread out.
  5. Crowd Score:  7 – Usually relatively crowded with local Lakewood Ranch families who walk or ride bikes to this park
  6. Play date Score: 6 – This would get a higher score if you only have one child. Due to the large spacing of the equipment at this park, it is very hard to talk to your mama friends when you are preoccupied with chasing your kid(s) down.
  7. Bathroom Score: 6 – Bathrooms are close but are unpredictably locked some days.

Greenbrook Adventure Park

Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Greenbrook Park
Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Greenbrook Park

Greenbrook Adventure Park is another great playground in Lakewood Ranch. It has a couple of playgrounds, a skate park, a dog park, an open field, and a running/walking trail.  Parking is close, it is somewhat shaded and it keeps all ages entertained!

Pros:  Close parking, shaded, diverse equipment.

Cons: There are really not too many cons except it does get flooded during the rainy season. Sometimes the bathrooms are locked for resident-only use.  

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 8 – Unique, age appropriate set up.
  2. Approach Score:  8 – Close walk from parking lot to playground.
  3. SPF Score:  8 – There is a shade that does a decent job at blocking out direct sunlight.
  4. Prison Break Score:  8 – There is no fence.  Little ones tend to stay in the confines because there is nothing for them to explore beyond the playground.
  5. Crowd Score:  8 – This park can get crowded from LWR families, tweens and teens using the skate park, and adult recreation groups using the fields.
  6. Play date Score: 8 – This park is close together, easy to keep an eye on the kids while talking to mom friends.
  7. Bathroom Score: 7 – Bathrooms may be close but are sometimes locked for Lakewood Ranch residents only.

Riverwalk Park in Downtown Bradenton

Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Riverwalk Park in Bradenton
Playgrounds in Lakewood Ranch: Riverwalk Park in Bradenton

This playground is located in downtown Bradenton near the Manatee River, but worth the drive.  It is a pretty setting along the river.  Walk along the Riverwalk when your kids become bored with the equipment.  There is a train track that my youngest loves,but I discourage him from playing near it. Watch out for broken glass in this area.  It has a toddler playground, an elementary-aged playground, and a splash pad.  Restrooms are close to the action. 

Pros:  Splash pad, close bathrooms, pretty setting.

Cons: This park can get hot.  The walk to the park is not too long or too hot, but the elementary-aged playground is not shaded at all.  The equipment is usually scalding hot, and it can get very crowded here.  If you stroll along the riverwalk, you can encounter some homeless people, teenagers in love, and older kids near the skate part of the riverwalk.  I also get a bit nervous with the playground being so close to the edge of the water.  There is no barrier to prevent a runaway toddler from falling in. 

  1. Diversity of Equipment Score: 8 – Decent, diverse, age appropriate equipment.
  2. Approach Score:  7 – A short walk, but has covered area to cool down under.
  3. SPF Score:  6 – The toddler area is decently covered, the elementary-aged area is not covered at all. 
  4. Prison Break Score:  5 – There are no barriers that prevent children from wandering off to the riverwalk and edge of water.
  5. Crowd Score:  6 – This park can get crowded in the summer during the peak splash park months, but in general, the crowds here are manageable.
  6. Play date Score: 6  – The distance between the two playground sets and the fact that you must keep a watchful eye on young children make this place not so great to catch up with other mamas.
  7. Bathroom Score: 8 – The bathrooms are close and conveniently located near the equipment.

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