Playgrounds don't need to be newfangled to be special. As any in-the-know Upper West Side parent will tell you, Hippo Playground, which is located at 91st Street inside Riverside Park, is a popular vintage tot spot.
On summer days when NYC feels as hot as the Sahara, this haven is cool, shady and wet. Featuring a herd of water-spouting hippo statues at its center, the playground has lots of equipment and activities to keep kids happy. Since it's well known, it attracts an interesting mix of locals and families who've traveled to get here, often to attend a birthday party.
So pack a snack (you may want to stay a while) and take your family on a Hippo hunt.
My family is lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from Hippo Playground. Even with the plethora of play spots in our neighborhood, it's our favorite. Yes, we have to make our way down (and later back up) one of two big hills in order to get here. But once we arrive we love this shady oasis, which boasts lots of benches and greenery.
The playground was originally built in 1937 but it didn't become the haven we know today until 1993, when nonprofit community group the Hippo Playground Project hired a designer to create the namesake sculptures. Additional improvements have been made since then thanks to annual fund-raising events like the spring fair and generous donations.
So what can you expect on a playdate at Hippo? Here are some highlights and important info.
The playground is not too big or too small. To quote Goldilocks, it's just right. There are a variety of play areas for children of different ages, but it's tiny enough that you won't lose your kid every two minutes, although it may be difficult to watch multiple children on opposite ends of the space. Happily, the site is enclosed and has a gate.
Swings, Slides and a Brand-new Sandpit
The play set by the entrance is good for big kids, with a high walkway, rings, ladders and a curly slide. Swings are to the left. The back of the playground is aimed at younger children, with a scaled-down play structure and a set of baby swings. The sandpit was just renovated this year. It's surrounded by rocks and features a sloped entry for toddlers and children with special needs. There are also two independent slides of different heights and a couple of jungle gyms to entice little climbers.
The hippopotami are the stars of the playground. A few are submerged in the ground, others have wide-open jaws and the rest are ready for someone to hop on their backs. The sculptures are separated into two areas for little and big explorers. Take note: The largest hippo is hollow, so if you can't find your child, there's a good chance he's hiding in there. During the summer, the smaller hippos are surrounded by gentle sprays while the larger ones gush with water.
Play for All Seasons
The playground is filled with kids throughout spring, summer and fall. Come winter, families hit the big hill just east of the park to sled.
Hippo appeals to mom and dads, too. If you visit early in the morning, it's so peaceful and secluded you may forget you're in the city. Huge honey locust trees hang over much of the playground and provide a lot of shade. In the spring, cherry trees blossom just outside. There are plenty of benches where you can rest, and amenities like bathrooms and a picnic table.
Want to Party?
Right next to the bathroom is the Parkhouse, a small and inexpensive room available to rent. Rates range from $150 for two and a half hours to $675 for nine hours (that's some party!) Tables, chairs and use of the refrigerator are included. You bring everything else, from the decorations to the dessert. Alcohol is not allowed. See additional rental info or reserve the space online.
Hippo Playground hosts free activities throughout the year. This summer, kids can enjoy arts and crafts as part of the Art in the Park program on weekday mornings. The annual spring fair and Halloween parade attract crowds. See the event calendar for more info.
Hippo Playground is located in Riverside Park at 91st Street.
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