Destination Playground: Chelsea Waterside Park in New York City

A 22-foot, rainbow-hued pipefish winds through the multi-level playground.
A 22-foot, rainbow-hued pipefish winds through the multi-level playground.
8/16/18 - By Jody Mercier

Chelsea Waterside Play Area has been a mainstay on our list of the city's best playgrounds for years, and thanks to its recent $3.4 million overhaul, the aging play area has a whole new look that just opened to the public on Tuesday.

Once known for funky, chess-like, blue structures that spewed water sky-high, Chelsea Waterside Play Area has a colorful new star: A 22-foot, rainbow-hued pipefish who winds through the multi-level playground bringing joy to kids of all ages. Read on for more features that cement this spot's place among our favorite destination playgrounds.


This 17,000 square foot park has something for kids of all ages...and shade for the adults! 

Chelsea Waterside Park's massive 10-month renovation was the culmination of a years-long fundraising campaign. The 17,000 square foot park has been revitalized with a multi-dimensional feel, including towering hills to climb, granite steps for leaping and lounging, and plenty of kid-friendly attractions for every age and interest.

The centerpiece is undoubtedly the pipefish. Inspired by the species native to the nearby Hudson River, the pipefish is the jungle gym here. A product of Danish company MONSTRUM, the pipefish is made of Robina wood, and built to last 50 years. Wee ones can climb into his tail and clamber up to his snout, or head down a toddler-friendly slide midway through. Big kids find plenty of challenge in the tower he encircles, where a spiral staircase and a rope lead up to a high, fast slide. Beware: This feature scared off my (seemingly fearless) 5-year-old, though my 9-year-old couldn't get enough!

The shady sandbox is a nice little enclave for the littlest of park visitors.

A soft landing awaits at the spacious sandbox that surrounds the slide's end. Elsewhere in the sand box, spigots operated by spinning wheels send a trickle of water down to the ground, making a perfect mix for sand-castle building. Lush landscaping shades the sandbox, and the playground as a whole, helping you forget that you're surrounded by two of Manhattan's busiest thoroughfares.

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The amazing and spacious water play area is a good destination on a hot summer day.

The pipefish acts as a natural dividing line between the two spacious water play areas at the playground. Near the entry gate, on the southern edge, is a toddler-friendly section. Soft streams of water squirt up gently to greet babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. While this section was designed for the 2 to 5 year-old set, the crowed skewed younger when we visited. Caregivers lounged on the granite steps nearby, which were reclaimed from the arch at Pier 54, where the Carpathia docked with survivors from the Titanic.

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Older kids will get their energy out climbing this massive water play structure. 

The reclamation projects continue at the opposite end of the playground, where the big-kid water feature sent squealing kids running in all directions. Here you'll find a pair of limestone cattle busts spewing water from their mouths. The cows pay homage to the Meatpacking District's past, having been salvaged from an old packaging plant in the area. Beyond the cows, there are sprinklers spewing in seemingly every direction and, as in the toddler water area, all the water is activated by the kids. The spray dies down often—a conservation feature—but the kids quickly figured out which buttons activate which spray and raced excitedly to get the water started again every time it died down.

There are tons of options for play at this beautifully designed park. 

As I fought with my daughters to leave the playground behind, I was struck by just how much fun was crammed into a small footprint. While a main path runs from the gate, under the giant slide, to the big-kid water area, there are really three levels of fun to take in, with the sand a the bottom, a water layer in the middle and the friendly pipefish or granite to climb all the way up to the top. I covered some serious elevation keeping track of my kids for a couple of hours, and that says nothing of the climbing they did to reach the top of the slide.

Chelsea Waterside Play Area is located at 11th Avenue and 23rd Street and easily accessible by the M23 SBS. While you're in the area, be sure to check out some of our favorite things to do in Chelsea.

Photos by Jody Mercier

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