When we were growing up, New York City playgrounds had sprinklers. Now parks and playgrounds across the five boroughs possess "water features"—fountains, geysers, rivers, pumps, and beautiful spraying statues. Kids just love them, and we parents prefer these newfangled playgrounds because they're pretty and cool, and make us feel as if our exorbitant NYC housing costs are justified.
As the city's sprinkler season gets into gear, it's good to know where to find the wildest and wettest playgrounds around. There are hundreds of water features in NYC parks, and we've highlighted some favorites by neighborhood: best of Queens and best of the Bronx. Some are cooler (literally and figuratively) than others, and more amazing ones seem to open every year. When we first published this article in 2008, we had five favorite splashing spots. Now we're up to 23 fancy playgrounds where kids can get wet in NYC. See if your favorites made our list (and if not, clue us in via Facebook).
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Ancient Playground – Central Park
Enter at 85th Street and Fifth Avenue
Situated next door to the Metropolitan Museum, this adventure-style playground is a great destination for kids of all ages. The play structure includes pyramids, catwalks, tunnels, and slides, as well as water running along the bridges. Kids can splash through or stand under a mini-waterfall in an area with water jets. Younger kids will be fascinated by the water squirting from nozzles set into the walls. Read our full review of this playground.
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Kids hit the beachside playground at 30th Street in Rockaway even when the surf is too rough or cold. Photo courtesy of Rockaway Park.
Beach 30th Street Playground – Rockaway, Queens
Beach 30th Street and the Rockaway boardwalk
This playground is a must-visit for young water lovers. H2O sprays from a variety of features, including circular pipes and built-in water guns. Plus, there's a play boat and traditional sprinklers of different heights, and the beach is literally steps away.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Waterlab at Pier 6 – Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
Enter at Furman Street and Atlantic Avenue
Ever since we first visited when it opened in 2010, Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 has been one of our favorite kid play destinations. In the Waterlab area, one of four distinct sections of the sprawling playground, sprinklers shoot water all over an enclave enclosed by small, manmade cliffs. It's gorgeous and fun, but also slippery. Be mindful of younger children.
The Chelsea Waterside Park features colorful fountains spraying water in all directions. Photo courtesy of Hudson River Park.
Chelsea Waterside Park – Chelsea
23rd Street and 11th Avenue
The name of the park says it all. Water is everywhere! There's a small wading spot, and water rushing all over the play area thanks to three fantastical blue fountains that spray H20 up into the air, down onto the ground, and horizontally at kids. Read our full review of this playground, which by the way, is headed for a full revamp, including the water areas, in the next couple of years.
East 110th Street Playground – Central Park
Enter at 110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues
In 2013, the Central Park Conservancy completely renovated this playground, transforming it into one of the best play destinations in the entire 843-acre green space. One of its most impressive attractions is its water feature. Geysers shoot up into the air, sometimes as high as 12 feet. Although kids activate the water with the touch of a button, you're never sure how high or in what pattern it will gush out, so it keeps everyone guessing ... and giggling. Read our full review of this playground.
East River Park – Lower East Side
Delancey Street and the FDR Drive
We stumbled upon these spray showers near the Williamsburg Bridge one summer while biking along the East River. We were instantly taken with them. The park has slate pavers, and tall grass waves in the breeze, giving it a pretty and natural atmosphere. The bronze harbor seals are cute and fun to climb on. As for the water, it shoots up randomly from different geysers. It's like a giant Whac-A-Mole game as kids run from spot to spot, trying to guess from where the water will emerge next. To get to the spot, head to the end of Delancey Street and cross the FDR Drive, then head south. It's also easily accessible via the bike path.
Gantry Plaza State Park – Long Island City, Queens
Enter at 47th Road and Center Boulevard
In summer 2012, this state-of-the-art water play area complete with a lifeguard debuted. Water shoots at kids from all over the place, making it one of the best places to get wet in NYC. But be warned, swimsuits are required and hours are sporadic since you must wait for the lifeguard to show up. If you drop by and it's closed, console your kids by exploring the rest of Gantry Plaza State Park and the Long Island City waterfront, which is fabulous.
Harmony Playground – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Enter at Prospect Park West between Ninth and 11th Streets
Taking its inspiration from the nearby bandshell, this playground has an interactive musical motif, including xylophones that kids can play. But the real draw is the abundance of water features. The designers really covered all the bases here, including geysers, spraying animal sculptures, misters, and a shower.
Heckscher Playground – Central Park
Central Park South and Seventh Avenue
The biggest playground in Central Park offers two ways to get wet. The first is on the giant climbing structures, which connect via small pathways with water flowing through them. The second is at the awesome sprinkler section, where water rains down from tall tubes and shoots up from jets in the ground. Read our full review of this playground.
Hudson River Park Pier 51 Water Park – Greenwich Village
Hudson River at Horatio Street and West 12th Street
This water-filled playground along the Hudson River is beloved by many families, which is why it's perpetually crowded. It's got a fun little replica of Minetta Creek, perfect for clogging with sand, as well as geysers and buckets that dump water on kids at the touch of a button. Before you head out, take note: There is absolutely no shade.
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Parents and kids cool off at Hudson River Park's Pier 25 splash area. Photo courtesy of Hudson River Park.
Hudson River Park Pier 25 Play Area – Tribeca
Hudson River at North Moore Street
Farther south in Hudson River Park, you'll find this fabulous playground, featuring a cool play area with water guns, sprayers, and buckets that fill up and dump H2O all over the kids. When they are tired of getting wet, there's a seasonal mini-golf course on the pier that costs just $5 for children and $6 for adults. Read our full review of this park.
Imagination Playground – South Street Seaport
Burling Slip South, John and Front Streets
This innovative play spot, which was designed by architect David Rockwell, opened to great fanfare in summer 2010. While it doesn’t have a sprinkler, it does have an amazing water play area with pools and fountains that's surrounded by wooden steps on which parents can lounge. Kids manipulate the water with piping and other tools while getting drenched. It's a one-of-a-kind play experience. Read our full review of this playground.
Imagination Playground – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Enter at Ocean Avenue between Parkside Avenue and Lincoln Road
No relation to the South Street Seaport spot, this charming, kid-lit-themed playground boasts a black-and-white play structure, and a statue of Peter and Willie of Ezra Jack Keats fame. But the hot-weather draw is the gorgeous bronze dragon fountain that gets kids good and soaked. Find out about other fun things to do in Prospect Park.
The newish Lakeside Spash Pad offers plenty of space for all in the middle of Prospect Park. Photo courtesy of LeFrak Center.
Lakeside Splash Pad – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
171 East Drive (Enter at Lincoln Road and Ocean/Parkside Avenue entrances)
There's water, water, everywhere at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. While one rink is used for roller skating in summer, the other transforms into a water play area featuring dozens of jets shooting water out of the walls. Grab snacks at the adjacent Bluestone Cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, or hit the nearby Zucker Natural Exploration playground for some drier fun. The Prospect Park Zoo isn't far either.
Nature Discovery Playground – Washington Heights
Fort Washington Park at 165th Street
This newly renovated playground gets bonus points for its steps-from-the-Hudson location in Fort Washington Park. In addition to sprinklers, slippery rocks to climb and tiny streams in which to splash, there's plenty of shade. You can always catch a cool breeze from the river, making it a perfect destination on a hot summer day. If not for the noise from the commuter trains or the Henry Hudson Parkway above, you'd forget you're in the middle of the city. Read our full review of the park.
Police Officer Moira Ann Smith Playground – Flatiron
26th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues
Due to its proximity to multiple family-friendly neighborhoods, this playground (the only one in Madison Square Park) is always packed. The space itself is tiny and the jungle gym is huge. There's also a neat spinning wheel that dumps water from the top of a 15-foot pole straight onto kids below as jets shoot water out of the ground.
Roberto Clemente State Park – Morris Heights, the Bronx
301 West Tremont Avenue
This state park just debuted a brand new pool-and-splash pad for kids and adults alike to frolic. One drawback: There is an entrance fee, but at $1 per kid and $2 per adult, you can still treat the family to a relatively inexpensive afternoon of fun. In addition to a full-size pool, there's a kiddie pool with a shower at one end and an entire sprinkler area where kids can run through geysers and sprays in every shape and size imaginable.
The toddler-friendly water play area at Rockefeller Park Playground, includes water and sand tables. Photo by Jody Mercier.
Rockefeller Park Playground – Battery Park City
North end of Battery Park City, west of River Terrace
Everybody seems to know about this playground and with good reason. Water features are separated by age group. Let's face it: Toddlers often dislike sprinklers. But here's a water feature that won't frighten them: The Tom Otterness bronze sculpture of a dodo bird that gently drips water and forms a puddle around its feet. Toddlers can splash in the pooled water and enjoy the water and sand table, away from older kids and their rowdy play. Meanwhile, older kids have a ball over at the fabulous sprinkler area. Read our full review of this playground.
Seaside Wildlife Nature Park – Staten Island
Nelson Avenue and Tennyson Drive
Located along the shore, this playground features one-of-a-kind equipment such as a shipwrecked boat to explore, a shark to climb and play units inspired by the Staten Island Ferry and a lighthouse. Of course, the seafaring theme wouldn't be complete without actual water. Thankfully, spray showers abound. Read our full review of this playground.
Spiral Fountain – Financial District
Battery Place and State Street
While I don't encourage my kid to play in fountains, this one was created specifically for frolicking. Kids love the jets of water that burst up from the ground, and parents appreciate the fact that the water drains so kids don't end up jumping around in a pool of dirty water. Find out about other great things to do in Battery Park or other great fountains made for kids to splash in.
Teardrop Park – Battery Park City
Warren Street and Murray Street, East of River Terrace
Swooshing down the long, perpetually wet slide is addictive, so don't be surprised if your kids do it over and over and over again. Water jets spout water into the air as kids climb over the funky wet rocks.
Travers Park – Jackson Heights
34th Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets
There is a good-sized water section, located in the "big kids" section of this playground, with "leafy" spray showers and water jets. It attracts kids of all ages. This is the only official playground in Jackson Heights (other than school playgrounds) so it’s often crowded but there is a separate, gated section for toddlers.
Tremont Park – Tremont, the Bronx
175th Street and Arthur Avenue
We raved about the $4.5 million upgrade to Tremont Park a few years back. Renovations included two new playgrounds and one awesome water play area. Kids will love darting across the footbridge and pathways as water sprays at them from every angle. Though this is definitely the destination splash pad at Tremont Park, there is a second spray shower located in the playground at the corner of East Tremont and Arthur Avenue. It's much smaller, featuring a fire hydrant centerpiece, but it gets the job done on a hot day.
Readers have also shared some of their favorite playgrounds for kids to cool off. While most of these are old-school style sprinklers, recommendations include Tribeca's Washington Market Park; Riverside Park's Elephant Playground; Clement Clarke Moore Park (aka Seal Park), and Sandbox Park in Chelsea; Downing Street Playground in the West Village and Hell's Kitchen Park. There are newish sprinklers on Governors Island, too.
Did we still miss your favorite water feature? Share your go-to water playgrounds in the comments.
You can find a comprehensive list of all NYC sprinklers on the Parks Department's website.
This post first published in May 2008 but is regularly updated.
Top image: Splash and climb at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Waterlab at Pier 6. Photo by Etienne Frossard/courtesy of BBP.