Bay Front Park
Bayfront Drive, Sarasota
Tall trees keep this elevated gem of downtown Sarasota shady, making the playground pleasant even during brutal summers. The seasonal kids’ fountain and the vistas of Sarasota Bay’s twinkling waters don’t hurt.
2100 Adams Lane, Sarasota
This circus-themed treasure trove satisfies kids of all ages and at all levels of derring-do. Big kids can go rock-climbing or skateboarding, while toddlers have plenty of space to wander.
Ringling Museum Bolger Playspace
5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota
Bring the kids to The Ringling for free on Mondays. (Free admission to the grounds every day.) Peruse the latest visiting exhibition in the art museum, then let the little ones run wild on the museum’s small playground. The slide is tall enough to scrape the clouds.
Waterfront Drive, Bradenton
What separates Bradenton’s waterfront playground from others is the diversity you’ll encounter. Especially in the evening, you’ll see kids of every age and background here, all coming together to swing and scamper around the creatively designed space.
Glazier Gates Park
Manatee Avenue East and 10th Street, Bradenton
Located steps away from the Manatee River, this is one of Bradenton’s largest parks, with basketball and tennis courts and jungle gyms for experienced kids and those still stumbling around. Huge trees dripping with Spanish moss provide a nest of shade.
Urfer Family Park
4000 Honore Ave., Sarasota
This park mixes your typical playground attractions with a dose of nature, right in the middle of suburbia. Kids can climb, swing and slide to their hearts’ content, then explore a one-mile nature trail through pine flatwoods and wetlands.
948 Beach Road, Sarasota
Sarasota County’s $21.5 million improvements to the public facilities at Sarasota’s best-known beach wisely included the construction of a covered playground with a fun lifeguard theme. A nearby covered patio with picnic tables makes for a great picnic destination.
North Jetty Park
1000 Casey Key Road, Nokomis
Tough to beat a covered playground with views of the Gulf. Watch fishermen on the jetty reel in their catches and observe boats puttering through the channel that separates Casey Key and Venice Island. Forgot lunch? Hit up the nearby bait shop.
Playground Rules--For Parents
1) Let her play. Don’t hover and bark instructions about how to navigate the monkey bars. It’s play, remember? Kids need to explore and discover for themselves.
2) But keep track. Don’t make another parent have to chase down your toddler when he bolts for a nearby wood chipper or starts biting another child.
3) Don’t be a policeman. Don’t order everyone to share toys or take turns. And they’ll learn not to loiter on the slide after somebody bowls them over. Unless there’s real and imminent danger, keep quiet.
4) Turn off your phone. There’s something pathetic about parents at the playground making work calls or thumbing through Facebook. Enjoy the moment, the outdoors and time with your kid.
5) Respect age limits. Don’t bring your 12-year-old to a playground designed for kids still in diapers. You’ll terrify the little ones and alienate their parents. Plus, he’ll be bored.