Yes, it’s hot out there, and the kids are cranky sitting indoors in the air conditioning. Why not take a trip to a splash pad? We found seven parks—two are new!—from tiny to gargantuan so everyone can beat the heat. So grab the kids, pack some towels and have some water fun. Make sure to check park websites for rules on approved swimwear (swim diapers are a must if your child is not potty trained) and safety.
Lincoln Aquatic Center
The long-awaited, $7.4 million Lincoln Aquatic Center in Palmetto opened in May, and kids can splash to their heart’s content in a zero-entry pool with splash playground and blast down two huge twisty water slides. Free and open daily for two swim sessions: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., 715 17th St. E., Palmetto, (941) 748-4501.
Bradenton Riverwalk Splash Pad
Kids love to dart through the dozens of nozzles that spray water across the nonskid surface. The splash pad is adjacent to a nifty Family Fun Zone playground on the Riverwalk and provides plenty of benches in the shade so adults can keep a watchful eye in a beautiful setting on the Manatee River, 452 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Free and open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
G.T. Bray Park
Manatee County's huge G.T. Bray Park is a recreational hub with more than a dozen sports facilities, including an Olympic-size pool. But you’re here for the little ones, and they’ll enjoy the 4,000-square-foot splash area with a two-foot-deep wading pool and a 12-foot-high, three-flume water slide. $3, children under 6 months are free. Open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.; 5502 33rd Avenue Drive West, Bradenton, (941) 742-5923.
Robert L. Taylor Community Aquatic Center
A mammoth slide—and a smaller one for tinier tots—provides provide plenty of thrills at this Sarasota city-owned pool and splash pad that’s open to the public Monday through Thursday from 2 to 5 p.m.; 1845 34th St., Sarasota; $2 for kids, $4 for adults, free for members.
North Port Aquatic Center
The North Port Aquatic Center offers a competition pool, but wouldn't you rather float along the 9,000-square-foot Relaxahatchee Lazy River on an oversized inner tube? Little kids can play in the 2,600-square-foot Pelican Splashground and the older ones can climb the Barracuda Blast and shoot down one of two water slides. The big slide is a closed flume 70 feet high where the floor drops and takes riders on a 10-second ride to the water below. For North Port residents: $6 for children 12 and under; $8 for anyone 13 years old and older. For non-North Port residents, $10 for children under 12; $12 for individuals older than 13, 6205 W. Price Blvd., North Port, (941) 429-PARK(7275).
Southshore Bay Lagoon
For a mega water park (with a pricier admission) and a longer drive, head out to Southshore Bay Lagoon in Wimauma and make a day of it. About 40 miles from downtown Sarasota, this brand-new park is located in the residential development of Southshore Bay and recently opened to the public. The five-acre lagoon holds 12 million gallons and includes a sandy beach, water slide, a splash pad island for kids, family lawn games, beach volleyball and, of course, the swim-up Sandbar for cocktails. Extras include kayaking, paddle boarding, an inflatable water obstacle course and floating aquabana chairs. Children 3 and under are free; $25 for children 4-12; $35 for adults on weekdays and $40 for adults on weekends. Tip: Buy tickets online since space is limited. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 16881 Lagoon Shore Blvd., Wimauma, (813) 444-5221. (Coming soon: Metro Development Group has a similar water park planned for Parrish although no schedule for construction has been released.)
The Selby Aquatic Center and Water Park
The water park at the Selby Aquatic Center is being renovated, but the center is offering an inflatable obstacle course on certain weekends. Check here for dates. Visitors must pass a swim test. Admission is $15 per person. 8501 Potter Park Drive, in Palmer Ranch.
Temporarily closed: Bayfront Park's Steigerwaldt-Jockey Children's Fountain
The City of Sarasota is in the process of redesigning Bayfront Park's popular children's fountain splash pad and playground.