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Saturday, July 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Best Seattle-area playgrounds

Seattle Times staff reporter

We hit Seattle-area parks to find the best playgrounds, ones with innovative features that make it worth venturing out of your own neighborhood.

We also rounded up parks by theme to help parents match, say, train or fort enthusiasts with playgrounds that highlight those key features.

(Note: We focused just on playgrounds. Lots of great parks offer other attractions but if the toys were only so-so, they didn't make the list.)

Top 5

Powell Barnett Park, 352 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Seattle: This park maintains a little welcome edge, unusual in this age of regulations. The two-story slide (with a protective hood, natch) is unusually steep and the spider web climber goes quite a bit taller than an adult's head. There are half a dozen ways to spin around, from an ingenious one-person sitting cup to a standing gyroscopelike twister to a tilted, twirling ring (sort of a space-age merry-go-round). Even adults may be tempted to try out some of the unique toys made by Kompan, a Denmark-based playground equipment company with North American headquarters in Olympia.

Volunteers renovated the park this spring, funded by $550,000 from Starbucks Parks Fund and $250,000 from the Seattle Pro Parks levy. Designers went all-out with Kompan's catalog, opting for a climbing structure for older kids and a collection of bright tot play structures, including a firetruck, house and ship.

Saint Edward State Park, 14445 Juanita Drive N.E., Kenmore: This wooden fort playground, built by volunteers, is great for families with different ages of kids. While little ones play in the fenced tot area (with a play airplane, house, sand pit, riding toys and disabled-access swing), older kids can play hide-and-seek among the turrets, suspension bridges and raised walkways of the main playground. There's also a rock-climbing wall, balance beam and mock ferry.

Forest Park, 802 Mukilteo Blvd., Everett: This huge playground boasts connecting play structures, riding toys (including a dinosaur), seesaw and a popular merry-go-round.

Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, 1201 Lake Washington Blvd. N., Renton: Another playground that wows with the sheer amount of equipment: Large metal structures boast lots of extra features, including bounce buttons, hand-over-hand climbers and track riders.

Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle. The 20,000-square-foot playground sports three metal toy structures with a mini climbing wall and corkscrew slide, plus a playhouse area and sand pit. Note: only portable toilets.

Best unique playgrounds

Rotary Community Park, 19518 136th Ave. N.E., Woodinville: Funky Kompan structures show up in this playground, adjacent to the skate park. There's a spinning "boat," tot structure with slide, rope-climbing structure for older kids and spinning tilted ring. A stand-alone rock-climbing wall also offers some stairs for scrambling. Bring checkers or chess to play on permanent boards on the picnic tables. Parking is on the street; watch out for teens on wheels.

Alki Playfield, 5817 S.W. Lander St., Seattle. The sea-theme playground, also known as the "whale tail" park for its central sculpture, boasts a play boat and large metal structure.

Carkeek Park, 950 N.W. Carkeek Park Road, Seattle. The concrete salmon-shaped slide (climb in through the mouth, come out the tail) is always a hit, as are the nearby "caves" for pretend play.

Ebey Waterfront Park, 1404 First St., Marysville. This maritime-themed playground uses Kompan equipment shaped like channel markers, buoys and other sea-related items.

Others: Jones Park (Wells Avenue South at the Cedar River, Renton) is split by a plastic green dragon that sticks up its head, middle arching body and tail for youngsters to climb.

Wiggums Hollow Park, 2800 10th St., Everett. Older kids will get a kick out of trying to find a way to the center of the large brick labyrinth. The playground features a tot structure as well as a large metal structure with bridges, a triple wave slide, faux mountain stairs, a plastic dinosaur and merry-go-round.

Woodland Park (northwest side), Phinney Avenue North and North 59th Street, Seattle. Offers a rock spiral and a little rock house for imaginative play.

Gas Works Park (2101 N. Northlake Way, Seattle) has an unusual play barn with old machines for climbing.

For more playgrounds with Kompan's quirky play equipment, try Greenwood Park, 602 N. 87th St., Seattle; Graham Hill Elementary School's playground, 5149 S. Graham St., Seattle; or Petrovitsky Park, 16400 Petrovitsky Road S.E., Renton.

Best for water play

Rotary Spray Park at Les Gove Park, 11th Street Southeast and Auburn Way South, Auburn. The area's best free water playground, with water cannons, a spraying arch, ground-level water jets and overhead fountains. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. through Sept. 4.

Meridian Playground, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle. Two small play structures (one wood, one a quirky Kompan design) will attract young kids, but they'll linger the longest at the sandbox, where they can turn on a water spout to create a river running down a chute. Check out resident bunnies, whimsical fence-post decorations and the bronze sculpture of the Rottweiler from "Good Dog, Carl."

Others: Pratt Park (1800 S. Main St., Seattle) offers a colorful water-spray area with animal-shaped water cannons; Lower Judkins Park (2150 S. Norman St., Seattle) has an older spray pool with a water-spouting concrete tower; children can play in the memorial fountain at Miller Playfield (330 19th Ave. E., Seattle, adjacent to the community center). All are open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. through Sept. 4, weather permitting.

Dalaway Park (19015 64th Ave. W., Lynnwood) boasts a lighthouse that sprays water, while North Lynnwood Neighborhood Park (18510 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood) features a dragon that blows mist out of its nose.

Best forts

Woodlands Park, 9930 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland. Newly built by volunteers last month, the wooden play fort — fenced nearly all around — offers turrets, a bouncy bridge, dragon climbing wall and lots of hidden nooks. There's a tot area with wood train and fire truck, plus a tire swing and giant chess set. Drawbacks: limited parking (along 128th Avenue Northeast or Northeast 95th Street; walk on paved trails to the playground) and no bathrooms.

Steel Lake Park, 2410 S. 312th St., Federal Way. Another large wooden fort with lots of extra features.

Others: Kids Gig, 4905 Rosedale St. N.W., Gig Harbor; Roxhill Park, 2850 S.W. Roxbury St., Seattle; Battle Point Park, 11299 Arrow Point Drive N.E., Bainbridge Island.

Best neighborhood playgrounds

Deane's Children's Park (at Island Crest Park), 5500 Island Crest Way, Mercer Island. This forested playground, aka the "dragon park" for its (now) green 1960s concrete dragon, got a recent upgrade with a new castle-themed play structure with bridge entrance, seesaw, climbing features and xylophone. It still retains its large metal geo climbing dome, a flashback parents will likely remember from their playground days. There's a separate tot structure with four slides, plus a sit-upon sand digger and stand-alone climbing boulder with natural-style handholds.

Meadowbrook Playfield (Annie's Playground), 10533 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle. Located next to Nathan Hale High School, the mosaic-decorated playground offers a Kompan climbing structure, jungle gym, tot structure, teeter totter, merry-go-round, play caves and a sand-digging area.

Wallingford Playfield, 4219 Wallingford Ave. N., Seattle. Built in 2004, the large wooden play structure features connecting walkways and a tunnel slide; there's also a small structure for younger folks. Climbers will head for a bar arch and surrounding landscape boulders.

Idylwood Beach Park, 3650 West Lake Sammamish Parkway N.E., Redmond. Check out the large fish and frog statues, plus faux mountain stairs that form a "bat" cave underneath. The metal play structure offers a glide track; the resort-themed tot area features child-size seats, globe and moving toys.

Others: Rogers Playfield, Eastlake Avenue East and East Roanoke Street, Seattle. A floatplane and tugboat join a play structure with climbing wall and sandbox.

Central Park, 1097 Park Dr. N.E., Issaquah. Large compound structure with multiple slides and a climbing wall.

Best for tots

Downtown Park, 10201 N.E. Fourth St., Bellevue. A charming castle-themed playground encourages imaginative play.

City Park, Third Avenue South and Howell Way, Edmonds. There are toys for older kids, too, but the unusually large tot wooden play structure, with bridges and tunnels, is the real draw. Toddlers will also enjoy swings, spring riding toys and a large tire for climbing, all circled by a low wall.

Woodlands Park, 9930 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland. On the east side of the park, off 128th Avenue Northeast, visitors will find a charming fire-station-themed tot playground with Kompan wooden houses, firetruck, spring toys and a climbing structure with rope bridge. Plus, it's all fenced.

Best for train fans

North Kirkland Community Center Park, 12421 103rd Ave. N.E., Kirkland. The "choo-choo train park" has a metal train, ticket booth and climbing structure.

Mercerdale Park, 77th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 32nd Street, Mercer Island. Red three-car wooden train, plus a metal play structure.

Newcastle Beach Park, 4400 Lake Washington Blvd. S.E., Bellevue. A large coal-mining train, plus playhouse, seesaw, spring toys and embankment slide.

Horizon View Park, 47th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 201st Place, Lake Forest Park. A wooden play train joins a well-appointed structure with bridges and slides.

Best rides

Meadowdale Neighborhood Park (not the playfields or the beach park), 5700 168th St. S.W., Lynnwood. The popular attraction is the 60-foot cable swing. There's also a wood structure with triple slide and tunnel, tot play gym and sand play area.

Wilburton Hill Park, 12001 Main St., Bellevue. A long zipline will occupy older kids while younger ones explore the wooden play houses, including a two-story structure with a spider-web climber.

Best for climbers

Frances Anderson Center playground, 700 Main St., Edmonds. Rock wall.

Pine Lake Park, 228th Avenue Southeast at Southeast 24th Street, Sammamish. Stand-alone climbing wall.

Sunset Park, 1306 69th St. S.E., Auburn. Cone-shaped climbing wall with a flat area on top.

Renton Highlands Park, 812 Union Ave. N.E., Renton. In the process of being built, the playground will feature an all-ages rock-climbing area with rocks from 18 inches to 7 feet high (plus two traditional play structures). The city expects to complete it by the end of this year.

Stephanie Dunnewind: sdunnewind@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-2091

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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