Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Balboa Park Pepper Grove Discovery Playground (San Diego, CA)

Until I spent a few years in the Valley of the Sun, I didn't quite understand the allure of San Diego.  But now that I'm a long time resident, I more fully appreciate the charms of the city.  And by "charms," I mean "sub-80-degree summer afternoons."  We don't make San Diego an annual trip like many folks here do, but we've gone a couple times, and playgrounds have been a key component of our trips there.

One of our favorite is Balboa Park's main playground, which, according to the park's blog, is officially called the Pepper Grove Discovery Playground.  It's on the southern end of the massive park, south of the Fleet Science Center, west of Park Boulevard.

As you can see from the pictures here and in the links above, there is nothing particularly special about the equipment itself.  There are a few swings, some updated and bulbous but not wow-able climbing equipment on rubberized surface, and some spring-y and scoop-y ride vehicles on sand.  There is also -- and I'm sorry I don't have a picture of this -- an egg-like chair that spins round and round.  The adult in me nearly throws up just thinking about it, but the kids of course love it.  It'd be a pretty good neighborhood playground.

The distinguishing reason to visit is the presence of all those trees lining the playground.  Those pepper trees provide lovely shade for when the mid-afternoon sun gets a little too intense to hang out on the playground itself (which is pretty devoid of shade or seating).  There are trees aplenty, so even if the playground gets a bit crowded (which it definitely can), you'll still likely be able to find a spot to hang out and have a snack or a whole picnic.  You'll be more likely to find a spot under the trees than you will a parking spot in the adjacent parking lot (you're more likely to find space a fifth-mile or so south on Park Boulevard).  There are bathrooms right there, but if you need snacks, a 10-minute stroll up the hill to the main part of Balboa Park (El Prado) will suit your needs nicely.

I can't say that this should be your first stop at Balboa Park, one of America's great parks.  But if you're going there, and your kids need some unstructured play time, it might be the best.

What: Balboa Park (Pepper Grove Discovery) Playground
Where: Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 92101 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to park, free, but can get full with Fleet Science Center and other visitors; street parking along Park Boulevard; big shuttle lot further south on Park served by free trams.  Served by bus.
Amenities: There's a bathroom of passable quality.
Bottom Line: You're in San Diego, playing on a playground on (probably) a beautiful day.  What could be wrong?

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