Escondido Park | Credit: Courtesy

When your kid starts climbing things ― I caught mine standing proudly atop the coffee table the other day ― it’s time to make playgrounds part of the routine. Luckily, Santa Barbara is full of them.

But not all parks are created equal, and not all play structures work well for that toddler-to-preschool phase when they’re smaller and slower than the “big kids” and can create log jams, or worse, get flattened like a traffic cone.

The following seven parks, spread across different neighborhoods, hit the sweet spot when it comes to apparatuses rated specifically for 2- to 5-year-olds (as opposed to the 2-12 or 5-12 levels). They offer just the right amount of fun and challenge, and finding them will give you the excuse to explore another part of the city.

There are other locations out there, but these, we’ve discovered, offer the best atmosphere, most amenities, and closest proximity to other things to do.

Bath Street Pocket Park | Credit: Courtesy

Bath Street Pocket Park
635 Bath Street

This little nook of a park, built in 2015, is one of Santa Barbara’s newest. It sits just a few blocks from downtown and a whole row of family-friendly shops and restaurants. Mission Creek runs right behind it.

Eastside Neighborhood Park | Credit: Courtesy

Eastside Neighborhood Park
118 North Soledad Street

Close to the Franklin Neighborhood Center, this is a popular location for barbecues and birthday parties with plenty of shade from oak trees. It also has an on-site restroom. Yanonali Community Garden occupies the back of the park, where neighbors tend to rented plots.

Hilda Ray Park | Credit: Courtesy

Escondido Park / Hilda McIntyre Ray Park
1306 Flora Vista Drive / 1420 Kenwood Road

We’re counting these two locations as one entry because they’re right around the corner from each other on the Mesa. Escondido Park features panoramic city views, walking paths, and a half-size basketball court. Hilda McIntyre Ray Park also offers wide views and a 20-person picnic area as well. 

Hidden Valley Park | Credit: Courtesy

Hidden Valley Park
Torino Drive and Calle de los Amigos

Half playground, half open space, this park nestled in the Arroyo Burro watershed includes a big lawn, barbecue facilities, and creekside walking path. Its thick foliage and protective topography make it a good choice on a windy day.

Shoreline Park | Credit: Courtesy

Shoreline Park
Shoreline Drive and Santa Rosa Place

Maybe the most visually stunning park in all of Santa Barbara (the Central Coast? California?), Shoreline Park overlooks the harbor and faces the Channel Islands. It has large expanses of grass and paths, a whale-watching area, and reservable picnic tables. Waterfront food and shopping is a short walk away.

Stevens Park | Credit: Courtesy

Stevens Park
258 Canon Drive

This hidden spot located in San Roque Canyon features creek access and plenty of benches and hangout spots, and it marks the beginning of Jesusita Trail. Hike just a few hundred yards up and you’ll find more water play areas as well as a field in which to romp.

Willowglen Park | Credit: Courtesy

Willowglen Park
600 Willowglen Road

In the autumn, this little neighborhood park turns into a bright patch of color thanks to the sweet gum trees that surround it. Next to the playground is a ball field and grassy area for on-leash dogs.


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