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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

5 Must-Visit Playgrounds Around the US

Climb, swing, and slide your way to a fun day at the playground – even when you're away from home! It's a great way to get some exercise and fresh air while traveling with kids, and you can do it on a dime. My family and I travel extensively; and, in every destination, we pack in visits to museums, try the local cuisine and do our best to find a fun playground. We like to use a website called Parkgrades.com to locate playgrounds in the area we are visiting. We plug in the name of the city and state, and a list of playgrounds with a map pops up. It's so easy, though we also often ask families we meet on the street. Locals always have the best advice!

Here are five playgrounds that stand out as some of the best we have found along the way, all from different parts of the country:

No. 1 If you want to go big and bold, don't miss Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, Fla., a 132-acre space that includes a carousel, theater and science playground. The playground has three levels of hands-on interactive equipment, including water features that are perfect for a hot day. The playground is adjacent to the Science Explorium, so you can plan a full day (or two!) at the park. Parking and admission to the playground are free, and it is open 365 days a year. The fort area of the

playground is quite large, so you have to keep a good eye on the kids, especially if you have a few to watch. There is a small fee to ride on the carousel. You might want to avoid going in the afternoon when the equipment can get very hot from the Florida sun. There are spots for a picnic so bring snacks and even lunch!

No. 2 Accessible playgrounds are the best because they are designed so EVERYONE can play together! When we filmed our show, "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly," in San Antonio, Texas, we visited Morgan's Wonderland, a fully accessible amusement park. It opened my eyes to how important it is for children of all abilities to get the opportunity to play together and have fun. I have found some resources that list accessible playgrounds. One is accessibleplayground.net,

created by Mara Kaplan, an educator, mom and advocate for inclusive play. Another resource is via NPR: http://apps.npr.org/playgrounds/. My accessible playground pick for the Midwest is on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in the town of Port Washington, Wis. Possibility Playground has a nice variety of features, including a pirate ship, lighthouse, rock wall and even a music area.

No. 3 Playgrounds with a theme are a fun twist on the traditional play space. Want to have a woolly mammoth greet the kids? Check out Fossil Creek Playground in Fort Collins, Colo. Mammoth bones were discovered during construction and became the inspiration for the playground's theme. The Tarpits Play Area has fun climbing structures, and the big yellow slide is a hit! Make sure you spend some time at the fossil wall, which is also great for adventurous climbers. Adventure Island has interactive water features, so prepare to get wet when visiting this playground. Because Fossil Creek does not have a lot of shade, the water features are a nice reprieve. There is also a dog park in case Fido is joining you on vacation. Older kids might enjoy the skateboarding area, tennis courts and baseball fields.

No. 4 A neighborhood park not far from Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey, Calif., Dennis the Menace Playground offers a variety of activities for kids of all ages. I had fun featuring this awesome outdoor space in the Monterey episode of my show. It was designed by Hank Ketcham, creator of the "Dennis the Menace" cartoon series. Like the cartoon, the playground offers wholesome, good-natured fun. The brightly colored slides, bridges and tunnels will keep the kids busy for quite a while, but there is also a skate park and paddle-boats for rent just a hop, skip and a jump away, so you can stay for hours! Parking is at a premium, so get to the park early to catch a spot. There is a snack shop available, which is convenient, but there aren't very many tables, so you might want to bring a picnic blanket. Don't leave without checking out Steam Engine 1285, a local favorite.

No. 5 A very special collection of playgrounds is my last pick for this top five list. The Sandy Ground is a group of playgrounds created in loving memory of those killed in the Sandy Hook School tragedy. The playgrounds are being built in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey – in communities that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. There will be 26 playgrounds created, one for each victim; 19 have been built so far. Everyone is invited to help build the last of the playgrounds by donating time, talent or treasure (go to the link above to see how you can get involved). Each playground is meant to be a space "Where Angels Play." What better way to honor the Newtown victims than by bringing your own children to the playground so they can have fun and celebrate life.

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About Colleen:

Source of all photos is Travel Firm Productions.

(Byline: Colleen Kelly, Host and Executive Producer of "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly")

Colleen Kelly is a fun-loving parent, travel writer and avid explorer of the world. She focuses on discovering family-friendly trips in the US and around the world. So, it's a given that she's visited the most amazing playgrounds around the United States!

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