Andy Hinds | SDUN Columnist
As a stay-at-home dad, one of my primary objectives is to actually stay at home as little as possible. Almost every time I’ve acted on the intuition that my 3-year-old twins need to take it easy and spend the day at the house, it has backfired on me. We all get on each other’s nerves, the house ends up trashed and I feel like a failure for not having gotten anything done. At least when the kids have public meltdowns at Sea World, I feel like we have gone somewhere and the house isn’t any more of a mess when we return than it was when we left.
Thankfully, living in Uptown there are plenty of activities I can do with my kids without investing an inordinate amount of time or effort, and if I really want to keep it minimal – if the kids are on edge or if I’m just feeling lazy – there’s no better outing than a trip to the playground.
Just as I had a handful of regular bars to choose from when I was in my 20s, I am now faced several times per week with the choice of which local playground to visit. As it turns out, criteria for choosing a playground are very similar to those for choosing a bar: chief among them are amenities, atmosphere and the crowd that’s likely to show up.
Though we do venture outside of our comfort zone from time to time, there are three playgrounds within a two-mile radius of our house that the girls and I frequent, and all have distinctly different characters.
Morley Field is awesome in that it’s walking distance from my house. I find it a bit frustrating though, that in the midst of the greatest outdoor sports and recreation complex in San Diego, the only play area for kids is utterly lackluster: a couple of slides, a swing set, monkey bars and some stuff to climb on. The atmosphere at Morley Field is comfortable, but slightly less than convivial.
I usually don’t exchange more than a few words with other parents here, and there doesn’t seem to be a consistent crowd of regulars. The personnel vary depending on when you go, as local parents with younger kids are typical throughout the day, but there are sometimes unsupervised older kids, whose parents are playing softball or soccer, running roughshod over the toddlers. Despite its shortcomings, the playground at Morley Field is perfectly adequate, and it’s surrounded by a lot of other fun opportunities for kids and adults alike.
Montclair Neighborhood Park
Nestled in a cul-de-sac at the end of Nile Street in North Park, Montclair, which my girls call the “circle playground” because of the ring of sidewalk surrounding it, is one of the hidden gems of the area. You would never see this one simply driving around unless you were lost in the weird warren south of Upas Street. This is our current favorite, and I almost feel guilty for writing about it, as if I’m sharing the location of a secret surf spot or parking lot.
The structures are perfect for 3-year-olds, and in addition to the usual swings and slides, there are contraptions that spin and bounce, more sand than a set of twins could ever eat, walls to climb and several artificial boulder outcroppings for the kids to teeter atop. The crowd here is very chill and friendly. I almost always end up both seeing people I know and talking to parents I have not met previously.
One thing I’ve noticed about Montclair is that there are frequently more dads than moms here. Possibly the biggest complaint I’ve heard from other stay-at-home dads, although it’s never bothered me personally, is the isolation and even ostracization they’ve felt from playground moms. You won’t find that at Montclair.
Trolley Barn Park
The equipment at Trolley Barn accommodates kids from toddlers to tweens with all the usual features, and a particularly good selection of slides. Be forewarned: like Montclair, Trolley Barn has no public restrooms, a circumstance that can be frustrating for kids and adults. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly, with parents, kids, dogs and people who use the park to lounge, sunbathe or huddle around picnic tables, all doing their respective things in close proximity with no tension that I’ve ever observed.
One of the benefits of its location at Adams Avenue and Florida Street is that there are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance of the park. The parents at Trolley Barn tend to be slightly younger and maybe a bit more bohemian than those at the other two I’ve mentioned. I sometimes feel a little conspicuous when I go here, since I don’t have any tattoos or facial piercings; but no one seems to hold my square-ness against me.
In writing this – and in being a parent of kids in whose lives playgrounds figure prominently – I’ve realized there is no comprehensive, user-friendly database for playground information in our city. Everything I know about recreational facilities for kids is through word of mouth. As I mentioned earlier, my kids and I visit other playgrounds in Uptown, but the three I’ve mentioned are the ones we like best, for various reasons.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some amazing wonderland hidden behind an old church or under an overpass somewhere in Uptown that I will not discover until the kids have outgrown playgrounds.
So, how about helping a daddy out? What are some of your favorite Uptown playgrounds? You can join the discussion on the new San Diego Uptown News Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-Uptown-News/242049585857165, and please remember to click “like” while you’re there.
—Andy Hinds is a stay-at-home dad, blogger, freelance writer, carpenter and sometimes-adjunct writing professor. He is known on the Internet as Beta Dad, but you might know him as that guy in North Park whose kids ride in a dog-drawn wagon. Read his personal blog at butterbeanandcobra.blogspot.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @betadad on Twitter.