A summer bucket list—what a fantastic idea! Or so we thought. Before we knew it, our family’s summer schedule had become a regimented list of museum visits, obligatory road trips and date nights at crowded restaurants.
My husband and I looked at each other as we were waiting for a table on one of those date nights and decided to re-think our brilliant summer plan. By trying to make summer fun, we were making ourselves miserable. So we revamped our bucket list to include the simpler things: bike rides, trips to local parks, and relaxing mornings sipping iced coffee on our front porch.
And with 52 parks in our glorious city—yes, 52—there’s a lot of exploring and playing to be done. “Our forefathers had the foresight to build a park in each neighborhood,” says Cindy Walsh, director of operations and recreation for the city of St. Louis Park. “That way each family could walk to a park.”
Here, we share our favorite spots. Grab your honey, your kids—or maybe just a delicious picnic lunch for one—and enjoy the great outdoors right in your own neighborhood.
Oak Hill Park and Splash Pad
Two words make our kids go crazy: splash pad. That’s right—you and your little ones can spend the afternoon playing with bubbling hoses, water nozzles and sprinklers for just $1 admission. Just bring the snacks, water shoes and a bucket or two, and you’re all set.
Taylor Granlund, mom of two young kiddos, says this is her go-to summer spot. “Since we started touring the parks, I think I’m an Oak Hill Park convert,” she says. “I really like the hills and trails. It’s close to our house, shady, and the splash pad is super cool.”
Just a few feet beyond the splash pad lies the main part of Oak Hill Park, arguably the city’s most popular park, according to Cindy Walsh. With softball fields, basketball courts and picnic tables, as well as a great playground for all ages, this is a real crowd-pleaser.
“I love the toddler-friendly section,” says Kim Collins, mom of two. “It allows me to let my daughter have freedom to explore without me hovering over her. I know she’s going to be safe on the equipment because it was built for toddlers.”
3201 Rhode Island Ave. S.
Between Excelsior & Grand Commons and the Rec Center lies a gem: Wolfe Park. It might be a little hidden, but it’s certainly not secret; this is one of the most popular parks in the city, Walsh says. A great play place for kids, there’s a bonus for grown-ups: a Starbucks within walking distance.
Walk the kids up to Starbucks using the Veterans’ Memorial Amphitheater path, which connects to the Excelsior & Grand town green. You might have to take a pit stop while your kid belts out “Let it Go” on the stage. Besides impromptu performances from Frozen, the space features concerts throughout the summer.
3700 Monterey Drive
With plenty of shade and wide open space to frolic freely, this quaint park is nestled in the Cedarhurst neighborhood just off of Highways 394 and 100. The equipment is the perfect size for youngsters, offering both freedom and safety. And with lots of shade and even a few picnic tables, this one definitely made our bucket list.
1601 Natchez Ave. S.
In the heart of town right behind St. Louis Park High School, this park is perfect for little ones who are out of diapers. Featuring a basketball court, covered picnic area and a fun playground, kids can play while Mom and Dad chat on the benches nearby. Bonus: Indoor bathrooms are just steps away from the play structure.
6801 33rd St. W.
One of the city’s newest playground structures is at Hampshire Park in the Eliot neighborhood off Cedar Lake Road. Smaller than Oak Hill or Wolfe Park, this space provides a peaceful park experience or play date. An open field behind the playground allows for supervised chaos as the kids run free without the threat of cars or ponds. (And after said supervised chaos, nap time might come a little easier.)
6501 18th St. W.
As summer rolls on, so does our bucket list. So long, expensive museum outings and over-crowded patios. We have parks to visit.
Tips for a successful park outing
Snacking Smart: A trip to the park isn’t complete without snacks. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
Kim Collins has a designated bag for the park with fruit, a couple of granola bars and a water bottle. “I try to bring enough to share,” she says. “It’s so hard when other kids see and want a snack, too.” Taylor Granlund grabs raisins or cheddar crackers before heading out the door. She adds, “If I am really running that day, I’ll grab something from the coffee shop.”
Playing Nice: A peaceful park play date can take a turn for the worse in a split second. (There never seem to be enough swings!)
Cynthia Peterson, parent educator for Early Childhood Family Education in St. Louis Park, has some pointers to keep those playground molehills from growing into mountains. She suggests preparing kids on the way to the park. “You can say, ‘We are going to the park to have fun. There will be lots of other children, so we’ll need to remember to use our friendly words and take turns.’ ”
If your child is aggressive with other kids, Peterson suggests giving them a warning and, if it continues, leaving the park. “You can say, ‘I’m sorry, but you are having a difficult time being friendly at the park today, so we will need to leave. We can come back another day.’ ”
Closing Time: Leaving the park can be a sad, sad time for some kids. To sidestep the tantrums and wails, Peterson has a few suggestions for overcoming these transition challenges. “Give a five-minute warning,” she offers. “Then, just before the time is up, say, ‘Five minutes is almost up. What is one last thing you’d like to do before we leave?’ ” Then, she adds, “Say, ‘Goodbye, park. See you next time.’ ” Collins uses this same transition method. “I always try to give my daughter a chance to do everything she wants. Then, we’ll talk about what we’re going to do after the park,” she says. “I say, ‘Let’s go home and make lunch.’ I give her something to look forward to.” Peterson adds, “When you say it’s time to go, stick to it. Letting your child delay things lets them know that they can decide when it’s time to leave.”