Summer Fun: Sacramento Adventure Playground

This South Sac play spot encourages independence in kids.
Sacramento Adventure Playground

Any casual observer will miss Sacramento Adventure Playground, a scrappy parcel of land behind Maple Neighborhood Center in South Sacramento. Strewn with tires, scrap lumber, broken-down exercise equipment, and even an old hospital gurney, the place more aptly could be called a junkyard.

Look closer and you’ll find a couple dozen children ages 6 to 15 fully immersed in creative play—building forts, painting signs, zipping around on trikes, climbing a tree, collecting polliwogs or hanging out with Shelly, the African spurred tortoise. Modeled after similarly created playgrounds around the world, Sacramento’s version is powered by Fairytale Town and donors and staffed by a crew schooled in child development who call themselves “play facilitators.”

girl playing in water Sacramento Adventure Playground

Parents need not stick around.

Play manager Steve Caudle can recite research demonstrating that, without their parents either telling them how to do something or not to do something, kids are more apt to venture on their own, all while building self-confidence and learning to problem solve.

“They organize their own activities,” he says. “When you stop telling kids what to do, they get so creative.”

Eight-year-old Isabella is a longtime participant. On Earth Day this year, she worked alone with a big cardboard box and scissors.

“I love it here,” she said. “It’s full of adventure. I just like to play. I’m making a recycled cardboard robot costume. My little brother wants to make a play. I’m his artist.”

tool cart at Sacramento Adventure Playground

Sacramento Adventure Playground

Location: 3301 37th Ave.
Hours: Wednesday–Friday 2:15–6:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Price: Free; registration encouraged. Call (916) 222-3831 on the day of desired play.
Safety: Kids and staff must wear masks. Visit website for updated policies.
More information: sacadventureplay.org

More for the Whole Family

Sacramento Zoo

sacramento zoo turtle

Open daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Entrants can stay as long as they like, but must purchase tickets in advance. The zoo offers behind-the-scenes tours for groups with private guides and more hands-on interactions with the animals. General admission $19, senior $18, kids 2-11 $14, babies free. 3930 W. Land Park Drive. saczoo.org

Waterfront Wheel and Carousel

Operated by Brass Ring Amusement, these new amenities on the Old Sacramento Waterfront have been entertaining families for months during the pandemic. Operating Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.–8 p.m. and Friday–Sunday 10 a.m.–9 p.m., $6 per ride. 1150 Front St. Tickets sold on-site.