The Play Area at Chelsea Waterside Park

Playground at Chelsea Waterside Park Close up of pipefish at Chelsea Waterside Park Climbing in the pipefish at Chelsea Waterside Park Playground at Chelsea Waterside Park two children in the nose of the pipefish at Chelsea Waterside sliding on the grass at Chelsea Waterside ParkAdd this to our list of favorite playgrounds in New York (and perhaps to your list of playgrounds to visit if you’re traveling to New York!): Chelsea Waterside Park Play Area in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. I’d seen little glimpses of it previously, and with a day off from school, perfect fall weather, and two kids with lots of energy to burn we decided to make the trip. Now having been, I can confidently say the trip was worth it – it’s a beautiful playground, with stunning structures and more than enough to challenge, inspire, and engage my 5- and 2-year-olds.

The playground is one of only three in the United States designed by Danish firm MONSTRUM, known for their fantastical themed playgrounds made of sturdy robina wood (looking at their beautiful designs makes me want to visit more of them!). At Chelsea Waterside, the inspiration is local to “the history of the park and surrounding neighborhood,” according to the head of the firm responsible for the park’s overall design: a long and sinuous pipefish (native to the Hudson River just yards away) curves and snakes up a steep hillside, wrapping itself around a cluster of tall towers, made to resemble the wooden piers also found in the river. Tall wooden poles painted green are the river plants, and nearby in the sand area two wooden oysters open themselves for play. Other areas of the playground continue the local theme in different ways: interactive water elements turned on in the summer months make use of stone carvings – two enormous limestone cow heads from a now-shuttered neighborhood meatpacking plant and some art deco-inspired granite winged carvings that once flanked the nearby ramp to the West Side Highway.

nose of the pipefish at Chelsea Waterside park playing in the sand at Chelsea Waterside climbing the tower at Chelsea Waterside playing at Chelsea Waterside Park playing on the hill at Chelsea Waterside Park

The opportunities for play on the structures and adjacent park space run the gamut from quiet and gentle to quite thrilling. As I mentioned, there’s a sandbox with lovely soft sand, and stone steps ringing the play area that are great for climbing and walking along. The interior of the pipefish is hollow and contains several entry/exit points, including one with a toddle-size slide, and climbing up and through it as it crests the park’s steep hill rewards children with a little enclosed areas with a bench and windows near the pipefish’s nose. A climbing net attached to one side of the pier towers reaches a point high enough above the ground that I somewhat nervously followed my two-year-old up (in fact, the tower portion of the playground is designed for children 5-12 years of age, though my son was able to tackle all of it with a bit of coaching while I shadowed him.). The two climbing paths up the interior of the towers lead to a tall and wide slide: enough room for at least two small children to sit side-by-side and steep enough, with a bit of undulation, that it’s very exciting to zoom down. The hill the play structure is built into and around is fun to scale and run back down, as is a second, shorter, drop, down into the sand area.

When it was time to leave it took a good deal of coaxing and an even greater deal of patience to wrap up our play. I’ve already promised a return visit in a week’s time, when we have plans to be in the neighborhood again. And I’d love to come back in the summer to experience the interactive water features as well. Something to look forward to!

A few additional thoughts and details:

  • Chelsea Waterside Park is located on 11th Avenue between W. 23rd and W. 24th Streets, and is most easily accessed by the M23 SBS bus. The closest subway stop is the C and E trains at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue.
  • This playground would make a great stop while walking the High Line, which is less than an avenue away, and you can also consider crossing the West Side Highway for a spin or two on the Pier 62 Carousel (currently closed for the season), which is one my my New York favorites (it includes animals native to the state of New York instead of jeweled horses!). Also just across the West Side Highway you can find the Classic Harbor Line boat cruises, which we love.
  • We’ve had many good meals over the years at Cookshop, a greenmarket-driven restaurant serving new American fare not far away at 156 Tenth Avenue (between W. 19th and W. 20th Streets).




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