With nearly six years of parenthood under my belt, I figure Im as qualified as anyone to evaluate the areas playgrounds. (Make that almost anyone. I had a key adviser on my travels, my daughter, Lila.) Over the course of several weekends this spring, I came up with five top spots. I confess I had some preconceived notions. For one thing, having read Belmont author Tom Perrottas Little Children, I expected to run into prom kings studly young dads and the frustrated moms who love them. No dice. As Perrotta politely reminded me on the phone, Little Children is fiction. The playground was the most unsexy place I ever spent a lot of time, he told me. His kids are not playground age anymore, but when they were, he took them to Hosmer Playground in Watertown.
On one of our first missions out, Lila and I headed to Hosmer. There was nobody around, so we followed the first rule of playground scouting: An empty playground, like an empty restaurant, can be a serious buzz-kill. We moved on.
1255 Soldiers Field Road, Brighton
Located on the banks of the Charles River not far from where Alewife Brook Parkway meets Soldiers Field Road, Artesani Playground is actually two playgrounds side by side: one for tots, the other for older children. Theres plenty of parking, and with lots of picnic tables and benches, parents can chill as the kids check out the slides and monkey bars.
Prime attraction: Water, in all of its glory. In addition to the Charles flowing by, theres a wading pool thats open in the summer. Jets shoot streams into the air, and lifeguards watch over. As important, there are bathrooms. This place is really clean, says Cambridges Maria Zaklin, 34, mother of 3-year-old Eli. You have to shower before you go into the pool.
Downside: Dont let the kids scramble out of the fenced area. Theyll run into a little thing called goose droppings. On this spring day, the Artesani could also use its hot dog stand. Sometimes the kids get hungry, says Milagros Rosado, 30, who regularly hauls her two children from Dorchester to the park.
West Newton Street, next to the Southwest Corridor Park, Boston
Tucked into the South End, Titus Sparrow Park is the ultimate compact urban play space. Dog walkers stroll along, making sure not to let Fido relieve himself in the meadow. Basketball players hit the court. Kids play on the swings, slides, and monkey bars. Prime attraction: Location, location, location. Theres also Kathy Hanson, a 63-year-old neighbor who watches over Titus like a hall monitor. On a recent morning, she pounced on a schoolgirl standing on a toddler swing (Itll break, and thats the second one weve had) and chased down a dog owner she anticipated might be heading to the meadow. People either love her or hate her, says Giulia Del Guercio, while keeping an eye on her son Jacob, 5. I love her.
Downside: Take your stroller envy pills bugaboos are everywhere. Its like an SUV for strollers, said Scott Nelson, 32, trying to justify the $1,000-plus that a group of family members spent on his firstborns stroller and accessories. It gets through everything.
Lila says: Shes not impressed by the playgrounds equipment but is pleased to find enough insta-friends to spark a high-swinging competition.
90 Washington Street, Wellesley
We were expecting pricey baby gear, Gwen Stefani-style (see: Titus Sparrow). Instead, this Wellesley playground was decidedly low-key. Theres plenty of variety, from a rock-climbing wall for bigger kids to three long slides to a large climbing structure. This playground is big enough but enclosed, so youre not afraid theyre going to run into the street, says Wellesleys Shirley Macbeth, there with her three children.
Prime attraction: Lots of foliage makes Warren a perfect spot during the dog days of summer. With some playgrounds, the slides are too hot to even go down, says Naticks Kimberly Duckworth, 40, who was playing with her toddler, Clara. Here, its shaded at just the right time.
Downside: The park is not close enough to walk to a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. You need to go in there with a substance, caffeine or some piece of reading material, says parenting author Harlyn Aizley, a mother of a 6-year-old. You have to plan for Warren.
St. Paul Street, Brookline
Inside this fenced-in 2-acre site, youll find a playground, a ball field, and the Minot Rose Garden. The crowd displays the kind of diversity you would expect in Coolidge Corner, with sunbathing college students on one side and Orthodox Jews just out of Saturday services on the other.
Prime attraction: A rock-climbing ramp with chains for pulling yourself up, 10 swings, long slides, and a tot area with rubber-tire padding to prevent painful falls. But the atmosphere is key: Winthrop is usually packed, except at naptime.
Downside: No bathroom, but dont despair. A public library is just around the corner on Pleasant Street. Lila says: The park was very pretty. I liked that there were big trees so I could hide.
61 Eastern Avenue, Arlington
This 11-acre park in Arlington is a prime sledding and kite-flying spot, and the panoramic view of Boston is stunning. Robbins is also, thanks to an active friends group, a gathering spot throughout the summer, with movies and Red Sox games shown on a giant rented screen. The recently renovated playgrounds also a keeper.
Prime attraction: The 50-foot slides two of them, side by side, allowing for races draw kids from all over. Cambridges Karen Soroca, 37, heard about it from a woman in her yoga class and decided to take her 2-year-old daughter, Sarah. Were here so shes not bouncing off the sofa, she says.
Downside: Theres no bathroom. And with so much to see and do and a playground packed with people it can be easy to lose sight of little Janie. Lila says: Her favorite, but shes biased. This is her hometown, and theres a great tire swing.
Geoff Edgers is an arts reporter for the Globe. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.