I recently took my son to the playground in New York City where I grew up. I looked around and all I could see was me, about 8 years old, in a red satin jacket lacing up my blue Adidas roller skates with the yellow stripes. It was great to watch him play where I identify so strongly with my own childhood. And I realized how important these spaces are to us.

With that in mind, I thought I would review some of our great Santa Monica assets, our parks. Actually, these are less reviews as they are reflections.

Let’s of course start at the beach, because one of the great benefits of living here is living right on the beach.

Ocean Park Playground (Ocean Park at Barnard Way): There is lots of sand, obviously. The swings, slides and climbing equipment are all good (in fact there are a couple of great slides that twist around and around), but what sets this park apart is the location. When you are tired of swinging you can wander down to the ocean. Or if you are really feeling adventurous, as my son and I were one day, rent bikes from Perry’s, located a few steps down, and then have hot dogs and fries and sit in the sun.

Memorial Park (14th and Olympic): I discovered this park, because my son’s preschool goes here. My son loves to climb up on the animals on the seesaw and rock back and forth.

A great benefit of this park is that it is completely enclosed and not too big, which is great if you have a wanderer, as I do. Another benefit is it is usually pretty empty and parking is a breeze. A friend once mentioned she and some of her girlfriends were there having a play date and they felt utterly intruded on in their secret little park when some preschool class came barreling in.

Rustic Canyon (601 Latimer Road, Pacific Palisades): Now, technically this is not in Santa Monica, but it is worth a mention. My husband heard about this park from some guy on an airplane, almost like it was a secret clubhouse and he was passing along the torch.

We got lost trying to find it, but once we made our way down the hill, it opened up and really felt like a hidden treasure. Surrounded by trees in the canyon, it is not the typical city park. It really feels like you are in the country. The playground equipment is minimal. The fun of this park is the space and the vibe. Bring a ball and play some basketball on the courts or swing a bat in the field. We taught our son how to steal bases here.

Clover Park (2600 Ocean Park Blvd.): I love this park, even though the toddler playground is really small. But the softball field has provided me and my son with hours of silly, running around fun where he jumps on my back and we tumble to the ground and giggle.

Plus, it is located right next to the Santa Monica Airport runway so there’s always a show of takeoffs and landings, which when you are 2 (or 37) is great fun.

Another park to watch planes is Airport Park (3223 Donald Douglas Loop): This is a fun park, full of good equipment and a big dog park.

We had our son’s first birthday party there. The park has plenty of tables and grills, but we learned the hard way that there is no shade, so try not to have a party here in late July around noon.

But the big Kahuna, the park my son will reflect back on his childhood about, is Douglas Park (1155 Chelsea Ave.): We are lucky, we live down the street from Douglas Park, so close that it feels like an extension of our home, like our yard. There is the all-important shade. There are multiple duck ponds.

There is lawn bowling. There is an unofficial skate park that doubles as a fountain for the younger kids in the summer. There are swings and everything else that every other park has. But it was on these swings that my son sat on my lap and we swung together as he clung to me and laughed and looked up to the sky and said, “cloud,” and looked down and said, “shadow.” These were some of his first words. And I held him even tighter and swung even higher.

There is a real sense of community here in this park, as I am sure there is at every park. But this is our park and we know the kids and we know the faces and we share our toys. When we wander down and recognize everyone or start up a conversation with the family in the next swing, I feel happy for my son and the place he will grow up. I feel like he belongs.

So head out to our parks. Try one you’ve never been to or take another look at the one you’ve grown bored of, because it is at these parks that we talk to other families, bump into long-lost friends, make new ones, and eat ice cream that we know we shouldn’t.

And there is nothing better than to hear my son say, “playground” and run with glee towards it (hopefully even when he is 37 and bringing his own kid there to play).

Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.

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