While all three of my kids love to go for a dip, play fountains offer more spontaneous fun than a swim in one of NYC’s public pools. For those hot summer days when we’re out and about or need a last-minute distraction, I keep this list of play fountains and wading pools in my back pocket.
A more immersive experience than standard NYC splash pads, these play fountains feature wading pools, plus jets shooting water sky high. Play fountains are the perfect place for kids to frolic and get completely doused without mommy having to go all-in—literally. Best of all? They’re all completely FREE. Here are 12 fun play fountains in NYC where kids can get absolutely soaked.
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1. Elmhurst Park – Elmhurst, Queens
This beautiful community park opened to the public in 2011, bringing a much-needed play fountain for kids. Water at this splash pad recirculates through various unpredictable spray valves dousing anyone who dares to toy with its mist. If you’re worried about cleanliness, take note: This spot was one of the first to comply with the DOH’s regulations that recirculated water be purified on-site.
The play fountains on Governors Island are the perfect size for little ones. Photo courtesy of The Friends of Governors Island
2. Play Fountains – Governors Island
Located in the Liggett Terrace hedge maze, the trio of circular play fountains features 90 programmable water jets shooting from the granite walls and is open daily. Parents can sit on the edges or grab a nearby lounge chair. While you’re there, explore all of the fun the isle has to offer.
3. Splash Pad at Lakeside – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
During the summer, this two-rink ice-skating complex transforms into a roller-skating spot and a 16,000-square-foot play fountain. Forty-seven jets blast kids as a thin layer of water collects at their feet. Head to the adjacent Blue Stone Cafe to refuel with a cold drink or an ice cream.
Roberto Clemente State Park has a huge pool and splash pad. Photo courtesy of NYS Parks
4. Roberto Clemente State Park – Morris Heights, the Bronx
So, this pick goes against the no-pool rule, but consider this spot a step above your typical city pool. The state park’s splash pad offers plenty of cooling mist for kids and adults alike to frolic. One drawback: There is an entrance fee, but at $1 per kid and $2 per adult, you can still treat the family to a relatively inexpensive afternoon of fun. In addition to a full-size pool, there’s a kiddie pool with a shower at one end and an entire sprinkler area where kids can run through geysers and sprays in every shape and size imaginable.
5. Arthur Ross Terrace – Upper West Side
We happily discovered kids can cool down on this 1-acre terrace adjacent to the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Grassy knolls line the sprinklers, and though there are only four jets cascading into the air, a gentle slope directs the water to the foot of the Rose Center, where it pools. Toddlers and big kids alike love wading and filling their buckets. Since this play fountain is little known, it’s a much calmer experience than playing in nearby Central Park. I had trouble convincing my kids to leave! Bonus: There are shady picnic tables and benches lining the plaza. And, in case you’re wondering, you can access the terrace without paying museum admission, though the terrace is only open during regular museum hours Wednesdays through Sundays.
Kids love frolicking in the water play area at Teardrop Park. Photo by sharon_k via Flickr
6. Teardrop Park – Battery Park City
Located behind a Battery Park City high-rise, this playground can be tricky to find. But, once you locate it, your kids may never want to leave. The super long slide (one of the longest in the city!) dumps kids in a massive sandbox. But, in summer, the main attraction is a splash pad, where geysers shoot up and douse everything in the vicinity, from the squealing kids to the surrounding rocks.
7. Pier 6 Waterlab – Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park‘s spectacular waterfront views are soothing, but when kids really want to cool off, they head to the super-popular Waterlab, one of four distinct play attractions on Pier 6. Man-made cliffs enclose a series of water areas where sprinklers shoot up, out, and all over, totally dousing kids. The water pools on a nice, squishy surface (which saved my clumsy toddler a few times). Head to the destination sandbox next door with its log cabins after the kids dry off, or grab an ice cream (and a beer) at Fornino, directly across from the splash pad. You’ll find the bathrooms here, too.
Happiness is slashing through the water at Domino Park. Photo by the author
8. Domino Park Fountain – Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Domino Park opened in 2018, bringing with it an ultra-cool play fountain. With a tiered seating area overlooking the fountain, parents have plenty of room to lounge and keep a watchful eye while the kids frolic among the 88 jets that make up the fountain. Interactive lights make this a fun spot to play on summer nights as you enjoy the sun setting over the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
9. Washington Square Park Fountain – West Village
Although it wasn’t originally intended to be played in, the fountain in Washington Square Park attracts so many overheated kids and grown-ups every summer the Parks Department doesn’t kick anyone out (save for dogs). Here the water shoots skyward from the middle of the play fountain and then crashes back down into the wading pool. Kids who want to get drenched can stand in the streams, while toddlers can hang closer to the edges as parents keep a watchful eye from the dry steps. A word to the wise: It’s best to wear shoes here. The water can be murky.
Queens’ Fountain of Fairs offers a cooling mist cloud for kids to frolic in. Photo by the author
10. Fountain of the Fairs – Flushing Meadows Corona Park
After falling into disrepair for years, this mega splash pad underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2020. More of a giant cooling cloud than a standard fountain, the revamped area uses hundreds of specialized jets to cool visitors. The renovation also included new landscaping, benches, and drinking fountains. It’s the perfect place to cool the kids off without getting completely soaked, which is particularly useful if you’re heading off to see the rest of this fun-filled park.
11. Waterline Square Park – Upper West Side
This lovely public park has been constructed alongside some new luxury housing developments on the Hudson River. This green oasis features sculptural fountains, manicured lawns, meandering paths, a fully-equipped children’s playground, and cascading splash pad that is a blast to cool off in. Take some time to explore the 2.6 acre park, and you may catch one of the many events happening there, like yoga, fitness classes, musical performances, or even a gardening event.
Play in Jeppe Heins’ “liquid architecture” at Rockefeller Center.Photo by the author
12. Bonus: Jeppe Heins’ Changing Spaces Water Sculpture – Rockefeller Center
Operational only for this summer, artist Jeppe Heins’ cool water art installation is entertaining the crowds on the Rockefeller Center Plaza. Changing Spaces is essentially four concentric circles of water jet stream walls that shoot up from the ground. The circular water walls rise and fall at random, and merge into each other. It’s a fun, interactive experience that the artist describes as “liquid architecture.”
We should add that while we’ve seen kids (and dogs!) romp in the water at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the artsy spray jets outside the Brooklyn Museum, neither of these are meant for playing. If you’re caught, you could face a reprimand or even a fine.
This article first published in July 2015.