Seize an Epic Journey to the Happy Joy Zone

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First, I have to tell you all how this post got its title. I was going to call it, “10 Surprisingly-Awesome Outdoor Play Spots in Your Town.” Simple, accurate description of what you're about to get. But then I installed this new headline analyzer that's supposed to help us tweak titles for optimal engagement. Nate and I got all caught up, adding descriptors and legendary verbiage in this hysterical competition to see who could get the “highest-rated” title.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

Nate won.

I mean, I guess it worked, because you're here. Right? And this weirdly felt like it fit. Now IS your opportunity to seize an epic journey! And you CAN find a happy joy zone wherever you live. Come along and we'll show you how!

10 Surprisingly-Awesome Outdoor Play Spots in Your Town

kids play | kids activities | outdoor play | outdoor activities | kids activities

We've been trying to explore more local spots this year. Everything from neighborhood cafes to tidepools are on our radar. People often email and say how much fun life looks here in San Diego and it got me thinking. Yes, San Diego is AWESOME, but fun isn't necessarily based on location. I think it's a matter of being determined to get our family out and about, in any way we possibly can. So I decided to round up the best outdoor play spots that can be found in just about any town!

Children's Museum

Almost every big city I've been to has had a dedicated children's museum, and a lot of small towns have general museums with kid-friendly zones and outdoor areas to explore as well!

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

The Civic Center

Government structures tend to be well-planned installations, with cool architecture and interesting nooks to explore. Ours has a fantastic promenade and a scenic lawn (it's where we shot all the photos for this article). Many are adjacent to performing arts centers or community rooms, so you can run the kids' energy out and then plop them down for an enriching indoor experience as well!

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood


Almost every local library I've been to has a courtyard that's perfect for a curious toddler to meander around while mom and dad get a quiet moment.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

An Ecology Center

Most towns have a group – either volunteer-based or public-funded – dedicated to the preservation of the environment. Look up one in your area and see if they have recommendations for your family! From wetlands to gardens and arboretums, there's bound to be a place where you can get some one-on-one time with nature.

The Deli

Sandwich shops, cafes, and even grocery stores often have an adjacent sitting area with room for kids to stretch their legs.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood


If you think your town doesn't have any cool parks, ask your recreation office and think outside the typical playground box! I discovered a ton of new, beautiful grassy areas when I was recently helping a friend scout wedding locations nearby. A lot of churches also have play areas available to the public, and rec centers usually have a tennis court and basketball hoop, if nothing else. Pack a blanket and a few snacks, and sit down for some conversation time with the kiddos.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

We're still working with CLIF Kid and I always have an assortment of their gluten-free Zbar Protein flavors in my bag. They help keep the kids AND ME going! They've become our go-to when we're out-and-about. It's so handy that we don't have to stress over separate snacks for separate preferences anymore, since they're suitable for the entire family (including those of us with gluten sensitivities!).

A Farm or Feed Shop

No matter where you live, you can find ways to interact with wildlife. Even busy cities usually have spaces – such as a small zoo or sanctuary – reserved for animal exploration or rehabilitation. They're almost always happy to have volunteers lend a hand, or host an eager kid on open house days.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

Historic Sites

These vary regionally. In our area, we have tons of old churches and missions. Where I grew up, there were a lot of old bunkers and lumber mills. Explore the rich background of your area, and give the kids a little history lesson while you're at it.

Secret Spots

Geocaching apps can help find even the most elusive outdoor gems – and they turn it into a cool, gamified experience!

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood


Head to and search for “fountains.” I'm always amazed at the vast array of interesting fountain installations I find in different towns that we visit.

Cool spots to explore in YOUR neighborhood

What are your go-to outdoor play spots in YOUR town?


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