The Nation’s Most Inclusive and Innovative Playground
The design of Magical Bridge Playground is a culmination of over a decade of planning, research, design and careful consideration, garnered from play experts, landscape architects, the medical community, playground specialists, education professionals, and families living with special needs.
Click around the Interactive Map of our flagship Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, California to learn the benefits of each play zone and the equipment and features that have been carefully selected and placed for truly innovative and inclusive play.
The first of its kind, Magical Bridge Playground clearly illustrates how today’s typical park designs overlook so many: the growing autistic population, visually and hearing impaired, physically limited, and even our aging community. Throughout the playground, you’ll find inclusive and accessible features that ensure Magical Bridge Playground is a place that everyone can play.
There are no barriers to enter any area of the playground, which means seamless turf changes, no sand or tan bark, wood chips, or annoying curbs. Those with mobility challenges can zoom around the entire playground and nothing is off limits.
What looks like a simple bench attached to the end of our roller slide is actually an innovative patent-pending feature that was custom designed for Magical Bridge Playground. Our plan was to get everyone to the top of the slide mound, but what happens to those who need a little more time at the bottom? Friends who use wheelchairs, or who just need to rest after a fun ride down the slide, can scoot to the side and take all the time they need without interrupting the fun.
ENCLOSED PLAY AREA
Parents and caregivers can relax knowing that Magical Bridge Playground is fully fenced off, enabling everyone to play safely and within a comfortable range. Visitors enter through a gate on each side of the playground, and the rest of the perimeter is bound by green gates (separating the playground from the bike path and bridge) or fencing.
We could have built a one-story playhouse and made it easily accessible for all, but that would not have been as magical as a TWO-STORY playhouse that is accessible for all! Guess who gets to look out through the trees to enjoy the view of the playground from the top story of the playhouse? Everyone!
Ramps and bridges are designed for everyone. The bridge from the second story of the playhouse to the slide mound has two ways to cross: a gently graded “sway” bridge or a straight bridge, right along side, so everyone can cross together.
Even the smallest change in ground level has been designed to accommodate everyone. Gentle ramps can be found around the playhouse, designed by Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, so everyone can enjoy both the top and bottom levels of this delightful feature of Magical Bridge.
There is no better way to explore and develop important life skills than through pretend-play inside a playhouse designed for all or acting out a skit on an inviting stage!
Since 1987, Barbara Butler Artist-Builder, Inc. has created over 600 unique play structures using all natural redwood and non-toxic tung oil wood stains — and their first wheelchair-accessible, two-story playhouse was designed and built especially for Magical Bridge Playground. The entire playhouse, including the upper story, is fully accessible for everyone by carefully considered ramps and bridges. Full of artful details and surprises in every corner, the Playhouse is a wonderful meeting place for everyone in the community.
THE PLAY STAGE
Audiences gather at the Play Stage for impromptu performances or for those planned and organized by community members. The Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto hosts professional musicians and performers throughout the summer including Andy Z and Nancy Cassidy.
THE TREE DECK
Inspired by Magical Bridge team member Emily McQueen, an active mother of four who uses a wheelchair, the all natural Tree Deck gives everyone the chance to be up in the trees!
THE ELEVATED WALKWAY AND BRIDGE
Magical Bridge Playground’s promise of 100% accessibility is beautifully illustrated by our Elevated Walkway and Bridge. Choose either the low grade rocking bridge or the straight wooden path to transport yourself from the upper story of the Playhouse and Tree Deck to the top of the Slide Mound with ease.
Magical Bridge Playground founder, Olenka Villarreal often says, “the playground is a child’s first classroom.” Young children are naturally non-judgmental and tend to accept people as they are, without the interfering prejudices that can form later in life. Introducing children to the variety of people in their community is our best hope of removing social and physical barriers.
Outdoor play is a critical way for young children to create friendships, explore, take risks, develop fine and gross motor development, and absorb vast amounts of basic knowledge. The Tot Zone provides a special play area designed expressly for children between the ages of 1-4 to play.
ROCKING HORSE & CLIMBING GIRAFFE
Equipment such as the Rocking Horse and Climbing Giraffe add whimsy to delight the imagination.
Based on a blues pentatonic scale, the Kinder Bells offer a wonderful auditory experience where children ring each bell to make delightful music. The bells themselves are repurposed from discarded oxygen tanks.
TOT SLIDE MOUND, CLIMBING LOOPS AND POSTS
The Slide Mound, Climbing Loops and Posts are scaled down versions of the equipment found in other areas of the playground, giving younger children a safe way to test their skills.
Spinning has a profound impact on the brain. Rotary vestibular input (caused from spinning) is the most powerful form of sensory input that the brain can process. Just 15 minutes of vestibular input can have a 6-8 hour impact (good or bad) on the brain. Because of this, spinning needs to be controlled, supervised, and monitored for those who have sensory differences. Encourage children to spin no more than 10 times in one direction at 1 spin/revolution per second. Stop briefly, then spin the other direction. For children who do not get dizzy, encourage spinning in prone extension (on tummy) to help the brain learn to register the feeling of rotary input.
The Net Spinner is a come one, come all spinning experience! Those who dare can climb to the top while others can sit safely on the surface inside the net to be spun by a friend.
Spinning at an angle, the Dish Spinner offers a more thrilling spinning experience. Users can sit or lay on the disk, or for a more challenging adventure, stand on the disk and rotate it by walking.
The Nest Spinner is a relaxing spin ride where one or two people curl up safely into the nest and spin slowly and rhythmically.
The Ground Carousel is flush with the ground so everyone can ride. It also has supporting rails to accommodate up to two wheelchairs.
The Cozy Cocoon may be gently rotated but is not a spinning experience. Facing different directions, it provides a retreat opportunity for those who need to take a break from the noise around them.
Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function. In children, it motivates interaction, facilitates socialization and improves social skills. The brain processes music in a different area than speech and language, therefore, for those who have difficulty communicating verbally, music provides a way to express themselves in a non-verbal and non-threatening manner.
The Magical Harp, created by artist Jen Lewin, is a permanent, outdoor interactive instrument played by passing your body through the 24 low-voltage diode LEDs that shine from the top of the delicate arch to the ground. Much like plucking the string of a harp, passing through the beams triggers custom circuitry and sensors to produce musical notes. Users play to create an ambiance that is individual to the moment of interaction that reflects the broad idea of play that’s still fun and sophisticated. When crowds flock to it and people start to play independently, the group’s participation in a musical symphony. For more information on this remarkable and innovative installation, please visit CODA Works, where the Magical Harp won a 2016 CODA Award.
To balance the many opportunities for active play, the Cozy Cocoon offers a place to rest, listen and observe, which is important for children who become overly stimulated or who may be reluctant to join in initially.
Sliding and climbing activate our vestibular systems, which contribute to our sense of balance and spatial orientation. Vestibular input coordinates movement of our eyes, head and body, which affects our body’s balance, muscle tone, visual-spatial perception, auditory-language perception and emotional security. Since this input is how we balance and move, all children require it for growth and development.
At Magical Bridge Playground, children of varying abilities can climb, slide and the enjoy the feeling of being high above the ground. All of our slides have top transfer decks for wheelchair users, and a large umbrella at the top of the mound provides shade for those enjoying the view.
THE ROLLER SLIDE
The Roller Slide provides a stimulating and bumpy experience. This slide has a patent-pending bottom transfer deck feature, the first of its kind, to provide a safe resting place for those who need more time at the bottom.
THE GROUP SLIDE
The Group Slide enables two or three people to slide down at once, perfect for those needing additional assistance or just the added fun of sliding with a friend!
THE CURVED SLIDE
Our classic curved slide has higher sides for added security when sliding.
PARALLEL BAR SLIDE
The Parallel Bar Slide makes traversing up or down the mound a little more adventurous. Some visitors use the bars to pull themselves up the mound to increase upper body strength.
The Climbing Loops offer another fun way to get to the top of the slide mound, and offer creative secure hand holds for those needing to climb more carefully.
The Climbing Net is on the opposite side of the Slide Mound, providing a quiet space to rest, hang or climb.
Swinging is one of the most critical ways to develop a sense of balance — the motion creates vestibular stimulation, activating the inner fluids in our ear canal which are critical to maintaining body posture and equilibrium. Swinging can be serious therapy for people with various autism spectrum disorders as it helps to process the stimuli from our senses. Swinging restores balance to the vestibular system, provides proprioceptive input (deep pressure), and creates a feeling of being “in balance.” The motion also soothes, relaxes and increases concentration. In fact, children who have trouble focusing on tasks often find it easier to concentrate while sitting in a swing.
The Sway Boat with ramp enables those who use wheelchairs to get in on some collaborative swaying.
The Bucket Swings enable those without the upper body strength to hold themselves up on traditional swings the opportunity to experience the joy and benefits of swinging.
The Disk Swings enable those without the upper body strength to experience the joy and benefits of swinging, either alone or with a friend.
The rolling tactile surface of the Rolling Table offers a joyous opportunity to pull yourself through using your upper arms. Or simply lay on the table and move gently back and forth for a relaxing experience.
OUTDOOR FITNESS EQUIPMENT
Outdoor Fitness Equipment allows older kids and adults to move, too.
The heart of Magical Bridge Playground, the Kindness Corner is a gathering place for games, reflection, appreciation and performance.
Ava’s Bridge is a colorful walkway dedicated to Ava Villarreal, the younger daughter of Magical Bridge Playground founder and visionary Olenka and her husband Robert. The true inspiration for Magical Bridge Playground, Ava was born with developmental challenges and Olenka found that despite the city’s good intentions, no playgrounds in Palo Alto could accommodate Ava’s needs. So, Olenka decided to build one, hoping to inspire others to design public playgrounds that incorporate the variety of abilities that make up our communities.
The Kindness Corner at Magical Bridge Playground is meant to inspire kindness and reflection with meaningful quotes and reminders to “be kind.”
Visitors to Magical Bridge Playground can enjoy a round of checkers or chess with a friend at the Game Tables, or sit beneath the oak trees. The unique ground cover may look like natural dirt or tan bark, but it is a seamless rubber material that is fully accessible for those using wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.