FAQs about Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, CA

Yes, we opened the gates of the Magical Bridge Playground on Saturday, April 18, 2015.

The park is open every day, including holidays from Sunrise to Sunset.

No. Thanks to the many generous donors (like you!) we are thrilled that it’s FREE!

We love seeing families using the Magical Bridge as a place of celebration and, unlike other parks that do charge for a reservation, we are free! Being free also means that there is no formal reservation system other than to show up, and secure one of the 4 large tables provided for picnics and parties. Please note, the space for these celebrations is on the large grassy-area, near the tennis courts. To enter, best access is to park at the back of 3864 Middlefield Road and come through that gate. Each of these 4 tables comfortably sits about 14 adults and is wheelchair-friendly. In addition to the tables, the grass is a beautiful area to enjoy games, food and have a magical time.

We emphatically ask that you do 2 things:

  1. Please not bring your large parties and groups to the playhouse/stage area, where we have 3 small round tables. These are designated for small group gatherings or places parents can offer their kids a snack, not for a big party setting (with the mess that comes with it….sorry).
  2. Please clean up after yourselves.

We appreciate your sense of responsibility and hope to continue offering the use of the park at no charge. Many of our guests travel from far and wide to be able to host a birthday for a child who, because of a disability, was previously unable to enjoy the use of an outdoor space. It is our sincere hope that every guest to the playground cherishes it as we all do. We want to be able to keep the admission free and to rely on you to help keep it magical for years to come!

We love dogs but, other than service dogs, we kindly ask that you not bring them inside our play zones. Since there is no natural grass for them to “take care of business,” we hope you understand.

Yes. Magical Bridge Foundation’s non-profit ID number is EIN 81-2377796

On average, 20% of each community’s population is living with some kind of disability.

Olenka Villarreal is the founder and brainchild behind the Magical Bridge Playground. Her vision for this project began when she discovered her younger daughter, Ava, had both developmental and physical challenges. She learned that vestibular movement, such as swinging, would benefit Ava, but her limited upper body strength made holding the swing chains impossible. It wasn’t long before Olenka discovered that her hometown of Palo Alto could not provide the most basic aspects of play for her daughter. Olenka wondered where all of the other kids with different abilities were playing? After extensive outreach and research, she was amazed to discover that, despite Palo Alto’s good intentions, not one of its public parks was truly accessible.

Simply put, we wanted a place where everyone could play together, regardless of ability, disability, size or age. Of the 34 public parks in Palo Alto, not one was been built with everyone’s unique physical and cognitive needs in mind. Most playgrounds had a generic ramp and platform designs, which did not consider the needs of those with living with autism, sensory and cognitive issues, visual limitations, the medically fragile, or even the needs of our older adults. In short, we built Palo Alto’s 35th playground (Magical Bridge) as a community playground for everyone and everyBODY living in our community.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability. The rates of disability for middle aged and older adults are even higher​, 26% and 35% respectively, ​yet the design of public parks generally overlook these groups. For example, since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law passed in 1990, little has been done to address the recreational needs of the 1 in 45 children who have autism, those with vision issues, auditory limitations, or those with cognitive differences. In short, today’s playgrounds are not being created to appeal to many of those in our communities who would benefit the most from safe, engaging places to play together with others.

The Magical Bridge Playground demonstrates that it is possible to create a space that delights everybody, including those with special needs. A space where kids and adults discover ways they are more similar than different, and develop the social, emotional, and physical skills to play together.The unique design of the Magical Bridge Playground facilitates this engaged play with the different zones that support predictable play experiences, the space for children to retreat and engage as suits them, the soothing choices of colors and aesthetics, and many other details. Creating a second Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City will show that these experiences are possible for any anyone in any community.

Meaningful play experiences increase the physical well being, feelings of being socially connected, and the emotional stability of children and families alike. In addition to the improved health outcomes, the play experiences at Magical Bridge provide a foundation and culture of true inclusivity for our communities.

The City of Palo Alto generously provided the land, staff and funding for our initial architect plans. The Friends of the Magical Bridge did all the research, worked with inclusion experts, created the final design and secured funding for the park. Because of this unique arrangement, the Magical Bridge Playground was designed by our team to meet and exceed the needs of our wonderful community. Since the playground opened in April of 2015, the City of Palo Alto is now responsible to maintain it as one of its public (and busiest!) parks.

The playground is located inside Mitchell Park, at 3700 Middlefield Drive in Palo Alto. It is adjacent to Abilities United and close to the Mitchell Park Community Center and Library and the wonderful Ada’s Café.

For closest parking access, our friends at Abilities United have kindly allowed the use of their back parking lot, with an entry at 3864 Middlefield Road. Please be mindful that we are their guests and that you park only in the back areas closest to the fence, and not in the front of their building.

Definitely! We were passionate about creating a place, which would be exhilarating, challenging, and fun for everyone! A playground is the perfect place to to break down traditional barriers of inclusion and focus on acceptance of all those who live among us.

In a word, no.

What started as a quest to build Palo Alto’s first “ADA-compliant” playground, turned into some soul searching to determine the kind of playground Magical Bridge ultimately would become. When we learned that the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 had not updated it’s playground requirements, we knew the ADA bar was (way) too low. This led us to start marketing Magical Bridge as “beyond ADA” and “accessible,” but weren’t sure these were the right terms either. How could we describe this place we envisioned?

Astounding to think a group of Silicon Valley parents were designing a playground that had no existing category. We knew we were inclusive, accessive and way beyond ADA. We also knew we were designing the coolest park our own kids had ever been to, but our driving passion was to ensure kids and parents of varying cognitive and physical abilities played as equals. In fact, this playground had to reflect the unique needs of everyone in our community. We were never a “special needs” park because, after all, how kind would it be to create this magical space and not invite our “typical” friends in too?

  • A 2-story fully wheelchair-accessible playhouse and small theater;
  • A kid-friendly, wheelchair-inclusive stage ready to welcome visitors of any talent and ability!
  • A magical treewalk that takes visitors through the trees as never before;
  • Retreat areas throughout the playground for children with autism that get over-stimulated by traditional park experiences;
  • Socially inclusive playground zones, specifically designed to make the park easy to navigate;
  • Interactive music experiences to excite all musical interests and abilities;
  • A “Kindness Corner” to ensure that our kids know that bullying has no place here, and will serve as a powerful reminder to be kind to those around us.

 Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto cost approximately $4M to design and build. The majority of the funds were raised by local foundations, companies and community members.

Our location is truly part of a magical corner! With Abilities United sharing its property fence with us, we are able to extend their recreational reach to the 4,000 families they serve. We enjoy engaging the many individuals who attend Abilities United by helping with plant maintenance, community programs and working with Ada’s Café Cart! With Ada’s Café at Mitchell Park Community Center, visitors to the playground will enjoy Ada’s delectable goodies through a cart which will pass through the playground, managed by disabled individuals and volunteers. Ada’s Cafe

Absolutely! We have been so delighted and moved by the children in our community. Girl Scout Troops, elementary school children and teens have hosted bake sales, book sales, community events and much more. We enjoy speaking to your schools, religious institutions and community meetings as a way to continue spreading the word about magical inclusion and how KIDS can make a difference in their communities. Contact Jill Asher at jill@magicalbridge.org if you would like to include your students in a project for the Magical Bridge Playground.

Yes! We welcome you to follow the progress of the Magical Bridge Playground on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. We also have some great reviews on Yelp! Please join the conversation, and visit our Social Network page!

Olenka Villarreal, Founder of the Magical Bridge Playground
P: (650)380-1557

Jill Asher, Media and Press Relations. Community Relations.
P: (650)520-8512


Absolutely! Our Kindness Ambassador program is all year long and teens love getting their community services hours this way, and we love having them.