I’m always on the hunt for great local play areas. It is easiest to start with hunting for actual playgrounds. Anyone with the care of a small child will tell you the importance of knowing your local playgrounds intimately.
Just driving around isn’t good enough for really exploring. I also use Yelp and Google Maps. Yelp is so useful for reviews and finding out if a playground has a bathroom or not (crucial!). In Google maps get to neighborhood level in regular Maps (not satellite) view and look for any green areas. We moved into a new house about a year ago and I found, three blocks away, the most fun little informal play area. I swear I had walked by it a million times and never even knew it was there until I saw the green band in Google Maps. It’s a long skinny path mostly used by dog walkers BUT a creek runs along it for a whole block and in one spot you can cross to find a tiny little grassy picnic area. Creeks are about the best thing ever to play with, you can make dams, watch the flow of water, float boats made form leaves and bark, throw rocks, there are so many possibilities. The other non creek section has some rocks and planting beds and some neat trees. Perfect!
This area is quite urban and even though I can drive 10 minutes and be on the beautiful bay in Alameda or Berkeley it’s nice to have some tiny bits of nature in walking distance.
Where do you play that isn’t an actual playground?