Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground Takeaway. The "Forest Park Playground". A strong playground that anchors the biggest, most famous park in St. Louis. Playground complete. Unique spinning gazebo / mary-go-round. Several solid slides. Fun main two-story playground. Small splash area. I've been coming here since before we moved to the area. Parking is easy across the street. Next to the information center with bathrooms. Small covered area for adults to sit.
Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground Experience Summary
The Variety Wonderland Playground is the "main" playground in Forest Park. You'll also find the smaller Turtle Playground on the park's south side and the Nature Playscape in the middle.
I have fond memories of the Variety Wonderland Playground since before we moved here. The weekend my wife interviewed at WashU, we came to this park, and my son fell off the slide and face-planted. He also crashed into a cyclist.
He was perfectly fine after crying it out in both scenarios.
More recently, we've come here with friends on weekends, usually as part of some other event like before or after lunch or before or after a trip to the museum.
The trees surrounding the playground give it a cozy aesthetic, as if they purposefully gave it a special place in the park.
It's Playground Complete, so you can spend an hour here without a problem. The kids like to plan races up and down the main playground or spin around in the gazebo/Mary-Go-Round thing. My wife says it's officially a carousel, but there aren't any horses.
There's also a small water feature active in the summer months that my three-year-old love loved. He spent way more time than I thought one could, watching and playing with the water. It's not quite splash pad level. It's more running water coming down a waterway with an on/off button scenario.
Bathrooms are available next door when the visitor center is open. Or, if you're like my son, you just drop trow in the middle of the park and pee on a bush with your butt hanging out. I, and the random dad on the other side of the playground, thought a kid peeing in a bush with his butt out was objectively hilarious. My wife, not so much.
There's a covered path with seating that acts as the hub for adults when it's hot outside.
There's a giant parking lot across the street and street parking.
The playground is a five-minute walk to the History Museum and tennis stadium.
Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground Breakdown
The main draw of the Variety Wonderland Playground is the location within Forest Park. On the North side, it offers quick access to the Central West End and University City. It's also the biggest playground in the park.
A giant two-story playground anchors the playground, and a smaller kids' playground is directly adjacent.
The main playground has two slides, one directly in the middle of the park. I feel like it used to be steeper because my son took a trip over the side in the past, but it may still be the same. The other slide is a fun, plastic, twisty slide.
Getting to the second story of the playground is the fun part. A rock wall and a climbing net are opposite each other on the backside. My eight-year-old constantly wants to race up with one person climbing each wall. There are also three or four other ladders up.
And then there's the back entrance around the concrete wall. I think it's there for accessibility reasons, but it's a fun race up from the side.
You can climb up the slides to get up or devise your own way up.
All in all, it's a great example of how one main playground with many simple options can be better than a series of really fancy apparatuses like in O'Day Park. It's Playground Complete.
The unique piece of equipment at the Variety Wonderland Playground is the gazebo sitdown spinning merry-go-round that does its best to prevent me from firmly describing it. All I know is I get dizzy too quickly to use it.
You need some bigger kids to operate it, but the gist is someone can stand or sit in the middle while someone else spins it around in circles. I think you can also solo-operate it by spinning it from the inside, but I'm not positive.
A small water feature activates in the summer months, so bring a change of clothes and/or towel. My three-year-old played with it without shoes and managed to come out ok sans towel and clothes change, so it's doable but risky. It's not a big feature, but I think the combination of control of turning it on and off with the ramp feature made it a lot of fun for him.
A set of swings in the corner and a back exit through the trees leads to a small "secret" courtyard. If you lose track of kids for a second, that's an excellent place to check, as it looks like it goes somewhere cooler than it does.
Lastly, you'll find a little kid playground on the side.
Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground Amenities And Miscellaneous
There are no bathrooms at the playground. However, the visitor center is directly next door and, if it is open, has very nice bathrooms. I'm not sure about the exact hours or seasonality of the center, but it's been open when we needed it (The website says roughly 6 am to 7 pm every day).
There's a covered area where I spend most of my time in the summer when it's hot. There's also seating on a circle bench surrounding a set of trees in the middle of the park. That can also be shady and is a good place for snacks.
Parking At Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground
Parking has never been a problem. The lot across the street may be the biggest in the park, and there is street parking. The lot is so big that the History Museum suggests it for overflow parking, and we've parked there for that reason.
Don't go to the History Museum on a holiday weekend, in case you were wondering. It'll be crazy packed.
Dennis & Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground Receipt