Scroll down if you’re here for the guide to Yizhuang playgrounds and not the advice!
Sometimes Mr. Jencks and I are a bit envious of our single friends who have endless hours to study Chinese, make friends and travel China. Our kids are a tad too young to entertain themselves unattended in their room for more than forty-five minutes on a really great day.
But then, I remember that Chinese culture is unbelievably family-oriented. So family-oriented that I struggle to call American culture a family-oriented society. Many of my single friends miss out on seeing and experiencing the familial aspect of culture because they’re concerned they won’t be able to relate. This is totally false! The problem is that single friends don’t naturally hang out in the places where families often hang out: playgrounds.
Playgrounds are full of kids, true, but they’re also full of opportunity. Many of the grandparents are patient conversation partners since they’re around a small emergent speaker of their own. They also don’t want to learn English; I’ve only met one grandmother in the past three years who wanted to learn English. They’re also super encouraging people, in general. I love talking with grandparents once they get over their own personal child-dressing standards. My kids are always underdressed.
Playgrounds level out social economic status; I’ve met all sorts of people on playgrounds with their kids, from Chinese authors to business owners to cleaning ladies.
And, Chinese families don’t really care if you’re a single guy. Our best friend, Christopher, often spends time with families, taking them out to dinner, eating at their homes, and playing fun new games with them. He doesn’t have a problem meeting people, but if he did, he’d be welcome to spend an hour… or three… on the playground with our kids to meet some new friends.
Are you in Yizhuang? Below is the only English guide for playgrounds in this bubbling community between Beijing and Tianjin. If you’re not in Yizhaung, many Beijing neighborhoods have at least a small courtyard area with benches for grandma dancing or badminton. If you’re shy like me, take a book and read. Someone will probably approach you.
The ONLY Guide to Yizhuang playgrounds
We’ll start with the Yizhuang playgrounds that are free and work toward the ones that cost. When I refer to playground – I really mean a play area, or someplace where I can burn the nuclear energy stored inside my children’s bodies. If that nuclear energy is not properly disposed, a chain reaction of tantrums and annoying taunts will ensue.
Beside The River – Free
We love the area beside the Yizhuang river because the kids can roam around like monkeys, roll down hills, and fling their coats with wild abandonment, but nobody is going to bother them. From the serenity of a hilltop at a normally unsafe distance, I can watch them romp around out of earshot. Such a luxury. This area feels similar to the big backyards I grew up exploring. You’ll be here solo unless you take friends along.
Nan HaiZi Park – Free
The deer park is magical in summer and the frozen lake in winter entices my own ice princess to sing, “The cold never bothered me anyway.” Just be careful, peacocks roam within the deer park. A not so known fact is that there is carnival playground and a recycled materials playground and a tiny snack shop on the northwestern corner. Downside is that you can only get into the deer park from 9am-4:00pm. This park brings people from all over Beijing.
Boda Park – Free
This fun little park attracts musically talented grandparents in the summer. When they start playing, rhythm talented grandmas start moving and grooving. We also love the pond and odd architecture. This is one of the liveliest of community parks in Yizhuang.
Yizhuang Culture Park – Free
This sprawling park won’t offer the same isolation as the park #1, but it’s fun for a long walk or a ride on your bikes. Hidden in the park closer to the Sam’s Club side is a slightly dilapidated playground. This park is more for the exercise-minded locals.
Tianbaoyiyuan Park – Free
Maybe you’d like to workout while your kid’s play? This park is perfect for you. This has plenty of elderly playground equipment and a playground area for kids, too. Many, many locals around the 21st Century Kindergarten come here to play.
Decathalon – Free
We have come to love sporting goods shopping in China because we can actually test out the sporting goods. Tons of families flock here to play and shop. The two added bonus are that Decathalon is kept much warmer and much cleaner than most Yizhuang playgrounds found outdoors . The dust settles on the roof instead of rubbing on our clothes.
Pullman Pool – Expensive
The Pullman pool is fun because it has a “hot tub” that’s not very hot, but acts more like a kiddie pool since the water is so shallow. If you have decently responsible children and appropriate water gear, you should feel safe in sitting on the sidelines while they play. The larger pool meant for lap swimming feels like a warm bath. Locals come here from time to time, but it’s mostly out of town guests.
Goldwing Pool – Less Expensive
I’ve actually never been here, but it’s less expensive than the Pullman. I’ve heard that it’s cleaner than the college pool, but I couldn’t attest to this myself. I know locals who go here, but I also don’t know if many families come here. Please comment below if you can offer information about this pool.
College Pool – Least Expensive
We pick the college pool because it’s cheap. We don’t like that the lifeguards don’t let our kids jump into the pool, but they turn their eyes if our kids jump directly to us. Water guns and soft balls are welcome. Be warned, swimmers pee on the ground inside the showers by the drains, so wear shoes at all times and be prepared for the end of the day stink. If you’re a foreigner who speaks a tad of Mandarin, you could make friends pretty fast.
Shouhang Playground – Small
This tiny spot on this list of Yizhuang playgrounds should only be used if you want the kids to play while your significant other shops at the grocery store or the farmer’s market across the street. It’s tiny and not kept up very well, but the owner is a very friendly ayi. The vendors at the shops inside Shouhan are also nice. I’ve had many conversations with moms and grandparents here.
Playground at Sam’s Club – Lowest Value
Although the playground in this shopping complex is great if you need to go to Sam’s Club, it’s not so great in price and rules. When you pay the admission fee, even with a card membership, you’re only allowed to pick one of the play areas. You also can’t come back if you leave. At both playgrounds found at WuMei and BHG, you’re allowed to leave and come back within the same day. But, the upside is there are tons of locals just sitting here and watching their kids. That’s pretty much the case with any indoor playground.
Wumei Playground – Dim Lighting but Spacious
This is super convenient for teachers at my school, but the downside is dim lighting. Other than that, this is one of the most spacious playgrounds and even has a space for making their purchasable crafts for dexterous children. Locals frequent this playground during the day and the weekend more than in the weekday evenings, so the attendant says. If you have an itty, bitty baby, there’s a baby swimming school across from this playground.
BHG Playground – Best Value
This is by far our favorite place among indoor Yizhuang playgrounds. If you buy the card membership, your child is promoted to VIP status where she can roam back and forth between the two play areas. If you want to go eat or shop or have an English lesson in between, you’re welcome to come and go as you please within the same day at no extra cost. Staff not only lead kiddy dances throughout the day, but they also keep the area incredibly clean. BHG mall brings all sorts of people, so you’re bound to meet someone interesting. Parents and/or grandparents either wander around the playground with their kids or sit in the stools to people watch. Or snoop around on WeChat. They’re like sitting ducks for the extroverted expat.
Water Park/Snow Park – Expensive for Frequent Trips
Our most unique option among Yizhuang playgrounds is the dual water and snow park next to Decathalon. This is a one-day event and prices are (comparatively) steep for the whole family. We thoroughly enjoyed an all day visit during the summer since we’re allowed to bring food and drink from the outside, but other options are available within the park. We haven’t had the chance to visit their snow park, and looks like we missed our chance this winter with the weather warming up. Some out of Yizhuang locals visit here, but I think the park is still relatively unknown. Make sure to buy your entrance ticket on a group buy site.
I’m sure there are some other awesome Yizhuang playgrounds. Where do you like to take your kids? If you’ll send it to me via WeChat (vanessajencks), I’ll add the playground to the list!