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Pinecrest Park

Location: Mission Viejo: 21310 Pinecrest, near the corner of Santa Margarita Parkway and Pinecrest. It’s hard to see the park from Santa Margarita Parkway, but it’s there, below street level.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Cost: Free!
For ages: All

Two things make this park one of my favorites: its unexpected wilderness trail at the north end; and its positioning below street level (seemingly in a “bowl”) that allows you to keep track of your kids with ease – they can’t run off in any direction except right past you. This is the park I always went to with moms who wanted to chat while we had multiple kids to keep track of.

To enter the park, you walk down a concrete ramp off Pinecrest (usually plenty of parking there on the street). The lower level gives the illusion of the park being set deep in a bowl, seemingly underneath the street (you can hardly see or hear the busy Santa Margarita Parkway from the park).

At the bottom of the ramp, paths expand into either direction: to the left is a paved path leading to the wilderness trail; to the right is the tot lot. There’s also a large grassy field in the center if you want to bring older children who like to play baseball or soccer.

The tot lot here is one of my favorites — as I said, because it seems “tucked away” and I never worried as much about a child escaping where I couldn’t see him. It’s nestled against pretty foliage in a crescent shape. There is a circular pavement area filled with picnic tables and benches, and cooled by willow trees. It also feels very compact and isn’t usually crowded, offering a secluded kind of peacefulness.

The wilderness trail on the other side of the park winds through oaks and sycamores. We felt like we had made a true “discovery” when we first found this trail (of course, we aren’t Lewis and Clark or anything – there were plenty of joggers and dog-walkers who had obviously found it before us!), but my kids thought we were on a big adventure, and we walked the trail for about 15 minutes inward before turning around to appease my 5-year-old, who was getting tired. The trail is generally flat and wide, though, and easy to walk, even for toddlers (though not stroller-friendly).

Where to park: Against the curb on the neighborhood street of Pinecrest Avenue; you’ll walk down a concrete ramp into the park.

What to bring: Sunscreen, water bottles, sand toys. Older kids can bring sports equipment for the large grassy area.

Best time to go: Any time

For more information: City of Mission Viejo website

 Do you and your kids like Pinecrest Park? Do you have any special tips to share?

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