Fullerton is a city full of parks and recreational trails. Most residents are familiar with Hillcrest Park. However, they may not be familiar with the other parks in the city. A few years ago, I received a reader’s suggestion that we cover South Fullerton’s parks, which were falling into a state of disrepair at the time. Most of the city’s 52 parks are in north Fullerton, while only 13 are south of Commonwealth Avenue, and some of them are not well maintained by the city.
Let’s start with Valencia Park, which is located right next to the Valencia Park Elementary School. According to the city’s website, it opened in 1948 and covers about four acres. City and Kimberly-Clark employees, as well as community groups and neighborhood residents, came together to build the playground, which was designed by students from the nearby school. When I drove by in early June, there was a lot of construction going on on West Valencia Drive. A large sign overlooking the street said this was “another California park improvement project funded by the Parks Bond Act of 2000.”
There was a long basketball court in Valencia Park with picnic tables nearby. Two groups of tables stood in the shade of a picnic hut next to a colorful children’s playground. Behind the basketball court was a baseball/softball field with bleacher seating that could seat up to 50 people. There were also grills and restrooms for park visitors. This park had been renovated since I last drove by. However, if you plan to visit I recommend parking at the school and walking.
Next I visited one of Fullerton’s mini parks, Olive Park, which opened in 1998 and is located at 901 Gilbert Street. I parked on West Olive Avenue and walked over to check out the Olive Park Mural, created in 2010 and made by Katherine England, who was supported by students from Valencia Park Elementary School along with community and business volunteers. The bright, colorful mural depicts various activities that people can do if they put their mind to it. Read from left to right, the mural says, “Read, celebrate, trust, sing, play, shop, worship, dance, nurture, live and love in Fullerton.” Adjacent to the mural were only benches and a playground surrounded by woodchips alongside a small lawn for children to play. There were also a few trees that provided shade. The minipark is only 0.54 acres, according to the city’s website.
As I continued down Gilbert and turned onto West Orangethorpe Avenue, I stopped at Gilbert Park. Gilbert Park is one of the larger parks in South Fullerton and consists of 15 acres. According to the park’s website, in December 2016, the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Department partnered with Orangethorpe Learning Center, OC United, KaBoom! and KaBoom!’s funding partner, Northwestern Mutual (OC), to build a playground in Gilbert Park, making this the fourth KaBoom! the city does! Project.
KaBoom! is a national non-profit organization that supports local communities in building playgrounds. According to the city’s website, over $100,000 was donated by KaBoom! and Northwestern Mutual to build Gilbert Park’s playground. In 2016, over 150 neighbors, community volunteers and city employees came together to set up park benches, a community bulletin board, picnic tables, storage boxes, bins and soccer goals for the Gilbert Neighborhood Center and Orangethorpe Learning Center . They also planted new landscaping and installed a wood-tile mural created by children.
Recently, OC United leased the Gilbert Neighborhood Center to provide community service.
I drove past Orangethorpe Elementary School and found that the 3-acre Orangethorpe Park was temporarily closed for renovations with a fence around it blocking all access except for a corner at the intersection of West Roberta Avenue and Pacific Drive .
The 5-acre Pacific Drive Park, which opened in 1977, was recently renovated after years of community involvement. In August 2021, the city council approved a bid from Micon Construction of Placentia to renovate the 1-acre park with a new playground, basketball court, benches, picnic tables, and shade structures. Before the renovations, residents of the area felt unsafe in the park, which has been attracting homeless people in recent years. In 2015, Pacific Drive Elementary erected fences around the school after several people from the park entered the campus. Local residents have also complained to the city in the past that the park’s restrooms are unclean and unsafe. Hopefully the new renovation of the park will help.
Families with children who play baseball are most likely familiar with the 9-acre Nicolas Park, which opened in 1955 and is now home to the West Fullerton Little League. The metal grandstands on the baseball field can seat 100 people. As I walked through the park, I noticed that the playground was cleverly positioned in the shade of the nearby trees. A few pine trees had been planted next to the park’s toilets. Looking closer, I noticed that one of them wasn’t a tree at all. There were bolts on the branches and a concrete slab at the base. It was a cell phone tower disguised as a tree and meant to look natural. According to the website 99 Percent Invisible, towers camouflaged to look like trees began to appear in communities across the country in the early 1990s. The area with the most shade in Nicolas Park was near the playground. The dried grass facing Euclid lay in direct sunlight with patches of shadow under the trees.
Driving to Highland Avenue, I stopped at Richman Park, which offers an excellent picnic and play area for children and families in the neighboring community. This 5-acre park adjacent to Richman Elementary opened in 1969 and was funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency. The Richman Community Center and Don Castro Building provide recreational and social services, and the St. Jude Neighborhood Clinic, which opened in October 2006, provides health care services. Cal State Fullerton currently operates programs and services at the Richman Neighborhood Center, according to the city’s website. The bathrooms didn’t appear to be well maintained, but there were people using the picnic benches and kids from the summer school program were playing on the park’s soccer field.
From Highland Avenue, I turned onto Orangethorpe and found the five-acre Woodcrest Park, which, according to the Parks and Recreation Department’s website, was improved through a December 2019 renovation project. The renovation was made possible by members of the Woodcrest Community Group, who have never stopped campaigning for needed improvements in the neighborhood park. Since 1959 this has been a busy place for the neighborhood and the nearby elementary school.
On the street I saw that a long stretch of concrete had been cordoned off for a mini skateboard park. There were a number of people sleeping on park benches near a drought-resistant garden near the parking lot. Next to the skateboard area was a row of exercise equipment painted yellow and green that had been donated by St. Jude Medical Center. The rules for using the exercise equipment have been posted on a nearby sign and people must be at least 14 years old to exercise on the equipment. Down a short sidewalk was a small playground with a slide perched on elevated equipment with spinning tic-tac toe wheels built into a wall. The playground and the adjacent swings were surrounded by a wood chip floor. Parking was available on South Richman Avenue.
Although I haven’t talked about all of the parks in South Fullerton, it seems like the best-maintained ones are found next to schools. To view an interactive map of all 52 parks in Fullerton, visit the Find a Park page on the City’s Parks and Recreation Department website.
To see a video about Fullerton Parks visit my YouTube channel.