9 Swimming Holes in the Bay Area + A Few Hidden Gems

|June 28, 2017

We know what you’re thinking. We’re on a peninsula and we’re surrounded by ocean so how hard is it, really, to find a place to swim in the Bay Area? But if you’ve ever taken a dip in the Pacific Ocean, you know the cold temps are not for the faint of heart — or for the wetsuit-less. Muddy shores and rocky shallows make swimming at many Bay Area beaches difficult. But luckily, there are plenty of wooded, mountainous and man-made options to choose from. You just need to know where to look!

From the popular family spots to the unknown destinations, we collected the region’s best swimming holes so you can take full advantage of your summer adventures this year. Happy swimming!

The Well-Known Favorites

Aquatic Park

Location: Berkeley | Dogs Allowed: Yes

Aquatic Park in Berkeley California Swimming

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Project, Gina Teichert

A 68-acre lake is the centerpiece of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park and it’s the only place in San Francisco and East Bay where you can swim outdoors for free. Because it’s located in the middle of an urban center, the park is flanked by I-80 on one side and railroad tracks on the other. But with a children’s playground, an 18-hole disc golf course, and day use picnic areas it’s a great place for families — especially when you need a nearby place to get in the water for an afternoon. On weekends, you can rent a kayak or rowboat and try your hand at watersports! Check out Outdoor Project for more information on Aquatic Park. 

Lake Anza

Location: Tilden Regional Park | Dogs Allowed: No

Lake Anza Oakland Swimming

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Project, Gina Teichert

Just minutes into the Berkeley Hills, you’ll find Lake Anza, a man-made freshwater lake inside Tilden Regional Park. When the swim facility is open May through October, lifeguards are on duty to keep everyone safe — daily during the summer, and on weekends only during the fall and spring. When lifeguards are present, you’ll pay $2.50 – $3.50 depending on age, and you’ll have access to a bathhouse, changing rooms, cold water showers, and a concession stand complete with hot dogs, ice cream and other snacks! As part of the East Bay Regional Park District, the lake is tested regularly for toxicity. Check the current water conditions before you go to make sure it’s open to swimmers and learn more from Outdoor Project

Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach

Location: Alameda | Dogs Allowed: No

Crown Memorial State Beach Alameda California Swimming

Compared to many other beaches in the Bay Area, Crown Memorial has some of the warmest waters during the summer months. And because the water stays fairly shallow, it’s a safer option for families looking for a day in the water. On the west end, you’ll find a bathhouse with changing rooms as well as a picnic area with bbq pits. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hit the ocean in a rented kayak or raft!

Bass Lake

Location: Point Reyes National Seashore | Dogs Allowed: No

Bass Lake Swimming Marin County

Bass Lake | Photo courtesy of Sarah Eichstedt via The Outbound Collective

Take advantage of the picturesque surroundings in Marin by hiking through Point Reyes National Seashore to Bass Lake. Just under three miles, the hike won’t tire you out so much that you can’t swim the day away and jump into the water via rope swing! Starting at Palomarin trailhead, you’ll pass a eucalyptus grove, breath-taking coastal views and a few cool ponds on the way to the main attraction. Learn more about the trip from The Outbound Collective! If you want even more awe-inspiring sights, take a break from swimming and head 1.5 miles north to Alamere Falls which cascades onto the beach.

Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area

Location: South Fork Eel River | Dogs Allowed: Yes

Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area Swimming Hole California

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Project, Aron Bosworth

Three hours up the coast, you’ll find one of the most-loved swimming holes in Northern California. That means it’ll likely be crowded during the summer, but the emerald waters are worth the crowd and the drive! The South Fork Eel River winds through Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area surrounded by towering redwoods. As you’re driving along Redwood Highway, you’ll find a parking lot at the day use area adjacent to Redwood Campground. Then, hike in a quarter-mile to reach the water, set up your umbrella to escape the sun and get ready for a fun-filled day of exploring, swimming and cliff jumping. Get even more details from Outdoor Project

Bonus tip: If you explore beyond the deeper main pool, you’ll find less crowded swimming holes both downstream and upstream!

Sykes Hot Springs

Location: Big Sur Coastline | Dogs Allowed: Yes

Sykes Hot Springs Big Sur California Swimming

Make a quick trip south past Monterey to find Sykes Hot Springs inside the Ventana Wilderness. The adventurous 10-mile hike in is rewarded with a natural, warm water soak and the trip itself has become one of the most famous backcountry treks in California. Beginning at the Big Sur Ranger Station, you’ll gain and lose elevation quickly and you’ll have to cross the river a few times to reach the spring — so be ready for a fairly strenuous trip. To make the most of it, consider camping in a location around the springs so you can wind down for the evening!

On Outdoor Project, you’ll find information on surrounding campsites and more details on the trip to Sykes Hot Springs. And check the Ventana Wilderness Alliance website for updates on closures due to the Soberanes Fire last year.

The Hidden Gems

The Inkwells

Location: Samuel P. Taylor State Park | Dogs Allowed: No

The Inkwells Swimming Hole Northern California

The Inkwells | Photo courtesy of Tyler Drake via The Outbound Collective 

The Inkwells are small, natural pools just east of Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County. Because they’re a result of overflow from nearby Kent Lake, the water stays cool year round. You’re sure to be refreshed after a quick dip and ready for more hikes through the park. Though the spot is fairly hidden, it’s become more popular in recent years so in the hot summer months be prepared for a crowd. Learn just how to get to the pools via The Outbound Collective

Garden of Eden Swimming Hole

Location: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park | Dogs Allowed: Yes

Garden of Eden Swimming Hole Northern California

Garden of Eden | Photo courtesy of PhotoInko via The Outbound Collective

There aren’t a lot of places around Santa Cruz to dip into warm water — or at least water that isn’t going to require a wetsuit. But this little piece of paradise is the perfect place to relax and you can bring your dog along as well! The earlier you arrive, the more likely you are to find a spot to park along the road. Then, carefully walk down the steep trail and you’ll run right into the water. If it’s too crowded for your taste, walk further along to find more secluded pools along the trail. For more details, check out The Outbound Collective!  

Essex Hot Tub

Location: Berkeley (unknown) | Dogs Allowed: No

Chances are, you’ve probably heard of this secret hot tub club in Berkeley, but it’s less likely that you’ve been able to get in. Since 1975, the Essex Hot Tub has been operating semi-secretly out of a quiet, residential backyard in Speakeasy style. Of all the hot tub club hearsay in the East Bay, this one is perhaps the most notable. It has, after all, been an escape for over 30,000 people from across the globe.

Using a seven-digit code, you’re granted free access to the secluded tub, modeled after Northern California’s natural springs, but there’s no talking, no smoking and no drugs allowed — just a quiet, peaceful soak in “Berkeley’s natural spring.” There are over 800 codes in circulation, so it’s not impossible to get your hands on one, but they don’t make it easy. You can only get a code by tracking down someone else who has one or by finding the house and asking directly. If you do get your hands on a code, be sure to follow the rules and keep the spirit of community and rejuvenation alive!

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McGuire Real Estate

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