Dive In to Bay Area Pools
During a recent spate of warm sunny days I felt the overwhelming urge to dive into a pool, splash around, and then relax in blissful post-swim exhaustion. In the Bay Area, it's not likely you can say, "Dang, it's a real scorcher. Let's head over to Jimmy's pool for a dip!" The reasons are twofold: a) since when did we have a real scorcher? and b) not too many people have their own backyard pool.
But you're in luck! There are plenty of public and low-cost swimming pools to choose from, no matter your lap speed. Since I can count the number of times I've pulled out my bathing suit in the past three years on one hand, I reached out to friends, coworkers, friends of friends, and friends of coworkers for their suggestions and expertise. The elucidating results, based on pertinent questions such as "What is the best way to get in the water?" and "Will you be watching the 2012 Olympic swimming events?" are compiled below.
Bakar Fitness & Recreation Center, UCSF Mission Bay, San Francisco
This rooftop pool rated highly across the board, with both sporadic and regular swimmers gushing about the view, the swanky facilities, and the rarefied ambiance it all combines to create. "Hands down, best pool in the city," law student Megan Havstad stated emphatically. Similarly, San Francisco artist Gareth Spor "was not much of a swimmer" until he found himself living across the street from this pool. Since then, Spor swims nowhere else, taking in laps before heading to work in the East Bay. "I feel great any day that starts at the pool," he says. After-swim meal: Dim sum.
YMCA Embarcadero, San Francisco
Facing the Bay, smack dab in downtown San Francisco, this indoor lap pool "hovers at about 82 degrees." Havstad named this the "best indoor pool in the city" with a "great Masters program for training." What's a Masters program, you ask? U.S. Masters Swimming provides organized workouts, competitions, clinics, and workshops for adults interested swimming for fitness. There are 43 different Masters teams within 25 miles of downtown San Francisco. Ready to start training for that triathlon? Or simply want to add some structure to your laps? A Masters team awaits you! After-swim meal: Tacos and frozen yogurt.
King Pool, Berkeley
This Berkeley public pool hosts such attractions as "aquatic leisure classes (spirit walking)," and a course titled "Conquer Your Fear." Artist and educator Libby Black visits this pool for its proximity to her home, but she finds it meets her needs for solitary, undisturbed swims. Here we find the main split between swimmers -- those, like Black, who thrive on focused time alone in the pool, and others, like the members of Masters teams, who find camaraderie in the water and the motivation to swim on. After-swim meal: Sunny side up eggs with sauteed kale and hot sauce.
C. Cris Benton; See more of Benton's photos on KQED's Quest.
Strawberry Canyon Pool, UC Berkeley
A $5 day pass gets you into this UC Berkeley pool boasting "swim suit spinners," a device I never knew existed. The website goes on to brag, "Three lanes dedicated to lap swimming -- the rest is for play." Naomi, a Berkeley grad student, loves this spot for its outdoor setting and beautiful scenery. Even though she much prefers swimming in the ocean or a lake, she's a sucker for the tiling in pools, a familiar refrain amongst responders. Havsted echoed Kohen's sentiment, citing having "nothing to look at besides blue tiles" as one of the most enjoyable aspects of swimming. After-swim meal: A massive salad with lots of protein (beans and eggs or tuna) and lots of dressing.
Aquatic Park Cove, San Francisco
For those of you ready to brave the open waters, multiple respondents voted for Aquatic Park Cove. Thought not technically a pool, Bryan Lantz, a local financial analyst and avid swimmer/surfer, encourages all comers. "It's a lot less intimidating than it seems," he assures. "Pools can be a logistical nightmare at times with crowded lap lanes, but the Bay isn't. The bonus if you can brave the cold is your lane buddy will be a harbor seal." If this sounds like your idea of a good time, perhaps you should begin practicing your entry into icy cold water. Favored methods include inch-by-inch, the cannonball, and the belly flop. After-swim meal: Warm pea soup, dark crusty bread with butter, and a pint of ice-cream.
With so many options in the Bay Area, exploring pools beyond your immediate neighborhood, a suggestion from San Francisco artist Maysha Mohamedi, is an enticing prospect. Her to-do list includes McNears Beach Park in Marin, home to a "really spooky-looking outdoor pool situated along the Bay on the way to China Camp State Park." Mine now includes Lake Anza in Tilden Regional Park, the Richmond Plunge, and the Olympic Club (America's oldest athletic club!).
Before you dive in, take heed. The final word on Bay Area swimming comes from former life guard Pete Hickok: "Don't try to see how long you can hold your breath and no tea parties on the bottom. That takes years off a lifeguard's life."
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