It's summertime and the livin' is easy—beaches, sprinklers, and awesome days at the playground. Oh the hard life of a New York City kid. And now, the NYC Parks Department is poised to open its outdoor pools on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, the day after public schools let out.
We've rounded up our picks for the best free pools in the city. These are all places we've visited personally, or have come highly recommended by families we know. But the city hosts more than 50 outdoor pools this summer, so it will be hard not to find one you like. We even threw in a couple inexpensive pool options for folks who break out in hives at the thought of using a public pool or feel overwhelmed by all the rules. Time to get swimming!
Click here for a complete list of NYC public pools. Most are open from 11am-7pm daily, weather permitting, with an hour closure from 3-4pm each day for cleaning. Call ahead to verify hours and read our post about public pool rules. There are a lot of them and some might surprise you, like you must have a lock in order to get in, even if you don't plan to use a locker, and no water toys or electronic devices are allowed poolside. Public outdoor pools close for the season on Labor Day.
Looking for drier pool fun? See the SPF16: NYC Pools and Beaches in Contemporary Photography exhibit at the NYC Parks Arsenal Gallery June 23 through August 26, 2016. The art exhibit found on the third floor of NYC Parks’ headquarters at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue includes photographs from 12 artists spanning three decades. Entry is free! Hours: Weekdays, 9-5pm. A sample of the photography can be seen below in the McCarren Pool 2014 shot.
The Hamilton Fish rec center offers a wading pool for little kids, alongside the Olympic-version. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks.
Hamilton Fish Recreation Center – Lower East Side
Pitt and Houston Streets
Considered by many to be the best public pool in the borough, Hamilton Fish has certain attributes that make it a standout. There are two pools: an Olympic-size one for adults and big kids (56 inches and taller), and a wading pool for younger children. These types of kiddie pools are hard to find in the city. Plus, these watering holes happen to be quite clean with cool water and attentive lifeguards. There's also a nice little park nearby with sprinklers, a play area and places to picnic and relax in the shade.
Dry Dock Playground – East Village
10th Street between Avenues C and D
This spot has the same vibe as Hamilton Fish but one smaller pool. Allegedly the lifeguards are tougher, which means less roughhousing by teens in the water.
Tompkins Square Park Mini Pool – East Village
Avenue A between 7th and 10th Streets
This shallow pool (it's just 3-feet deep) is perfect for children. There are also two fantastic playgrounds and wonderful neighborhood eats, which makes Tompkins a great all-day outing.
John Jay Park & Pool – Upper East Side
FDR Drive between 76-78th Streets, Cherokee Place
John Jay is an oasis in the middle of Manhattan—and one of its most popular public pools. It's clean and safe, plus there's a snack bar and a river-themed playground with sprinklers and fountains. It's also one of the few public pools that allows diving.
Tony Dapolito Recreation Center – West Village
1 Clarkson Street between Seventh Avenue South and Hudson Streets
This spot gets pretty crowded in the summer, but it's great for older kids because diving is allowed. There's also an indoor pool which isn't open in the summer, and requires an annual fee.
RELATED: Private Pools Around NYC that Offer Day Passes
Asser Levy. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks.
Asser Levy Recreation Center, Pool and Playground – Murray Hill
FDR Drive at 23rd Street
In addition to a fairly large outdoor pool, there's a playground, basketball courts and a game room. During the offseason, you can pay a membership fee to use the indoor pool, which is housed in a 1908 Roman Revival Bathhouse with a fountain and skylights.
Lasker Pool – Harlem
110th Street and Lenox Avenue in Central Park
In winter it's an ice-skating rink. But in summer, it transforms into an Olympic-size outdoor pool. It's very popular and gets very crowded, but it's located in a lovely part of Central Park, near the Harlem Meer, the Dana Discovery Center, the Conservatory Garden and a destination playground, so if you decide it's too crazy there are lots of other things to do.
RELATED: NYC Summer Fun Guide: Festivals, Beaches, Day Trips
An Olympic-sized wading pool is one of two splash zones at Highbridge. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks.
Highbridge Pool – Washington Heights
Highbridge boasts not one, but two Olympic-sized pools on premises. While older kids and teens roughhouse in the main (read: deeper) pool, laze away in the Olympic-sized wading pool with your younger kids. It has a maximum depth of 2-feet. I also appreciate the outdoor, co-ed lockers and showers and not having to send my too-old-for-the-ladies room son into the men's room alone. When you've had your fill of the water, take a lazy walk down to the High Bridge and enjoy the breathtaking views.
The refurbished McCarren Park Pool as seen from above in 2014. Photo by Tobias Hutzler.
McCarren Park Pool – Greenpoint/Williamsburg
Lorimer Street and Driggs Avenue
This pool shuttered in 1984 and remained closed until the summer of 2005, when it was transformed into a concert venue. But in 2012, it reverted to its original purpose. The pool's $50 million makeover included the restoration of the historic bathhouse building and entry arch, plus a brand-new recreation center. While it initially made headlines due to rowdy teens, it seems to have gotten a lot calmer and is well worth a dip. We loved the family changing rooms and a shallow wading end for the tots.
Read our recent review of taking a dip in this pool with one of our babies. Find a bite to eat at these nearby Williamsburg eats.
The Pop Up Pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Etienne Frossard/courtesy of BBP.
The Pop Up Pool at Pier 2 – Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 2
We visited this lovely family-friendly pool and just loved it. Located off the greenway on the uplands of Pier 2, this wading pool boasts a sandy artificial beach with 25 lounge chairs, 10 picnic tables and concessions. At only 3 and a half feet deep, it's great for kids. You'll have to line up to get in as the space is fairly small, but there's plenty to do in the park to keep the kids occupied. Read our full review.
Red Hook Pool – Red Hook
Bay and Henry Streets
This Olympic-size pool in Brooklyn is a neighborhood hot spot, and is near handball and basketball courts and a soccer field.
Sunset Park Pool – Sunset Park
Seventh Avenue between 41-44th Streets
Located in the picturesque park of the same name, this Olympic-sized pool is ever-popular.
Douglas & Degraw Pool – Gowanus
Thomas Greene Playground, Third Avenue and Nevins Street
A great local spot, this Boreum Hill fave tends to be a little less busy than other city pools. There's a wading pool and one of "intermediate" size. The park is also perfect for picnicking, so you can make a day of it.
Queens boasts the city's largest pool: Astoria Park Pool. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks.
Astoria Park Pool – Astoria
19th Street and 23rd Drive
Located right on the water and near the Triborough Bridge (er, the RFK Bridge—we're never going to get used to that!), this park boasts the city's largest public swimming pool. Surrounded by concrete bleachers with a bit of a Soviet feel, it was constructed in 1936 and is 330-feet long, about the length of a city block! The pool has distinct roped off sections, including a wading area for little kids.
The Floating Pool Lady – Hunts Point
Barretto Point Park, Tiffany Street and Viele Avenue
You'll need to take the BX46 bus from the subway to get to this pool, or better yet drive. However, once there, you'll find a beautifully landscaped riverside park, with amazing views of Manhattan and various islands (including Rikers!), a pier to promenade, a cute playground and rolling hills for picnicking. And then there's the pool, which is located on a barge that's docked right on the East River.
Faber Pool – North Shore
Faber Street and Richmond Terrace
Out of the borough's eight public pools, our Staten Island blogger, Nataki, usually picks the medium-size one in the four-acre Faber Park. She likes that it's close to the parking lot (assuming you're lucky enough to find a spot), and that the green space has great views of the water and New Jersey beyond, plus a playground and basketball court. The larger Olympic-size Lyons Pool is her runner-up, but she notes that it gets crowded thanks to its location near the Staten Island Railway, buses, and the Ferry terminal.
The following pools aren't free but charge reasonable rates.
Manhattan Plaza Health Club – Midtown West
482 West 43rd Street at Tenth Ave
If you're in the mood for a little luxury, try this rooftop pool with a retractable glass roof. The lap pool has a separate area for kids. Weekday passes are $35 and include use of the gym, saunas and whirlpool; you'll pay $40 on weekends. During the offseason, check the site for a coupon good for $10 off a day pass.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park Pool – Flushing
Avery Avenue and 131st Street
The Olympic-size indoor public pool has an adjustable floor and diving tank for public swim and competitive meets. There's also a NHL-standard indoor ice hockey rink on site that serves as a year-round facility for competitive leagues and individual skaters. The modernist, architecturally distinguished building’s cable-supported roof system will allow for potential future expansion. Children are free and adults can buy a year-long membership for $150.
Top image: The Floating Pool Lady. Photo by NYC Parks.