Sure, there are miles and miles of beaches in SoCal, but sometimes you need a break from the sand, and you want water that's a little less, well, wavy. Most of us are willing to go out of our way to find a pool that’s open to the public for recreational swimming and offers something special: Think slides, water play features, extended shallow areas for the little ones to splash in, or a beautiful, peaceful setting. Here’s our list of cool destination pools worth a drive in LA and OC. Most range in price from $1 to $12 per person, and several offer discounted season passes (check websites for details).
Swim, splash and socialize in Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of Annenberg Community Beach House
1. Annenberg Community Beach House—Santa Monica
Hours: 10am-7pm June 9-Sept. 3
The Beach House, open to all with no membership required, sits on oceanfront property originally developed as an estate for actress Marion Davies in the 1920s. The pool itself is one of the few remaining features of the original estate. The shallowest part of the pool is four feet deep, so it’s not for beginning swimmers (those under eight must be accompanied in the water by an adult.), but the facilities offer more than just swimming. Besides the vintage pool, you’ll find a splash pad, playground, an indoor recreation center with games and ocean view, beach volleyball, and an outdoor cafe on the property. Everything except the pool is free to access. The pool is open daily during the summer, and pop-up pool days are held during the off-season. Check the website for advance passes and reservations, as the pool can sell out on hot summer days and Dollar Splash Mondays.
2. Santa Monica Swim Center—Santa Monica
Hours: 10am-7pm most days
The facility at Santa Monica College has two large, heated pools: one is 2.5 to 4.5 feet deep and is warmer, and the other ranges from 6.5 feet to 13 feet deep and has several swimming lanes and two diving boards. To swim in the deeper pool, kids need to show that they can swim an entire pool length. The pools are popular and do get a little crowded. Children under eight must be accompanied by an adult in the water. Discounted passes are available, and Santa Monica residents pay half price with proof of residency; see site for additional discounts.
3. Stoner Park Pool—Los Angeles
Hours: 11am-2pm and 3-6pm most days in summer; check website for up-to-date schedule
This unique, city-operated pool is a hidden gem that offers a gradual entry the whole length of the pool, with spray features, fountains, and waterfalls to keep little kids busy and soaked. There’s a water slide for bigger kids (those ages 7 and older or 48 inches or taller), but take note that its hours are more limited than the pool hours. Also note: Kids ages seven and under must be accompanied by an adult in the water, and that adult must be wearing a bathing suit. Youth season passes are available. Save this one for a hot day, as the water is usually quite cool.
4. Rustic Canyon Pool—Pacific Palisades
Hours: 1pm-5pm June 12-16, 11am-4pm June 19-Aug. 11, 2pm-5pm Aug. 14-Sept. 1, open weekends 1pm-5pm; check website for up-to-date schedule
This is escapism at its best, swimming in a tranquil setting amid the natural beauty of Rustic Canyon Park. Small and well-maintained, the pool is unheated and only open during the summer. While the pool itself has no special features, the park is a delightful hideaway that feels like it's miles from any city and years from the current century—a great spot for a picnic before or after. Kids seven and under must be accompanied by an adult in the water. Youth season passes are available.
5. Culver City Municipal Plunge—Culver City
Hours: 12:30-2:30pm daily during the summer
Locals love this place for its Olympic-size pool, heated competition pool, and diving board (open to kids who can pass the swim test and are at least 48 inches tall). Children under 48 inches anywhere in the pool area must be accompanied by an adult who is 18 years or older, and the adult-to-child ratio must be one-to-one. Discounted passes are available.
Santa Clarita Aquatic Center's water play features drench kids in fun. Photo courtesy of City of Santa Clarita
6. Santa Clarita Aquatics Center—Santa Clarita
Hours: 12pm-5pm most days in the summer
The aquatic center boasts three pools, two of which offer recreational swimming hours. The one sure to catch your kids’ eyes is the activity pool, with a large, long water slide (for kids 48 inches and taller), spray fountain, and other water play features. It’s a safe space to play, with a gradual entry and decent-sized shallow end as well as a roped-off deep end. With so much to keep the little ones busy, the drive north is worth it. Season passes are available.
7. Hansen Dam Aquatic Center—Lake View Terrace
Hours: 11am-6pm daily through the summer; check website for non-seasonal hours
On a hot day in the San Fernando Valley, this enormous pool (city officials say it can fit 2,800 people!) and its dual water slides are an oasis. The pool's zero-entry, sloping shore makes it even more appealing to families. Known locally as “the swim lake,” the pool is surrounded by a sandy beach, and there are grassy picnic areas nearby. Kids ages seven and under must be accompanied by an adult. Youth season passes are available.
8. Verdugo Aquatic Facility Activity Pool—Burbank
Activity Pool hours: 12-2pm and 2:15-4:15pm Monday-Friday (also 6:30-8:30pm Friday), 12:15-2:15pm and 2:30-4:30pm Saturday-Sunday
The activity pool at this facility, with its open and enclosed water slides and aquatic playground, is such a bevy of activity you may just find yourself splashing right along with your kids. The activity pool is $2 more than the recreation pool, and wristbands are given out in limited quantities for each two-hour activity session. On certain hot days, the line can begin well before the activity session. Kids must be 47 inches or taller to ride the water slide. There's half-price admission for Burbank residents with proof of residency.
9. Rose Bowl Aquatics Center—Pasadena
Family Swim hours: 12-5pm Tuesday-Friday, 7:30-8:30pm Monday-Friday, 2:15-4:45pm Saturday-Sunday
Among this aquatic center’s many nice attributes is that there's one pool for serious lap swimmers and a recreation pool for families. Recreational Family Swim hours and fees are for the use of the shallow end of the dive and recreation pool and do not include the use of lap lanes, hydro spas, or weight room. The beautiful setting in Arroyo Seco is another plus, and there’s a pirate-themed playground nearby for water-logged kids. The facility is open year-round, but Family Swim hours change seasonally; check the website for a current schedule. Kids ages seven and younger must be accompanied by an adult in the pool with a one-to-one ratio.
CENTRAL LOS ANGELES
10. LA84 Foundation/John C. Argue Swim Stadium—Los Angeles
Hours: 9am-7pm Monday-Friday, 1-4:30pm Saturday (pool closed during special events such as Los Angeles Rams home games)
You may just catch yourself pretending to be an Olympian at this swim center in the shadow of the Coliseum; in fact, the competition pool here was built for the 1932 Summer Games in Los Angeles. There's also a family pool that has a large shallow area with spray fountains. There are many rules that govern this facility, and they are strictly enforced; check the website before you go.
Spiral into the deep at Hollywood Pool. Photo courtesy of City of Los Angeles Department of Park and Recreation
11. Hollywood Pool—Los Angeles
Hours: 11am-2pm and 3-6pm most summer weekdays, 1-5pm Saturday-Sunday
This pool area, featuring mid-century modern architectural touches, was added to the city-run Hollywood Recreation Center in 2015. The pool’s spiral water slide is a highlight, and there are multiple diving boards. Kids seven and under must be accompanied by an adult in the water on a one-to-one ratio; the adult must be within arm’s length of the child at all times. Youth season passes are available.
12. Alondra Aquatic Center—Lawndale
Hours: 10am-4:45pm Tuesday-Saturday
The popular 25-by-25-meter pool opened (along with a skate park) at Alondra Community Regional Park in 2012; there is also a splash pad here. Summertime recreational swimming is free, and the splash pad is open year-round; check the website for weekly schedules.
13. William Woollett, Jr. Aquatics Center—Irvine
Hours: 1:15-3pm weekdays, 1-2:30pm weekends
While the facilities are used extensively for lap swimming and professional events, swimmers of all stripes can visit during limited recreational swim times. Of interest to bigger kids is a water slide and diving area in the two seven-foot-deep Olympic pools. Smaller kids can enjoy a more shallow pool with a gradual depth of 4.5 feet. Anyone who wants to use the deep end, water slide, diving pool, and diving boards must first pass a swim test. Children ages 5 and younger must be accompanied by an adult, one-on-one, in the water at all times. The center also holds occasional special events such as Dive-In Movies; check the website for more information.
The flamingo float is waiting for you at Pasea Hotel in Huntington Beach. Photo courtesy of the author
For those who want a more upscale pool day: A few hotels and resorts in LA and OC offer day passes to their pool areas. However, these are particularly difficult to find in the summer months. You might not have much luck reaching out to individual hotels, but there are a couple of apps/websites that can help. Resort Pass sells day passes to select hotel properties, and some places offer lower-priced passes for kids. Among the hotel pool areas currently available on the site are the Balboa Bay Resort, which fronts a harbor area in Newport Beach, and the Pasea Hotel in Huntington Beach, with a pool that offers an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. DayAxe offers day passes at select local properties. Currently listed are the family-friendly Hilton Universal City and other hotels in LA and OC. Finally, Newport Dunes Resort sells day passes to its in-house, beach-front waterpark, with inflatables in a protected cove and a playground.
Originally published July 27, 2017