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 the NYC Parks Department is poised to open its outdoor pools on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 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. The city hosts more than 50 outdoor pools this summer, so it will be hard not to find one you like. Time to get swimming!
Most are open from 11am-7pm daily, weather permitting, with an hour-long break 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. The city's Olympic and intermediate-sized pools close for the season on Sunday, September 9; the smaller pools close on Labor Day.
Find the complete list of NYC public pools.
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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 can be 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 nearby 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.
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The Asser Levy Rec Center includes two outdoor pools, playgrounds, and basketball courts. 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, plus a wading pool for tots, there's a playground, basketball courts, and a game room. During the off season, 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, Lasker is an ice skating rink, but in summer, it transforms into an Olympic-sized outdoor pool. Lasker is 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 busy, there are lots of other things to do.
RELATED: Best Water Parks Near NYC
An Olympic-sized wading pool is one of two splash zones at Highbridge. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
Highbridge Pool — Washington Heights
173rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Highbridge Park
Highbridge boasts not one, but two Olympic-sized pools on its premises. While older kids and teens roughhouse in the main, deeper pool, you and your younger kids can splash away in the Olympic-sized wading pool, with its a maximum depth of 2 feet. I also appreciate the outdoor, co-ed lockers and showers, which means 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 stroll 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
The pool's $50 million 2012 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. When you're waterlogged, find a bite at these nearby Williamsburg eats.
The Pop Up Pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park returns for one final year. Photo by Etienne Frossard for BBP
The Pop Up Pool at Pier 2 – Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 2
This lovely family-friendly pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park is located off the greenway on the uplands of Pier 2. At only 3 and a half feet deep, it's great for kids, plus the pool area boasts a sandy artificial beach with 25 lounge chairs, 10 picnic tables and concessions. You'll have to line up to get in, as the pool itself is fairly small, but there's plenty to do in the park to keep the kids occupied. Construction will force the closure of this pool after the 2018 season, but plans are in the works for a permanent pool in nearby Squibb Park.
The Red Hook Pool boats a kiddie play area and an Olympic size pool. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
Red Hook Pool — Red Hook
Bay and Henry Streets
This Olympic-sized pool in Brooklyn is a neighborhood hot spot, near handball and basketball courts and a soccer field. It can get pretty busy in the summer, but there's also an enormous wading pool with sprinklers that's a bit calmer for younger kids.
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 neighborhood fave tends to be a little less busy than other city pools, and also features a wading pool and a shaded sundeck for littles. There's a park and playground nearby with picnic tables and sprinklers. (And don't miss the roof deck at the awesome ice cream shop two blocks away.)
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. As they say, only in New York. It's an intermediate size pool.
Faber Pool — North Shore
Faber Street and Richmond Terrace
Out of the borough's eight public pools, our Staten Island blogger usually picks the medium-sized 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-sized 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.
Find more great pools for rainy days or year-round swimming with our Best Indoor Pools with Day Passes roundup.
A version of this story was first published in 2017; it has since been updated.