One of the first things I did when I moved to Los Angeles in 2011 was map out all of the places where I wanted to go swimming. After a lifetime in New York State's snow belt, I was ready to be able to swim outdoors all year long.
I know that there's a whole ocean out West, but I prefer the self-contained environment of a pool -- filtered water with no sharks or jellyfish, no waves to rip my bikini top off, and no sand to get in my bikini bottom. It's a perfectly civilized, controlled situation to do laps.
Sure, at times, it gets a little too nippy for swimming outside. But consider the 90 degree heatwave we experienced during the winter, while the rest of the country is just starting to thaw out! So why not take advantage? If you don't have a pool in your own housing complex or backyard, you can probably find one close enough to your home or work to take a dip without having to drive far.
But if you're looking for a pool with its own unique style and history, here are some of the most intriguing, non-ocean outdoor swimming locations around L.A.:
Best for Architecture and History Buffs
It may sound strange to swim in a chlorinated pool along the beach, but the Annenberg Community Beach House pool is a pretty special place. Located in Santa Monica off the Pacific Coast Highway, this is one of the last remaining traces of a grand estate built by publishing baron William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. Big movie stars like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Charlie Chaplin used to relax and play here.
These days, a wristband allows you all-day, in-and-out access to the ornate marble pool and free tours of the restored Marion Davies guest house (both designed by architect Julia Morgan), as well as the entire grounds and the actual ocean and beach -- so it's best to arrive in the morning before it fills up, and stay all day. You can dine at an adjacent sit-down restaurant, order take away from a quick serve window, or bring your own in (but no alcohol or glass bottles).
The pool is divided into two sections, leaving the families and tikes in their swimmies in the shallow end and more advanced swimmers in the deep end. There are plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas for reclining. The beach house is technically closed October through Memorial Day, but during those months it does open for a number of "bonus pool days" when the weather permits. To guarantee your spot, reserve online 1-3 days in advance. For a more affordable option, try it out on one of their dollar swim Mondays, and avoid parking fees by riding a bicycle or the Big Blue Bus to the pool.
Location: 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica 90402
Season: Memorial Day through September, plus Bonus Pool Days
Price: $10 adults, $5 Seniors (60+) and $4 Youth (17 and under) + parking (up to $12/day max)
Best for Sports Fans
This isn't just a swimming pool: this is a swim stadium, originally constructed for the 1932 Summer Olympics and renovated in 2003. Open all year and heated, this historic Art Deco aquatic facility is located in the shadow of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park, and actually features three different open-air pools: one for lap swimming, one for general recreational swimming, and a shallow one for wading, outfitted with some poolside fake grass and palm trees to create a nice little oasis.
For those who like to do more than swim laps in a competitive pool environment, this facility also offers a variety of sport programs for novices including water polo and synchronized swimming. A schedule of activities is available on their official site.
Location: 3980 Bill Robertson Lane (near MLK Jr. Blvd.) Los Angeles, 90037
Price: $3.50 per session for adults, $1.00 for seniors, children, and persons with disabilities + parking ($1 for three hours $6/day max; free street parking is available in the surrounding neighborhood)
Best for Aspiring Athletes and Superheroes
In Pasadena, you can swim among legends at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, which served as a pre-Olympic training facility for the U.S. swimming and diving team and hosted the U.S. National Diving Championships. Located next to the 93-year-old Rose Bowl Stadium, its swim club is home to a number of well-known athletes -- but anyone can take advantage of the center's water fitness and therapy programs, lap swim sessions, and swim lessons. Aspiring heroes can take courses in CPR, first aid, and lifeguard training. And this place is huge: it has two Olympic-sized pools which can go as deep as 17 feet, one of which contains 55,000 gallons of warm water.
Visitors can also use a number of diving boards, spring boards, and two hydrotherapy spas. If you forget any of your gear, you can purchase a large selection of items in their aquatic pro shop, and get a snack at their food and beverage center.
Location: 360 North Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena 91103
Season: Year-Round (check their Twitter feed for closures)
Price: $12 Adult, $9 Young Adult and Senior, $1-2 family swim + always free parking
Best for Planespotting
If you like the idea of swimming in an Olympic-sized pool in the middle of an urban landscape and watching planes take off from and land at LAX overhead, then Culver City has the pool for you. Opened in 1949, the Municipal Plunge has been serving the community for decades with an amazing facility that they keep in pristine condition with a regular maintenance schedule and a respectful clientele.
Non-Olympians can take advantage of short-course lap swimming, the recreational swimming section, and a number of swimming classes and lessons. If you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of one of the many professional training exercises that take place at the Culver City Plunge, including those for the fire department's Swift Water Rescue team, whose members are dispatched to flood areas or even the L.A. River, where people (and animals) have been known to get trapped in rushing water. In the summer, expect a lot of noisy kids in the pool and locker room areas. Keep track of closures and extended hours on the Plunge Facebook page.
Location: 4175 Overland Avenue, Culver City 90230
Price: $4 Adults, $2.50 Youths, Seniors, and persons with disabilities + free parking in lot
Best for Families and Desert Rats
Sometimes I can't even believe this place exists anywhere, much less in the San Fernando Valley. It's considered a swim lake in the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, adjacent to a fishing and boating lake. It's made of poured concrete and filled with chlorinated water like a regular pool, but you can wade right into it, shallow enough for the tiniest of tots. With a gradual decline to its deepest section (a mere 4.5 feet), an average adult could walk across the entire pool, which is not necessarily an easy feat, at 1.5 acres. This pool is gigantic. It can fit up to 2,800 swimmers at any one time. The focus here is on the outdoor facilities: two thrilling water slides, a man-made sandy beach, picnic area, and cabanas.
There are outdoor showers and private dressing rooms and toilet stalls, but no official locker room, lockers, or bag check -- so you must keep your personal belongings to a minimum, and guard them closely. It's almost always sunny here, and way hotter than the beach cities, making Hansen Dam a unique and surreal experience. Even if you don't live nearby, it's worth the day trip just for the view of the mountains and a cool reprieve from that hot, dry air.
Location: 11798 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace 91342 (follow signs)
Season: Summer (May-September)
Price: $3.50 Adults (discounted with an LA City library card), $1 Children, Seniors, and persons with disabilities + free parking. Canopy rental $18-40 half- or full-day, with or without furniture.
Frequent swimmers looking to save some money can inquire about purchasing a pass, which can significantly reduce the price per visit. Proper swim attire is always required at all public facilities, and children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
For everyone's safety, running is never permitted, and diving is only allowed from a proper diving board and at certain scheduled times.
You'll have to rinse off before you enter the pool, and recent changes to the health code prohibit any shaving of any kind in the showers (as well as entering the pool with any open wounds or sores, or any recent incidence of diarrhea).
Be prepared when you go: bring your own towel, swim cap and goggles, as they are not provided or made available for purchase at most places (though not always required).
Bring your own lock to secure your personal belongings in lockers while you swim, though some other municipal pools do provide a bag check guarded by an attendant.
Most lifeguards place several swimmers in the same lane, requiring them to swim in a circle (always staying on the right) to control traffic. Choose the lane speed that's right for you: lanes are usually marked for slow, medium, and fast swimmers.