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Five Alfresco Bay Area Swimming Spots to Beat the Heat

Skip the pool this time.


Bass Lake.

Photo: Casey O'Brien.

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Crown Beach.

Photo: Kirk Strauser (Flickr).

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Lake Anza.

Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin (Flickr).

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Living in a temperate climate is great—except that when thermometers rise, fog-accustomed San Franciscans begin to wilt. Luckily, the Bay Area’s backyard has plenty of places where you can cool down and enjoy the great outdoors, no pool membership required. Here are five swim spots that provide the ideal antidote to hot summer days—now all you need is a picnic basket. 

Bass Lake

Palomarin Trailhead, Mesa Rd., Bolinas, CA (Pt. Reyes National Seashore) 
Bass Lake is an idyll on the south end of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, complete with perfect-temperature water on warm days and a rope swing for reliving childhood thrills. The hike out to the lake from Palomarin Trailhead (approximately 3 miles) is stunning and moderate; it feels like an adventure without ever demanding too much from you. Parking is free, but Bass lake gets crowded on weekends and holidays, so leave early to nab a close spot and not be exiled to the overflow lot. There is a toilet at the trailhead, but no changing areas or bathroom at the lake. If you want to picnic while basking in the sun, grab sandwiches or tamales en route at the People’s Store in Bolinas. 

Three Wells
Off Old Mill Park, Mill Valley, CA
Northern California is full of hidden gems, and Three Wells is a diamond. It’s a gorgeous, unadvertised spot named for three small waterfalls that cascade into interlocking pools. This storybook swimming hole—verdantly green and stunning—is the perfect spot for a sunny afternoon escape from the concrete jungle. It’s usually not crowded and there is no admission fee, however, slippery rocks mean it’s better for a grownup field trip than a family event. To get there, follow the City of Mill Valley path through Old Mill Park and cross the creek over the bridge, where the path becomes Three Wells Trail. In total, the walk is about a mile and a half. There are restrooms at Old Mill, but nothing closer to the pools. Street parking is easy to find at Old Mill or around the Depot in downtown Mill Valley, which is only a couple of blocks from the park. Those who don’t want to drive can take advantage of Golden Gate Transit buses between Marin and San Francisco, although they run less frequently on weekends. 

Crown Beach
Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda, CA
As Crown Beach proves, getting outside doesn’t have to mean rugged hikes in the backcountry—sometimes a picnic on the water is enough. The appeal of this spot comes down to its accessibility. The beach is known for shallow, warm (by Bay standards) water, so it’s a great spot for kids. Picnic tables and a bath house with changing rooms also make it convenient for a family gathering, and beach wheelchairs are available. If you do want some exercise, take a stroll after your dip along the 2.5-mile beachfront bike path, which has views clear to San Francisco. Parking costs $5, and the park is open from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. 

Contra Loma Regional Park
1200 Frederickson Lane, Antioch, CA
Contra Loma is the best of both worlds—the feeling of being outside, while still being able to hit up the concession stand—and it’s only about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Anxious parents can rest easy because the swim lagoon is lifeguarded and sectioned off to keep weaker swimmers from getting into the deepest end. But it’s not just for kids: Periodically the lifeguards will empty out the water for an adult swim. It’s a good spot for a barbecue (there are grills at the park) or a picnic, and there’s an 80-acre reservoir for fishing or windsurfing. Like Crown Beach, Contra Loma has beach wheelchairs for those who need them. And there is no need to spend hours winding through country roads to reach Contra Loma: It’s right off Highway 4, although it feels like a world away. There is a beach access fee of $3.00 ($2.00 for kids under 15) in addition to a $5 parking fee. It’s open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. until Aug. 19, although it’s closed for repairs Aug. 14-16. After the 19th, the beach is open only on weekends and holidays. 

Lake Anza
Lake Anza Rd., off of Central Park Drive, Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley, CA 
Once you reach Anza, you won’t want to leave again—the quiet and serene lake is good for a long, lazy afternoon of swimming, lounging, and swimming again, without the torturous drive to Stinson or the urban atmosphere at Baker. It’s a classic East Bay spot, popular for its ease of access and pretty scenery. Tilden Regional Park, where the lake is located, has 39 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, including a trail around the lake. Other sections of the park also have fun amenities like a carousel and a botanical garden for a full day excursion.    You can grab food at the concession stand at the lake or bring your own to eat at the picnic tables. There are lifeguards, so there’s a beach access fee ($3.50, $2.50 for kids) but—score—parking is free. 


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