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ALL THE BEST SWIMMING HOLES NEAR SAN FRANCISCO

11 PLACES

UPDATED OCT 25, 2019

When the temperature ticks up, swimming holes are a great way to spend an afternoon. Read on to find the best rope swingin’-, lazy river floatin’-, waterfall-crawlin’ adventures near the city.

author

LARISSA RUNKLE

FITT SAN-FRANCISCO CONTRIBUTOR

As the largest river in California, it undoubtedly offers choice when it comes to swimming holes. Paradise Beach is one of the prized free swimming spots along the river, open year-round. But no reason to spend all day paddling when you can float. This river has some of the best lazy-day tubing in the state.

Also intersecting with the Sacramento River, it can sometimes be hard to tell the two apart. The American River runs through Sacramento and is home to an abundance of wildlife and rec areas for outdoor enthusiasts. Most swimmers flock to Watt Avenue, but as with all river swimming be sure to check the strength of the currents before diving in.

There’s a reason it’s called Garden of Eden—this is about as beautiful as any swimming hole can get. Down past railroad tracks is a lush and secret cove worthy of your favorite pirate movie. Follow Highway 9 through the Santa Cruz Mountains to find this amazing spot hidden along the San Lorenzo River with access via Ox Trail. Bring a blanket and a picnic for the day, just be ready to pack your trash out!

The saltiest swimming hole around, this lake is an amazing place to float for a day. Just east of the Sierra, Mono Lake is best enjoyed after a few days spent in the famous Yosemite Valley. Trust us — you’ll welcome the swim. Make the trip on Tioga Pass to reach this awesome spot before heading back to the city.

This secret swimming hole will make you work to enjoy it. Hidden in the middle of a 6.5-mile loop hike in Pinecrest, you can expect that anyone you see on the trail is pretty much there for the same reason (though, you won’t see many people): Cleo’s Bath is the ultimate pool to lounge in, and comes with epic waterfall views. It’s nestled in Stanislaus National Forest, so other trails will be much busier, making this the perfect secret getaway on a hot weekend.

Easily the top swimming hole of East Bay, Lake Anza is a man-made rec spot just beyond Berkeley. Often crowded on warm days, the sandy beach make it a top place for swimming and laying out in the sun.

The pride of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay is a gorgeous place to get your swim on. With its vibrant aquamarine waters, this part of Tahoe is just as nice as its better-known locations (it’s not exactly a secret) and an awesome place to cool off on a summer day.

McCloud is a bit of a journey for anyone coming directly from The Bay, but if you find yourself hanging out in the northern part of the state anyway, make a stop at one of the river’s three famous falls. Upper and Lower Falls are by far the best, with upper sometimes being more secluded and cold, and lower being your typical beachy hangout.

This place is a tubing paradise (the beer-drinking kind) but also has several amazing beaches for swimming. Sunset Beach is one, offering ample picnicking space and a place to launch your kayak or cool off in the hot Sonoma weather. Too active? The “Secret Spot” off of Redwood Drive is the perfect place to wallow in the shallows.

More like a lakeside resort than a simple swimming hole, this place makes our list for its incredible scenery and fun summer vibes. Not for the low-key beach goer, this Alameda County lake is pretty much guaranteed to be busy at all times.

The perfect beach to spend a day, or the perfect swimming hole to end a short day hike. Also perfect? Going for a paddle with a pooch (or two). Rent a paddleboard or set up your furry crew on the beach. For those visiting sans four-legged pals, check out the trails and nearby restaurants before taking a dip in Point Reyes’ best freshwater swimming.

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