Ditch the Diving Board: The Bay Area’s Coolest Swim Spots

You wouldn’t dare dip a toe in those frigid Bay Area waters…or would you? Sometimes your kiddos just want the chance to splash around—it is summer, after all! But sometimes going to the beach just isn’t an option, and you’ve already been to your local pool far too much this year. Luckily, there are options beyond the beach and the community pool that not only offer kiddos a chance to cool off, but other fun activities like boating, picnicking, and even fishing. Here are some hotspots to consider for the warmer weather that’s been creeping up on us little by little.

San Francisco

Crissy Field Beach in San Francisco
With ample parking, mild bay water and views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field Beach is a popular destination for San Francisco families with little ones pretty much any day of the week. Building sandcastles, flying kites and exploring the wetlands are all popular activities for active kiddos. Bonus: The beach and waterfront promenade is dog-friendly (under voice control) and there are bathrooms and a nice cafe nearby.

East Bay

Lake Anza in Berkeley
Grab the goggles and swimsuits and head on over to the Lake Anza swimming facilities in the Berkeley hills. In spite of how crowded this favorite gathering spot can get, swimming here always feels like a local secret, tucked away in the midst of hiking trails, below the picturesque hills. This stretch of beach typically gets plenty of sun, while the surrounding landscape protects your wet ones from the wind. Hungry swimmers can recharge at the Lake Anza Beach Club with nachos, smoothies, sandwiches, ice cream, and more. The Lake Anza swim season opened April 27, with lifeguards at the ready daily. Adults pay $3.50 to get in, and $2.50 for the kids.

lake anza

Cull Canyon in Castro Valley
This popular little swim spot features an 1.5 acre lagoon that’s ideal for those who find themselves needing a break from the summer swelter. Cull Canyon is great if you’ve got little ones because of the lagoon’s gradual drop, where your kiddos can build up their confidence in the water. Post up at one of the shaded picnic areas and dig in to your picnic lunch. There’s a beach access fee to enter swim area ($2.50 age 1-15, $3.50 ages 16 and up), but parking is free! Open daily now through August 23, 11 am – 6 pm.

Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore
If you’ve found yourself in Livermore in the summer, you know how scorching hot this part of the Bay (far outside the fog belt) can get. Del Valle Regional Park offers the perfect solution, with not one, but two swimming beaches opening for the season. While swimming is permissible through much of the five-mile-long lake, the East and West beaches offer lifeguard services between 11 am and 6 pm from mid-June through August 23, with no fees required. And when the family’s all toweled off, the park has picnic facilities, boat rentals, and a visitor center to keep you occupied.

Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area in Pleasanton
Just a mile outside downtown Pleasanton is a sweet little spot for swimming, picnicking, boating, and general fun in the sun. You’re almost guaranteed warm weather at Shadow Cliffs during the summer months, and luckily this little swimming lagoon is ideal for kids to cool off and splash around; even early in the morning the water is far from chilly. There’s a bathhouse and refreshment stand open on weekends in spring and fall, and daily during summer months. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer months, but swimming is allowed throughout the year. Hours are 6 am – 9 pm now through Labor Day, and the cost is $6 per vehicle and $2 for dog fees (if you’re planning on bringing Fido).

Contra Loma Regional Park in Antioch
Here’s an alternative to the big West Coast waves and icy waters … what about a nice, protected swimming lagoon in the heart of an 80-acre reservoir? That’s Contra Loma for you, with a sandy beach and lifeguard included in the swim zone. Boating, picnicking, biking, and nature study are also popular here. Swimming is open daily now until August 23. Hours are 11 am to 6 pm, and the cost is $3 for adults and $2 for kids and seniors.


Schoonmaker Point Marina in Sausalito
For a day at the beach minus the pounding surf, check out Sausalito’s Schoonmaker Point Marina (known to local Marin families simply as Kayak Beach, as it’s the home of SeaTrek Kayak Outfitters). It’s a hidden gem of Marin, though not entirely undiscovered—on weekends and school holidays, families picnic here by the dozens. Smaller than Crissy Field (and sheltered from the wind), it’s the ideal size for curious toddlers. The soft sandy beach, non-existent waves, and abundance of cool boats,  makes this spot ideal for cooling off with the kids on a warm afternoon.

McNear’s Beach County Park in San Rafael
This public pool is a traditional go-to swimming spot for families in the know. While it’s not the same as an outdoor lake, the large pool is surrounded by a view of the San Pablo Bay, with a beach park and concession stand nearby, grassy lawns to play on, and picnic facilities available for the post-swimming BBQ. The swimming season begins after Memorial Day, when the pool is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 am to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm for a $5 per person fee.

Terra Linda Community Pool in San Rafael 
Ok, so every now and then it’s nice to bring the kids to the pool and sit back and relax on your lounge chair. The Terra Linda Community Pool has just what you need while still offering lots of fun for the kids. Get there early in the morning for swimming lessons in the tot pool, giving you time to get a few chapters into your newest summer read, then stay for the open swim, where your kids can let loose and play in the water. There are no lifeguards in the tot pool, so make sure you keep an eye on the little ones. Check the schedule for daily hours.


Oyster Point Marina/Park in South San Francisco
In addition to having a 33-acre park for hiking and jogging, a fishing pier, and picnic tables with a view of the Bay, Oyster Point Park in South San Francisco has a sandy beach over two acres wide, with access to peaceful waters for swimming. The site includes a range of other activities on the premises, with a full boat dock, office spaces, restaurants facilities, and a yacht club. But the swimming beach is a great place to escape from it all, and it’s open to the public.

kids at beach 2

Parkside Aquatic Beach in San Mateo
This San Mateo gem of a spot has nary a wave or the nasty whirlpools that come alone with them. On one side of the quaint swimming beach, there’s a playground for kids, and on the other side, there are picnic tables if you prefer to keep the sand of your sandwiches. The waters are part of the Marina Lagoon, between San Mateo and Foster City. Restrooms and boating are also on the premises.

Know some other awesome spots to escape the summer heat? Share you favorite kid-friendly swimming spot in the comments below.

— Renee Rutledge

photo credit: Kevin Jones, David Mezzo Van CouveringPaul Schultzvastateparksstaff, & Brandon Daniel