Categories: CampingDestinations

The Best Swimming Holes in the Bay Area

Ready to plunge into an epic summer adventure?

As temperatures start warming up, swimming holes attract locals and travelers alike to go wading in their refreshing waters. Bay Area lakes and swimming holes in Northern California can be too cold to swim in during cooler months, which is why summer camping near San Francisco offers excellent options for swimming getaways in some of the area’s natural wonders. 

Swimming hole safety

Before diving in for a summer swim outside, remember that Bay Area swimming hole conditions can change quickly. Be mindful of factors like: 

  • Water levels
  • Water temperatures
  • Current speeds
  • Algae blooms
  • Hidden hazards beneath the surface

Follow the posted safety guidelines and stay aware of changing weather. It’s best to avoid swimming during thunderstorms, periods of heavy rainfall, or potential flooding. Check with park officials about any current warnings or alerts. Many popular spots don’t have on-duty lifeguards, so always swim at your own risk.

Photo courtesy of Lena Zentall of Point Reyes Nature

1. Bass Lake, Point Reyes National Seashore

How to access: Drive north out of Bolinas along Mesa Road until you reach the Palomarin Trailhead. From here, it’s less than a 3-mile hike to Bass Lake along the Coast Trail through shaded forest and coastal bluffs with Pacific Ocean views. Look out for poison oak and ticks along the way. 

What to expect: Don’t mistake this swimming hole near Bolinas with the identically named Bass Lake in Sierra National Forest. The secluded setting of Bass Lake in Point Reyes lends itself to its clothing-optional appeal. Along with a backdrop made of rolling hills and Douglas fir trees, this popular swimming spot also boasts a fun rope swing. Before or after taking the plunge, continue hiking the Coast Trail to reach another spectacular view—Alamere Falls.

Where to camp nearby:

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Madison Kotack at Audrey Edna Cabin at Alpine Ranch near Memorial County Park

2. Memorial County Park, San Mateo County

How to access: Follow the road south from the main park entrance until you reach the Tan Oak Nature Trail, a short walk from the Azalea Flat Campground. Step off the trail onto the gravel and sand beach on the shores of Pescadero Creek to reach Memorial County Park’s quiet swimming hole. 

What to expect: Pescadero Creek flows through San Mateo County’s Memorial County Park, also known more simply as Memorial Park. The dam that once created this idyllic swimming area has since been removed as it obstructed the path of endangered coho salmon. These days, swimmers and paddlers often spot the fish in these waters flanked by old-growth redwoods. After a long swim, stay a while and try one of the picnic areas or naturalist programs in the park. 

Where to camp nearby:

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Rosalie Yu at Coyote Camp Scout Tents near Sunset Beach River Park

3. Sunset Beach River Park, Forestville

How to access: Just west of Forestville and Forest Hills, turn left off River Road to access the main parking lot for Sunset Beach River Park. From here, it’s just a short 6-minute walk along the main access trail to the namesake Sunset Beach.  

What to expect: This rocky swimming beach in Sonoma County attracts a broad range of campers, from people who prefer taking a dip au natural to families with young children and dogs. This stretch of the Russian River is one of the best rivers in California for swimming in summer, offering calm and clean water as well as excellent spots for picnicking and sunbathing. Life vests are available to borrow, but there are no on-duty lifeguards. 

Where to camp nearby:

 

4. Garden of Eden Swimming Hole, Henry Cowell Redwood State Park

How to access: Just under a mile south of the main entrance to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Highway 9 is Ox Fire Road Trailhead. From here, it’s a short but steep 0.75-mile hike down the hill to the Garden of Eden swimming hole. 

What to expect: A natural swimming hole fed by waterfalls, the Garden of Eden is located along the San Lorenzo River in Felton. Swimmers are often inspired by the setting and name, stripping down like Adam and Eve to take a dip. Giant redwoods and a sandy beach surround the cool, calm, and clear waters in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The small vehicle turnoff at Ox Road Trail can fill up quickly, so you may need to park in the day-use area farther north and then access the Garden of Eden via a seasonal bridge.   

Where to camp nearby:

Photo by Hipcamp Host Guido & Emily Frosini at Estero San Antonio Wonderland near Tomales Bay State Park

5. Heart’s Desire Beach, Tomales Bay State Park

How to access: You can drive right up to Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park near Point Reyes National Seashore. The parking lot is less than a minute from the beach.

What to expect: For swimmers and fans of water activities who’d prefer not to hike, Heart’s Desire Beach is the place to go. In addition to public restrooms with showers, Tomales Bay is also sheltered from cold ocean winds by the Inverness Ridge. The saltwater here is warmer, generally wave-free, and shallow for a long stretch, inviting families with young children to wade in this popular swim area. 

Where to camp nearby:

The Inkwells, West Marin. Photo by AnonymousEditor95, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. The Inkwells, West Marin

How to access: Drive along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard just east of Samuel P. Taylor State Park. From the parking lot by Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area near Shafter Bridge, follow the small dirt path down to Lagunitas Creek. 

What to expect: The Inkwells are named after their inky-black appearance and are a great pit stop after a day trip exploring Samuel P. Taylor State Park. In this North Bay location, Kent Lake flows into Lagunitas Creek and fills the natural dark stone pools here with freshwater. The three pools can get deep enough for cliff jumping from the nearby rocks—at your own risk. The water is on the colder side, even in summer, so brace yourself for a chilling dip. 

Where to camp nearby: 

Photo by Hipcamper Sabrina Xx at Windsor Family Farm near Henry W. Coe State Park

7. China Hole, Henry W. Coe State Park

How to access: The round-trip hike to China Hole is about 10 miles long. Start at Corral Trail, turn right at Springs Trail, and follow it until you reach Manzanita Point Road. Turn right and follow the road to the trailhead for Madrone Soda Springs near the Manzanita Point campground. Hike down the steep and slippery path to the creekbed, continuing onto Mile Trail until you reach China Hole Trail. The path toward Coyote Creek opens up to China Hole.

What to expect: Not to be confused with China Beach in San Francisco and China Camp State Park near San Rafael, China Hole in Henry W. Coe State Park is a small swimming hole that rewards hikers after a trek through chaparral and woodlands. The natural swimming pool itself is only about 20 feet wide but can get up to 8 feet deep. Relax on the sandy beach and flat boulders before finishing the loop trail—don’t miss the remnants of the old Madrone Soda Springs Resort, a health spa from a bygone era, on the way back. 

Where to camp nearby: 

Photo by Hipcamper Greg Saunders at Winery Camping near Del Valle Regional Park

8. Del Valle Regional Park, Livermore

How to access: Both swimming beaches at Del Valle Regional Park—10 miles south of Livermore—are easily accessible by vehicle with large parking lots.  

What to expect: The regional park’s namesake Lake Del Valle stretches 5 miles long and boasts several quiet bays and coves. Find both the east and west swimming beaches near the southern end of this freshwater lake. These designated swim areas are staffed by lifeguards in summer, and the east beach area has public restrooms too. 

Year-round swimming is allowed north of the boat dock, but no lifeguard is on duty here. Part of the East Bay Regional Park District in Alameda County, the man-made Lake Del Valle is equally popular among camping, boating, and fishing enthusiasts as it is with swimmers wading in its pristine waters. 

Where to camp nearby: 

How to leave it better at Bay Area swimming holes

Cooling off from the summer heat in clear waters can be a real treat, but it’s not a unique idea. Many of the best Bay Area lakes and swimming holes in Northern California can experience overcrowding during warmer months. That’s why it’s essential to practice proper etiquette so everyone can enjoy these natural gems. 

Respect other people’s space, avoid loud music that could disrupt the tranquility of the serene swimming areas, and follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace. As respectful campers, it’s our collective responsibility to keep these natural Bay Area swimming pools beautiful and accessible for generations to come. When we leave them better than we found them, it’s easy to return for another refreshing dip next summer. 

Cool off this summer

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer and content creator. Over his nearly two decades of experience, he has covered everything from consumer technology to travel and parenthood. A founding member of Five Dads Go Wild (#5DadsGoWild), Michael has written for POPSUGAR, Angi, Invest Surrey, Tourism Richmond, LoveToKnow Media, and British Columbia Mom. He has been featured by CBC News, Huffington Post, and The Good Men Project. Fueled by caffeine and wifi, Michael lives in Metro Vancouver with his wife and two children.

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