Don’t get us wrong, we love the Pacific for its dramatic beauty, but the rough surf and frigid waters aren’t exactly swimmer-friendly. So we found six spots within driving distance of the city where the temps are hot and the water is perfect for cooling off.
Jones Bar, Nevada City
In this rustic setting, you’ll find three lovely green pools dotted with boulders that are perfect for reading a good book while lying in the sun. Cool off in the clear water, which you’ll likely have all to yourself—the short but steep hike to get here deters crowds.
Bass Lake, Point Reyes
Protected from the chilly coast in Point Reyes is this idyllic lake bordered by trees and rolling hills. You’ll have to hike about three miles in (watch out for poison oak), but once you get there, you’ll have all afternoon to float on a raft or test out the rope swing at this unofficial swimming spot.
Rainbow Pools, Groveland
Just off the side of the road before you reach the gate into Yosemite National Park is a treasure that summer travelers have been frequenting since the 1920s. The area used to be a toll road stop, and there was even a lodge up on the cliff with a diving board into the largest of the three pools. It’s popular with locals, so expect crowds, but there’s still plenty of room for everyone to sun themselves on the surrounding rocks.
Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness
The biggest in a system of pristine alpine lakes in the backcountry of Desolation Wilderness, Lake Aloha has crystal clear water that is very cold (blame the surrounding snowmelt). If you’re brave enough, it’s an invigorating dip; otherwise, enjoy the view from your perch on a slab on the rocky shore. Be warned: It’s a 6.7-mile hike in, but a water taxi shortens the trip.
China Hole, Henry W. Coe State Park
If you’re the type who likes long hikes on summer days, then this is the trip for you. From the South Bay’s Henry W. Coe State Park, you’ll start your ten-mile round-trip journey, but the challenging climb through chaparral and creek-side woodlands is worth the mid-hike reward: a secluded swimming hole with a small sandy beach and big, flat boulders for lounging.
Oregon Creek, Yuba River
Talk about secluded. You’ll have to hunt for this swimming hole, but if you can find it, your own private waterfall awaits. There is even a series of mini whirlpools created by the falls. Look for a white road marker with the number 101 on it. Then park by the big dirt hump and walk about a quarter mile down a well-maintained trail to Oregon Creek.