A version of this article appeared on PlanPhilly in 2015.
Philadelphia’s 70+ indoor and outdoor public swimming pools represent our city at its best.
Sure, there are some that could be more welcoming or better maintained. There are moments when rules or hours could be conveyed more clearly. There are, by all reports, near-daily instances of the people tasked with running them wanting to bury their heads in their hands and not look up again until fall.
That said: The pools are also places of unbridled glee. They are oases of relief. They are a gift from our city.
Here are some tips for people new to this glorious, heat-relieving system. Welcome!
Where to go
The best pool in the city is the one closest to your house, from where you can pad home in just a bathing suit and towel. (Find yours using the map below.) The second-best is the one in a neighborhood that interests you but that you never seem to have a reason to visit. And then there are the really big pools, the gateway pools, and the year-round pools:
- Kelly and Hunting Park:
Kelly Pool is a treasure. With well-mowed lawns, gates set far back from the water’s edge, and the dome and arches of Memorial Hall as a backdrop, I think it’s the most beautiful pool we’ve got. I also think it’s the biggest, though Barry who used to work at Hunting Park told me that Parks and Rec officials told him that Hunting Park Pool is one inch longer.
- O’Connor, Ridgway, Sacks, Northern Liberties and Francisville:
Around the edges of Center City, these six pools have both served families for generations and more recently been adopted by people who came to Philly’s public pools as adults. Some of them are true destinations.
- Lincoln, Pickett and Carousel House:
These indoor pools, all are open year-round. Lincoln and Pickett are in or next to the schools that share their names and Carousel House, near Kelly in West Fairmount Park, specifically serves people with disabilities. Sayre Morris, another indoor pool, is closed for construction this summer.
When to go
Right now. And in every free moment you have. By which I mean: From now until mid-August, when the pools will close for the season.
Pools operate Monday through Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. this summer, until further notice. But your best bet for accurate, location-specific information is to ask the staff on site and to check the city’s official website.
What to do
What can’t you do at our pools? Well. Actually…
Pool rules preclude many activities, including dunking, diving, eating, drinking, taking pictures of children, and wearing goggles that cover your nose. There are many rules. Most of them concern health and safety. None of them were created by the people asking you to follow them. And really, the list of activities you can do is much longer. Swim. Float. Loll. Stretch. Water-walk. People-watch. Look up at the sky and take a deep breath in gratitude. Etc.
What to wear
The Parks & Recreation department has strict rules around attire. You can only wear swim attire in the water. Wear clothes you don’t mind leaving on the ground while you swim.
Two things to keep in mind: It’s not always easy to change on-site, so wearing your bathing suit to the pool can be a good move. Many pools (although not most of those mentioned above) request that you leave your clothes and belongings outside the pool gate – I’ve never had anything stolen, but I keep this set-up in mind in deciding what to have with me.