Philly has more free, outdoor public pools than any city in the country and lucky for us pool season kicks off this week. To help you cool off this summer Community Contributor Mica Root offers this beginner’s guide and appreciation of our city’s public pools. You can use the map below to find a pool near you. And for more, you can read Mica’s stories and explorations of Philly’s public pools on her blog, Swimming Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s 75 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, which is at so many times and in so many places (including and especially our playgrounds and rec centers) starving, and yet summer after summer makes this intense investment in the health and happiness of its people.
Many people’s work goes into this gift. There are 800 lifeguards and Pool Maintenance Assistants who staff the pools; plumbers fill them; facilities corps clean them out. Rec leaders at each location recruit, hire, train and supervise pool staff anew each year (alongside running summer camps and providing nearly three million free summer meals to kids who need them). Lifeguard instructors Larry, Thelma, Herb, Peg, Will, Doris, Alex, and Christina drill into people how to save lives. And from a small, windowless office in the Municipal Services Building, Lisa and Donna coordinate the whole stupendous operation with a smile. I, for one, am very grateful. If you are reading this, I suspect you probably are too.
Pool season starts tomorrow and will be gone before we know it. Here are some tips for people new to Philly’s glorious pool 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, Anderson, 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: This summer, Francisville will host the first iteration of the Pop-Up Pool Project, which will bring shade, seating and other such luxuries to our concrete pool decks. When I worked at O’Connor (“The Country Club,” as some call it) in the summer of 2013, I met families from Jersey for whom it was more affordable to cross the bridge than go to one of the fee-pools on the far side of the Delaware.
Lincoln, Pickett, Sayre Morris and Carousel House:
Four of the five remaining indoor pools, all are open year-round. The first three are in or next to the schools that share their names in Northeast, Northwest and West Philly, respectively. Carousel House, near Kelly in West Fairmount Park, specifically serves people with disabilities. (Our fifth indoor pool, Hartranft, at the eponymous school in North Philly, is only open in the summer and even then keeps odd hours.)
When to go:
Right now. And in every free moment you have. By which I mean: From today until mid-August, when the pools will close for the season.
Monday-Friday 11am-7pm and Saturday-Sunday 12-5pm – keeping in mind that not all hours are open admission; most pools follow something like the following schedule but your best bet for accurate, location-specific information is to ask the staff on site.
- 11am-1pm: Camp swim (for camps/organized groups that have made arrangements to use the pool during this time)
- 1-4pm: Open swim
- 4-5pm: Swim lessons/swim team (pool staff run free lessons and swim teams for kids – if you’re interested, inquire at your local pool as soon as it opens, as space is limited – and this time is reserved for that)
- 5-6pm: Family swim (people under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult)
- 6-7pm: Adult swim (no one under 18 allowed)
- 12-4pm: Open swim or family swim
- 4-5pm: Adult swim
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:
Swim attire and only swim attire into the water. 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.