San Francisco – Everyday Insider! (TM) Trip 16

People visiting California do not realize that there is a huge difference in swimming at the beaches in Southern California and those in the San Francisco Bay Area!

The water is cold, up north. The ocean is far more active and there are rip-tide zones. The water is not as cold as in Oregon or Washington, but it’s still too cold to consider swimming in the ocean near San Francisco. People just don’t do it!

You will see surfers in wet-suits, but not swimmers. You can sun-bathe, when it’s not foggy, but the SF beaches are mostly for exercising your dog; taking in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean vistas or San Francisco Bay; going to tidepools; walking or running on the beach; having picnics in a sheltered spot and so on.

So where can you swim in San Francisco if your hotel has no pool or you’d rather be able to meet the locals or take a dip during sightseeing in other parts of the city?

Well, there used to be a wonderful, world-class experience and I’ll tell you about that first, and then make suggestions about where to swim today.

Fleishhacker Pool

Fleishhacker Pool was a really special place, and it was located right next to the San Francisco Zoo for 47 years.That’s why I am including it in this portion of your 49Mile Scenic Drive.

It still existed when I came to visit, and later reside, in San Francisco and as it was a salt water pool, near the ocean,  it was a way to feel like you were having that sea experience.

Its history includes also being used by movie stars of the 1920’s and 1930’s such as Johnny Weismuller (an Olympian and the 2nd Tarzan) and Esther Williams (renowned diver and synchronized swimmer).

The pool was so large that lifeguards used wooden row boats to make their way across!

It was also used by the military for drills and exercises.

Yes, the pool holds fond memories for many San Franciscans, who to this day, can recall when they swam in this colossal pool

It began when philanthropist and civic leader Herbert Fleishhacker built the world-renowned pool in 1924, after the 30 acres of land for it and the SF Zoo were purchased from the Spring Valley Water Company. Fleishhacker led the Park Commission. The pool opened on April 23, 1925.

The Fleishhacker Pool at 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide was the largest pool in the United States.

There was also a diving pool measuring 50 feet square and 14 feet deep, with a tiered diving tower.

The main pool had the amazing capacity of 6 million gallons and could accommodate 10,000 swimmers!

Salt water was pumped into the pool at high tide (through a pipeline from the nearby ocean) and then it was pumped out at low tide. It had 3 or 4 pools, and some were heated.

Fleishhacker Pool closed in 1971, when the physical plant needed so much refurbishment, that the City decided they could no longer afford it. Such a huge shame, and I think a poor decision, especially in the days when AIDS became rampant in the city.

The pool area was filled with gravel and then paved over for a parking lot near the Zoo.

Violinist Isaac Stern remembers the Fleishhacker Pool being a great meeting place, and that his family coordinated a swim and then a Sunday picnic nearby in Golden Gate Park, one of the largest and most beautiful urban parks in the country.

To this day, I remember the sound of the foghorn and the rich sea scent of the fog as it rolls into the Bay Area over this beach from the Pacific. That stretch of nearby beach, northwards to GG Park and beyond, is also where the large amusement park used to be, along with historic Sutro Baths near Seal Rocks (which are still there, of course).

Where to Swim Today, in San Francisco:

You can still have a nearby swim on the way to Golden Gate Park, just in a slightly different neighborhood. Like the one near the Zoo, this is a good neighborhood, so you should find everything clean and well maintained at the City of San Francisco North Beach Pool.

About 3 years ago the pool had an extensive $7.5 million renovation.  North Beach Pool is the city’s sleekest public watering spot. Two parallel 90-foot pools are housed in a low-slung, luxury-liner-style space of aqua-green mosaic tiles. It has a retractable skylight and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the Joe DiMaggio Playground, (named for him, as this was his neighborhood – from whence he went to play baseball for the New York Yankees, and to which he returned when his legendary career ended in retirement and marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe).

At the center, there’s even a dry sauna available for post-swim resuscitation and detox. (People with heart conditions and high blood pressure need permission from their doctors to use saunas.)

The cold pool (76 degrees) is used exclusively by lap swimmers and the warm pool (85 degrees) is for swimming lessons (adult and child); of course Summer is high season for lessons.

Water aerobics, special-needs programs,  recreational backstroking and dog-paddling are also sometimes available.

Admission is $4 ($5 if you’re taking a class), $1-$2 for kids.

North Beach Pool – Schedule and Information
Lombard & Mason
San Francisco, CA 94101
Neighborhood: North Beach/Telegraph Hill
(415) 391-0407

There is still a saltwater heated pool, with great natural light, at Sports Club, LA (membership required) and the  Club One at Yerba Buena is outdoors and in an inviting location.

Sava Public Pool – over near the Zoo, is another large public pool.

Enjoy your visit!

San Francisco Archive

©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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