Hero photo by Adam Franco
Even though the summer season in San Francisco is often various shades of gray, there is still that palpable feeling that the sun is shining gloriously very close by. Pictures of your friends diving off massive boulders into crystal clear water or having impossibly perfect riverside picnics start popping up in your social media feeds. Visions of inner tubes that look like giant, beer-holding doughnuts and rainbow Mexican blankets covered in half eaten deli sandwiches start invading your thoughts while you’re at work. If your pallor is beginning to match the office walls, or you’re growing a strong desire to break out that big red cooler you’ve been using for storage since last year, it’s probably time for a summer swimming adventure. Here are some of the best (and lesser-known) swimming holes in the Bay Area and slightly beyond. (Don’t freak out – your super secret ones are still secret.)
Russian River "Secret Spot", Healdsburg
Redwood Drive (at North Finch Mountain Road)
Photo by Steve Wilhelm
Sometimes the crowds at the Russian River can be kind of spring break-y, which can be fun, but if you want a little more quiet, check out this hidden spot. There’s a little island you can float to and make your own, too. A public entrance is at the far eastside of Redwood Drive. Parking can be a slight challenge but worth it once you spread out your blanket on this secluded beach.
Uvas Canyon, Santa Clara
8515 Croy Road, Morgan Hill
Photo by Calwhiz
This tiny little park outside of San Jose has a few short and easy hikes and some gorgeous waterfalls. They are a little more impressive in the winter after some rain, but if you’re in the South Bay and want to duck in somewhere quick for some beautiful Oregon-esque nature and a brisk dip, this is your spot.
Garden of Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains
San Lorenzo River, Henry Cowell State Park
Photo by Leo Lee
This swimming hole is named Garden of Eden due to its unrivaled natural beauty, clear water, lush curtain of redwoods, and its often naked swimmers. Park at Ox Trail turnout on Hwy. 9, walk down the hill to the railroad tracks. Head south following the tracks for about 1/2 mile. Then, at the “pack your trash” signs, proceed down Eden trail. It’s a steep walk down but it’s heavenly.
University Falls, Auburn
Photo by Krystiana Brzuz
These falls are like nature’s Raging Waters without all the bussed-in massive groups of eighth graders. A few huge, clear pools separated by large smooth rocks that are essentially massive water slides – not one to miss. Getting to the spot involves a 2.5 mile unmarked hike, but it's worth it. (Detailed directions here.)
Clark's Hole, Auburn
Photo by Don Chaddock
Back in the early 1900s this was a huge swimming oasis for the masses, with food vendors and a lifeguard. Today it’s a giant gorgeous green swimming area under the tallest bridge in California. From I-80 in Auburn, go south on Hwy 49. After about 2 1/2 miles at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll come to an intersection where you go straight toward Foresthill. Park after 1/4 mile on the left. Walk across the bridge and make a left onto Lake Clementine Trail. After a little under a mile, go under the Foresthill Bridge and look for a spur trail on the left that goes down to the pool.
Photo by John Patten
Carlon Falls is located on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, outside of Yosemite National Park. It boasts a 30-foot waterfall running into a giant pool surrounded by lush ferns and tropical-looking wildflowers. It can be a little cool no matter what time of year you go but it’s worth it to go and pretend you’re in Jurassic Park. Take Evergreen Road, which starts a mile outside the park's Big Oak Flat entrance. About a mile in is a bridge over the Tuolumne River. There's a parking lot and bathroom on your right; the trail is on the right, on the farside of the bridge.
God's Bath, Sonora
Photo by Steve W Lee
With its towering boulder formations and deep blue pools, God’s Bath is a cliff jumper’s dream. A bit of a slightly difficult, 10-ish mile hike but well worth it. Wear good boots. God's Bath is a one-hour drive from Tuolumne, in Northern California. Black Oak Casino on Tuolumne Road North and Carter Road are nearby and easy to find, so you can use Black Oak Casino as a starting point. When you get to the casino, look for the Carter Road entrance. You can go only one direction on Carter Road as the other direction takes you into the casino parking lot. Take Carter Road to Buchanan Road and make a left. (Detailed directions here.)
Hoyt's Crossing, South Yuba
Photo by Gary Morgret
Hoyt Trail begins at the north end of the old Highway 49 bridge. It travels upstream about 1.2 miles to a beach and former river crossing called Hoyt. There are a few different trails to choose from that lead off the main trail to smaller secluded beaches, smooth, river water-sculpted granite cliffs, and pristine natural swimming pools.
Editor's note: Considering the drought situation this year, water levels may be a bit underwhelming compared to other years. We called enough parks to confirm that these spots would be water-y enough to be worth the trip, so go out and enjoy! (We also plotted all these spots on this map.)