Thursday, June 27, marks the opening of all New York City’s outdoor public pools, and they’ll stay that way through Labor Day. When the sweltering heat moves in, these pools become the coolest — and freest — way to spend an afternoon in the city. Public pools often attract crowds on weekends, but if you can sneak away on a weekday afternoon you’ll find most locations to be blissfully empty.
In order to have a pleasant experience, you have to follow the city’s very exacting rules. You’ll likely be asked to show your padlock, bathing suit (men’s suits need mesh linings) and swim diaper (if you have young children) before even being allowed to enter the poolhouse. You must shower before entering the pool deck. The only items that can be brought onto the deck are water in plastic bottles, flip-flops or water shoes, sunscreen, a towel, a white T-shirt, a hat and a bound book or periodical. There are also some nos: no cell phones or cameras, no water toys, no alcoholic beverages, no pets and no diving. Many pools also prohibit touching in the pool unless you’re assisting small children. For the complete list, see the official rules online (nycgovparks.org/facility/pools/rules). Once you’ve got those down, slap on some sunscreen, hit the streets of New York, and explore the water works in your own backyard.
Upper Manhattan’s Best Pool: Lasker Pool in Central Park
Mid-Park between 106th and 108th streets; open daily 11am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm; 212-534-7639; centralpark.com/guide/attractions/lasker-pool-rink.html
Central Park’s only pool, located in the northern end of the park between 106th and 108th streets, overlooks the scenic Harlem Meer. It includes both a wading pool for children and an Olympic-sized swimming pool, with a deck, concession stand and lockers. Check the website for free swim programming — swimming lessons for kids and a lap swimming program for adults. In the winter months, the Parks Department converts this space into a hockey rink. It’s the only convertible site like it in the entire city.
Lower Manhattan’s Best Pool: Outdoor Pool at Asser Levy Recreation Center
392 Asser Levy Pl.; open daily 11am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm; 212-447-2020; nycgovparks.org/facilities/recreationcenters/M164
The Asser Levy Rec Center includes a fitness room, outdoor basketball and handball courts, and an indoor and outdoor pool. Access to the rec center is only open to members, but the outdoor pool is free and open to the public. It includes a wading pool and an intermediate pool. The historic bathhouse building, designed with separate entrances for men and women, was built in 1904 and is now landmarked. It was modeled on the bathhouses of Ancient Rome. Back then, this site served as a public bathhouse for the people who lived in the Lower East Side tenements and did not have bathtubs, but now it attracts both families and more serious swimmers in the neighborhood.
The Bronx’s Best Pool: Floating Pool at Baretto Point Park
Viele Avenue between Tiffany and Barretto streets; open daily 11am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm; 718-430-4601; nycgovparks.org/parks/barrettopointpark/facilities/pools
Known affectionately as the “Floating Pool Lady,” this seven-lane pool is located on a barge off of Baretto Point Park. The park, in the gritty industrial neighborhood of Hunt’s Point, is a remote but popular waterfront park in the city and worth the trek. (A special daily MTA shuttle bus delivers swimmers from the Hunts Point Ave. 6 stop to the pool hourly.) The 25-meter pool holds 170 swimmers and looks out onto the city, the Rikers Island jail and an abandoned smallpox hospital. Outside the pool and in the park, you’ll find plenty of amenities such as a kayak launch, fishing pier, playgrounds and an outdoor amphitheater.
Queen’s Best Pool: Astoria Park Pool
19th Street and 23rd Drive; open daily 11 am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm; 718-626-8620; nycgovparks.org/parks/AstoriaPark/facilities/pools
Astoria Park Pool is the oldest, and largest, in the entire city. The pool complex, envisioned by Robert Moses, opened in 1936 and remains a mecca for all levels of swimmers. The gigantic main pool is 330 feet in length and can accommodate 3,000 people — meaning there’s plenty of room for swimmers to relax and float around. The complex also features a diving pool and a wading pool. Guests can relax on the elevated bleachers, after a visit to the snack bar, to take the whole scene in: the historic art deco bathing house, the many families enjoying the pool, and the Triboro Bridge soaring over the East River in the background.
North Brooklyn’s Best Pool: McCarren Park Pool
Lorimer Street, between Driggs Avenue and Bayard Street; open daily 11am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm; 718-965-6580; mccarrenpark.com
The McCarren Park Pool has a fascinating history behind it. The Parks Department built the pool back in 1936, and it was used as a bathhouse until 1984. It sat abandoned until 2005, when the empty pool basin became home to concerts and movies for the growing hipster population of Williamsburg. Then the city decided to restore the pool to its former glory and spent $50 million rebuilding the bathhouses, restoring the entry arch, and constructing a brand-new recreation center. It reopened in the summer of 2012. The pool is a massive 37,950 square feet, holds eight lap lanes, and fits a total of 1,500 swimmers. Despite the massive size, this pool can get packed on a hot summer weekend.
South Brooklyn’s Best Pool: Sol Goldman Pool at the Red Hook Recreation Area
Entrance on Bay Street between Clinton and Henry streets; open daily 11am – 3pm, 4 – 7pm with adult lap swim from 7 – 8:30am and 7pm – 8:30 pm or dusk; 718-722-3211; nycgovparks.org/parks/redhookpark/facilities/pools
Red Hook, the historic waterfront neighborhood in South Brooklyn, is the perfect place to take a dip. Named after one of the major landlords of New York City history, the Sol Goldman Pool is part of a larger recreation area that includes lots of green grass and water views. At the pool, a gate separates the Olympic-sized pool from the baby pool, making this a great pool destination for families with little tykes. The baby pool also features fountains and colorful bleachers for parents to watch from the side. For the serious swimmers, there’s some extra adult lap time before and after the daily pool hours, which makes this spot a little less crowded during peak times. On weekends, check out the Red Hook food vendors who set up shop less than a block away.