Humans were meant to swim. As proof, I cite the throngs of people willing to expose their bodies, share confined spaces, and smell of sunscreen and chlorine, all for the sake of a dip on a hot summer day.
Swimming is, of course, not limited to pools, but they remain the conventional destination for folks to beat the heat. More dedicated aquaphiles may endure a hike to reach more hallowed grounds, and still others choose to pay a premium for the chance to be left alone. Whatever your druthers may be, there’s nothing like submerging yourself in a body of water before the rain starts to fall and washes away any desire to swim.
I explored some of the top swimming spots in (mostly) San Anselmo and Fairfax and offer up my picks to you: the San Rafael Racquet Club, Drake High School, Sleepy Hollow Clubhouse and Bass Lake.
San Rafael Racquet Club (B-)
This posh club, located at the border of San Anselmo and San Rafael at the top of Forbes Avenue, is pretty to the eye but painful on the wallet. Full credit is due to their beautiful tennis courts, top-notch snack bar and elegant swimming facilities. However, you’ll probably need full credit to pay their $3,000 initiation fee plus monthly dues and other costs.
To me, acquainting swimming with luxury is blasphemy. The summer is about getting sand in your pockets, dunking your friends in the shallow end of the pool and not caring when your giant soft-serve cone starts dripping down your swim trunks. The problem at the Rafael Racquet Club is that with such a steep price tag, there is an inherited level of decorum I just can’t get behind. There is, however, a pretty sweet diving board, so be sure to score a day pass from a connected friend and get your cannonballs in.
Nestled in the quiet suburbia of Butterfield Road, the Sleepy Hollow Clubhouse is like the diet Rafael Racquet Club. Substantially cheaper, with simpler facilities but the same quality, this community club is simultaneously down-to-earth and upscale. Chock full of neighborhood kids, lounging parents and a laid-back, hamburgers on the grill vibe, the Sleepy Hollow Clubhouse is the .
For parents with kids, I’ll raise my grade to a solid “A”, but for younger patrons like me, the family atmosphere is somewhat stifling. Masses of screaming children have every right to be at their most obnoxious during a summer swim day, but I’m not sure that twenty and thirtysomethings sans offspring can really settle in.
At $5 per swim, the Drake High swimming pool is available to anyone willing to dig through their couch for change. A newly revamped pool is the gem of this swimming facility. Former students may be hesitant to return to campus, but the pros outweigh the cons in this case.
Standard facilities are available to swimmers, and the central location and non-exclusivity of this particular pool make it ideal for budget-conscious families or those eager to avoid the commitment of surrounding swim clubs.
It seems cruel to blame a pool for only being a pool, but, alas, the only downside to the Drake pool is a lack of anything else. Part of the swimming allure is the accompanying food, ping-pong and maybe some tunes -- all of which are noticeably absent from this bare-bones set-up.
Bass Lake (A+)
You’ll have to find your own way there (I recommend Google) but paradise is an hour west of San Anselmo. Once you’ve overcome the signless turn-off to Bolinas, you’re a leisurely hike away from the best swimming spot around.
A few quick tips: be parked at the end of the dirt road by 11 a.m. to maximize your day, stop at for deli sandwiches on your way out and use the facilities before embarking on this quest.
After beginning the trail along the coastline, your path turns inwards, passing scenic ponds and lush forest. Eventually, you reach Bass Lake, the mammoth body of water inaccessible by any means other than hiking or helicopter. The secluded nature of this secret gem makes it a haven for skinny dippers and other harmless troublemaking, but do not be dissuaded. Instead, leave your pack at the small clearing by the lake (there is no shore to speak of, just mud banks to the water’s edge) and make your way to the rope swing. This beacon of summer pleasure is an epitome of joy. Launching oneself 15 feet before plummeting down into pristine, nearly empty waters is a feeling I wish for everyone to enjoy.
We all love to swim. Nay, we need to swim. There is something inherently therapeutic about gliding through water that nothing else, expect maybe space travel, can reproduce. Assuming we are all without rocketships, we turn to swimming pools, lakes, the Inkwells – anything to give us a moment of respite from unforgiving temperatures and long days spent pining for the outdoors.
For those on a schedule, the Drake pool is a great way to get a cheap, efficient swim. But, anyone who can afford the time to make an excursion out to Bass Lake will know that for at least a few, fleeting hours, they lived the true spirit of summer.