Across Philadelphia, from deep South Philly to Germantown, West Philly to Port Richmond, Philadelphia operates 70 outdoor public pools for your cooling-down pleasure. That's the most of any city. And best of all, they're free. There are no catches. There are no secrets.
And yes, the water's perfectly clean.
The pools are open regularly: from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Each has its own hours of availability, but with one visit, you'll familiarize yourself with adult swims, swimming lessons, camp swims, and family time (although, you can also get all that info at phila.gov).
Philadelphia's lucky: No big city in America has a pool system like we do.
"We have the most per capita," says Lisa Whittle, aquatics coordinator in the city Parks & Recreation Department. "West Philly and North Philly are the most highly concentrated. In North Philly, you can stumble on a pool every couple blocks."
Sure, there are pools outside of the city, but some suburbanites are heading into Philly for a chance to splash around for free.
"I remember when I was working at O'Connor [2601 South St., 215-685-6593], there was a family that used to come over from New Jersey with a lot of kids," says Mica Root, founder of PhillyPublicPools.com. "It was cheaper for them to pay the toll and cross the bridge than to go to a pool in New Jersey."
Root has swum in every pool in the city, a mission she gave herself a few summers ago. "This is such an incredible resource that deserves more attention than it was getting," she said. "I wanted to celebrate it. I get very sad when the pools close."
The shining stars
Aquatics coordinator Whittle and her team have a nearly $2 million budget, and it's mostly for two things: hiring 400 lifeguards and 400 maintenance staff. The pools - which started opening June 19, with every pool open by July 1 - stay open for six to 10 weeks, depending on location. But, Whittle said, "we talk swimming pools all year-round."
Citywide, the pool system tracks about one million unique visitors for the summer, a great deal of them to some of the city's most popular pools. Kelly (4231 N. Concourse Dr.), near the Please Touch Museum, is the city's biggest. Kelly barely beats out North Philly's Hunting Park (900 W. Hunting Park Ave., 215-685-9153), a short walk from the Hunting Park Broad Street Line stop. Two other contenders for the city's "biggest" title are the Northeast's Vogt Pool and Cobbs Creek (280 Cobbs Creek Parkway, 215-685-1983) in West Philly, walkable from the 63d Street El station, with trolley stops close by.
But Whittle is the expert, right? She recommends Mander (33d and Diamond Streets, 215-685-3894). "There's a beautiful surrounding area, right in the middle of East Park," she said. She also gave a nod to Marian Anderson, slightly hidden by the rec center of the same name, at 17th and Catharine. "It's a hidden gem," she said, "a very large pool, where you have everyone swimming together."
Sweetening the deal
The Francisville pool (1737 Francis St., 215-685-2762) got fancy this year due to Ben Bryant, an urban planner who works in Camden and lives in South Philly with his wife and young son. He received a $300,000 Knight Foundation grant for a pop-up pool. What does that mean? Extended hours (until 9 p.m.) and free yoga starting at 7:15 p.m. Monday. The grant also bought Adirondack chairs, palm trees, and artificial turf that gussy up Francisville.
"I saw the Knight Cities Challenge on Facebook, and I was feeling particularly ambitious at the time," Bryant said. "It's not going to take me too long to write it, and I'll never hear anything about it again."
He was wrong.
As a finalist, Bryant went to the Parks & Recreation Department, and they decided on Francisville. "We were able to do it and come together," Bryant said, "because [the city was] so willing to experiment and be a part of this process."
Yes, the pools are clean
Despite the sheer number of pools, most Philadelphians just don't know what they have in their own backyards.
Bryant said most people he talked to didn't know the pools existed or thought they needed a membership. Not so. "Or they ask, 'Well, is it clean?' "
Pools are regularly inspected by the Health Department. Maintenance staff also check and document the pool's cleanliness every hour. Whittle says pools have never been shut down due to low chlorine.
There are outdoor showers at pools, too, in which swimmers are encouraged to rinse off before taking a dip.
So, yes, the pools are definitely clean.
Outside the city limits?
Don't worry, you can swim, too, but you might have to shell out a couple of bucks.
There are gorgeous pools in New Jersey, namely Roberts Pool (215 Hillcrest Ave., Collingswood, 856-854-2332) and Crystal Lake Pool (Crystal Lake and Park Avenues, Haddon Township, 856-854-9229). Roberts has a $10 cover for Collingswood residents and a $20 day band for those who don't call Collingswood home. (The whole summer will run you $250 for residents and $500 for nonresidents.) Day passes at Crystal Lake are similar - $5 for residents, $20 for everyone else.
Bucks County and beyond is bursting with gorgeous parks that have public pools, but they all similarly require a fee. The Nockamixon State Park (1542 Mountain View Dr., Quakertown, 215-529-7300) has a day-swim rate of $3 to $15 for residents and $3 to $20 for nonresidents. The Oxford Valley pool (445 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, 215-949-2975) is a stunner, too ($5.50 to $6.25 for Bucks County residents; $10.50 to $12 for outsiders). Marsh Creek State Park (675 Park Rd., Downingtown, 610-458-5119) in Chester County is the same. And don't forget gorgeous French Creek State Park (843 Park Rd., Elverson, 610-582-9680).