California watering hole

7 Best Swimming Holes in California

California’s glorious 1,100-mile coastline gets all the attention when the sun comes out. But for an alternative way to keep cool, why not consider taking the plunge into a natural pool instead? California is brimming with them, from sprawling lakes to historic pools. To help you find the best, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite swimming holes in California.

Seven Best Swimming Holes in California

1. Cedar Creek Falls, San Diego

San Diego’s most famous swimming hole is around 45 minutes from the city.  It requires a challenging 3-mile uphill hike to get there, but that just makes the first dip even sweeter. The trail starts in Ramona and winds around backcountry hills, offering sparkling views of the high desert landscape. You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction when you spot that spectacular waterfall plunging 80-feet to the freshwater pool below.

It’s best to do this hike before June, as the pool usually dries up by the end of the month.

California swimming hole

2. Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta

Drive out west for the warmer waters of Whiskeytown Lake. Named after the gold rush mining town beneath it, the mountain lake offers 36-miles of immaculate coastline — plenty of space for picnicking, reading and catching the best of the summer rays. It’s a popular spot for fishing, and sporty types can rent out kayaks and paddleboards too.

California watering hole

3. Standish-Hickey Swimming Hole, Mendocino

One for adrenaline-junkies, Standish-Hickey Swimming Hole is deep enough to jump into from the nearby rocks. Located along California’s North Coast, it’s located inside the Recreation Park, buried deep amongst the world-famous Redwood Trees. The site is actually home to the tallest Redwood, the 225-foot Captain Miles Standish Tree, which is estimated to be more than 1200 years old. You’ll find the swimming hole at the bottom of the shimmering emerald green stretch of the Eel River.

If sunbathing and the occasional paddle is more your style, there’s plenty of room for that too.

4. Clark’s Hole, Auburn

A popular swimming hole since the early twentieth century, Clark’s Hole has been cooling visitors off in the height of summer for over a century. While there are no longer food vendors and lifeguards, the giant green swimming area is still popular with locals.

It’s a short 0.6-mile hike to the hole along the Lake Clemintine Trail, easy enough for the laziest of us.

Swimming hole California

5. Russian River Secret Spot, Healdsburg

It’s hardly a secret nowadays, but the Russian River Secret Spot is still special. It’s more secluded than most of the holes on our list as it requires a steep – but mercifully short – hike to get there. There’s even a ‘secret’ island that you can swim out to.

It’s around an hours drive north of San Francisco to Healdsburg, but the town conveniently sits at the meeting point of three of California’s most famous wine valleys. Wine tasting anyone?

(Photo: Steve Wilhelm via Flickr/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

6. Lake Anza, Berkeley

Set in Berkeley Hills, Lake Anza is one of the best swimming holes in East Bay for families. It may be a man-made pool but it couldn’t be further from the chlorinated swimming alternative, thanks to its fresh water and natural beach. It’s open for swimming between May and September, with a buoyed area manned by lifeguards too. 

There are bathrooms and changing areas, so you can happily lounge here all day.

(Photo: Sharon Hahn via Flickr/ CC BY 2.0)

7. God’s Bath, Sonora

Another offering to get your heart-rate pumping, it’s a mighty 10-mile hike to God’s Bath but it’s worth the effort if you’re after seclusion. Deep blue pools and towering boulders make for a cliff jumper’s dream too. The current is strong due to the waterfall, but there are plenty of spots to float and paddle. Head to ‘the bath’, a five-foot tub of water next to the waterfall for a little respite. 

The swimming hole is located deep in Stanislaus National Forest, not too far from Sonora. 

California swimming holes

Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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