Unless you’re getting your AC fix by standing in front of stores with their doors open illegally, squatting in friends’ central air apartments, or crafting your own makeshift “freezer fan” version, beating the heat in New York can be brutal on your energy bill. But while you can splurge on $75-a-day hotel pools to escape a hot apartment, note that Olympic-sized outdoor pools are all over the five boroughs and ready for action, and they’re free. No seriously, they’re completely free.
There are some catches: you won’t be able to bring your iPhone on deck, you’ll need to bring a lock for a locker, and you'll have to adhere to pool hours, which get funky with midday breaks. But a dip in a sparkling panacea of cooling goodness is still an improvement on the four-inches-of-cold-bathwater technique, right? Check out the full range of public pools on the NYC.gov website (there are SO many), but if you’re looking for the tried and true best of the free-and-cheap best, these are our picks; as always, leave yours in the comments.
Public Pools (Free, open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., starting June 29th):
KOSCIUSZKO POOL: This pool has a lot going for it: a lap area, a kiddie pool, and unlike many of the pools on this list, shade: the concrete bleachers have a roof so you can escape the sun between dips. It’s also Olympic sized, so even at its busiest and most teenager-riddled, you’ll find a spot to jump in. Bathers report that this pool is surprisingly clean and orderly—dare we say moreso than some trendier offerings?
Kosciuszko Pool is located at Marcy Avenue between DeKalb Avenue & Kosciuszko Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. (718-622-5271, nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy Atomische * Tom Giebel's flickr
SUNSET PARK POOL: If you’re looking to make a day of your pool trip, Sunset Park Pool is your spot. Pack a lunch to feast on in the nearby tree-lined park, play a game of beach volleyball on the free court, or lie on a sunbed in between laps in the Olympic-sized pool. There’s no separate pool for kiddies/wading, but if you’re hoping to avoid toddlers in general, that may be a plus. Be sure to grab a view of Lower Manhattan from the hill on your way home.
Sunset Park Pool is located at Seventh Avenue between 41st and 44th Streets in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. (718-972-2180, nycgovparks.org).
Photograph by Katie Sokoler/Gothamist
MCCARREN POOL: Briefly a beloved music venue, this recently renovated (in 2012) pool also has an outdoor beach volleyball pit, plus a kiddie pool and sprinklers, and 8 lanes of lap swimming space. It can be a trek to get to, as is the case with most places off the G train, but if you live in the neighborhood or in Williamsburg and want to spring for a rec center membership, McCarren Park could also be your jam: indoor volleyball, cardio machines, and even a computer lab can make for a perfect indoor/outdoor Saturday.
McCarren Park Pool is located at 776 Lorimer Street between Bayard Street and Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy Adrian Cabrero's flickr
ASTORIA POOL: You really can’t beat the beautiful view of the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge at Astoria Park Pool (fun fact: both were finished in the same year, in 1936). But if that doesn’t do it for you, note that this is the largest pool in New York City at 330 feet long—so large, in fact, that it hosted the women’s Olympic Trials in 1936, and both men’s and women’s Olympic Trials in 1964. The pool also offers free swimming lessons, and once the diving pool is finished being filled in, it may soon boast a performance space too.
Astoria Park Pool is located at 19th Street at 23rd Avenue in Astoria, Queens. (718-626-8620, nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy Jenna Bascom's flickr
TONY DAPOLITO POOL: This is one of the few free pools in the city that still has a diving tank! (Most other pools built in the ‘30s have since had theirs filled in to make wading pools. The others are John Jay Park in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, Fort Totten Park in Bayside, Queens, and Joseph H. Lyons Pool in Staten Island, in case you were wondering).
Tony Dapolito is a bit smaller than most WPAs (pools built during the Depression-Era Works Progress Act), but that lends an intimate “backyard” feel to the space that also enjoys precious shade from the inner-city location. Showboating divers are built-in entertainment, while a 1987 Keith Haring mural provides an artistic touch. Check out the recreation center for indoor activities, including arts and crafts, handball, table tennis, volleyball, a track, and a second pool.
The Tony Dapolito Recreation Center is located at 1 Clarkson St at Seventh Ave South in Greenwich Village. (212-242-5228, nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy Jeffrey Bary's flickr
FLOATING LADY POOL: This Bronx pool is another spot on the list with a great view, since it's actually on a barge on the East River. Bodyofwaterception! It’s a bit of a hike from the nearest train (you’ll probably need BX6 bus to get there), but nearby picnic areas (11 acres of ‘em) a man-made beach, and an amphitheater can help you make a worthwhile day of your visit.
The Barretto Point Floating Pool is located at Tiffany Street and Viele Avenue in the Bronx. (718-430-4601, nycgovparks.org).
Via NYC Parks
RED HOOK POOL: This is one of the few WPA pools to allow lane swimming during open swim, so if you like laps (and don’t mind the odd 40 meter width to count them in), this is a great option. Sneak a ride on the Ikea bus to get there, and reap the full benefits of the food trucks that tend to park outside. There’s also a rec center for use with a membership for rainy days, which houses a cardio room, indoor/outdoor basketball courts, computer center, and pool table.
The Red Hook Recreation Center is located at Bay Street at Henry Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (718-722-3211, nycgovparks.org).
CROTONA POOL: This Bronx pool is the largest in the borough at 300 feet long, but it really makes the cream of the crop list for the park it’s surrounded by: 20 tennis courts, 5 baseball diamonds, playgrounds, handball, baseball, a nature center and a lake all make for one long, sun drenched, sweaty, happy, free summer day.
Crotona Pool is located at 173rd Street at Fulton Avenue in the Bronx. (718-822-4440, nycgovparks.org).
JOHN JAY POOL: This pool is about half the length of Astoria Park at 145 feet, but features a diving board and plenty of trees around its perimeter, plus a basketball court, nautical-themed playground, and a lovely view of the East River from the pool deck. Swimmer capacity is low and often met, so arrive promptly (shoot for 10 a.m.) to make sure you get in. You can also come early for “early bird” lap swim (7 a.m.-8:30 a.m.) or late for the night owl hours (7 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.)
John Jay Pool is located at East of York Avenue on 77th St. on the Upper East Side. (718-822-4440, nycgovparks.org).
SPORTSPARK ON ROOSEVELT ISLAND: A short, scenic tram-ride over the East River will get you to an indoor pool you can access for just $7 a day (that’s as a non-resident—residents of Roosevelt Island get in for a five-spot). It’s within walking distance from both the tram and the F train, and offers beautiful views of Manhattan on your way back into the city.
Sportspark is located at 250 Main St on Roosevelt Island. (212-832-4514, rioc.ny.gov).
(Courtesy of K&Co and Pliskin Architecture)
MANHATTAN PARK POOL ON ROOSEVELT ISLAND: This isn’t so much a pool as it is an art installation. Painted with 60 gallons of paint by Andrew Frais and entitled “Block Party,” the pop-up pool is part of an ongoing project with K&Co and Pliskin Architecture which commissions street artists. (Last year’s Rainbow Pool iteration was by Minneapolis artist HOT TEA entitled “Asylum,” and made a cameo in a Jamie Foxx video). Because the pool is at a private apartment complex and is basically art, it’s a little on the pricey side: a day pass to the Manhattan Park club is $35 on weekdays and $50 on the weekend. But that’s a small price to pay for infinite Insta opportunity.
Manhattan Park Pool is located at 30 River Road on Roosevelt Island. (212-308-4040, manhattanpark.com)
Courtesy Battery Park City Authority
COMMUNITY CENTER AT STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL: It’s hard to beat a $15-per-day pool rate in Manhattan anyway, but this half-Olympic sized, 6-lane facility in Battery Park City throws in a gym, basketball courts, and classes in everything from badminton to tai chi to boot.
The Community Center at Stuyvesant High School is located at 345 Chambers St., Battery Park City. (212-267-9700, bpcparks.org).
SPA CASTLE: This pool’s not really intended for laps, but if you just want a dip while working on your tan, spring for a $40 day pass—it covers a full day of saunas, spa pools, kiddie pools, “waterfalls,” lounges with wifi, and sprinklers for less than a dinky, dirty hotel that shall not be named would charge you to get your feet wet.
Spa Castle is located at 131-10 11th Avenue at 31st Street in College Point, Queens. (718-939-6300, ny.spacastleusa.com).
Visiting a pool on this list? Read Gothamist’s guide to enjoying NYC’s free public pools and don’t forget to bring a towel!
Cathy is a Brooklyn-based writer with strong opinions on subway etiquette. Follow her here.