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Open Water

We love pools. We need pools. We have pools.

pools spread

This article originally appeared in our July 2013 issue.

In his short story “The Swimmer,” author John Cheever uses the suburban pool to invoke the cruel passage of time in one man’s mistake-riddled life. Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate comically avoids adulthood in the depths of his parents’ pool. It’s no secret that swimming pools—and exposed skin, and wet hair, and crowds, and summer’s transformative qualities—have fired the romantic imagination since their invention 5,000 years ago, in what is now Pakistan.

Of course, the first purpose of any outdoor public pool is not to spark book ideas but to cool the sun’s searing blaze. In Atlanta, in July, swimming pools are survival.

Here’s a sweaty person’s guide to some of the best public-access outdoor pools in metro Atlanta.

Emory University Pool

1946 Starvine Way, Decatur, 404-712-2430, Website
The main attraction is the Olympic-sized (fifty-meter) pool with ten lap lanes, a shallow end the size of most community pools, and a deep end with one-meter and three-meter diving boards. There’s also a four-lane teaching pool, a kiddie pool, grills for parties, umbrellas and chairs, and loads of hot cement. Buy a fourteen-visit pass or membership and you’ll also have access to eight tennis courts (including two clay), a beach volleyball pit, outdoor basketball, a fitness center, locker rooms, and a snack bar. Park in the visitor section of the deck south of the entrance.
The Scene
Weekdays Camp kids. Bored students and parents with children. Swim lessons and swim team in late afternoons.
Weekends Kids, college students, and adults conquering high-dive fears. Lap lanes full. All lounge chairs taken. College students in skimpy swimsuits discussing “last night in the Highlands” while mothers cover their children’s ears.
Plan Ahead
Monday through Thursday nights, the lap lanes are reserved for Emory’s children’s swim team. If you visit during the weekdays before 4 p.m., you’ll need to buy a parking pass at the front desk or pay for the visitor section of the deck.
Hours and Cost
Through September 2: Monday–Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday noon–9 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–8 p.m. $100 for 14 visits. Kids 2 and under are free. Summer memberships start at $330 for individuals and $615 for families.

Chastain Park Pool

235 West Wieuca Road, 404-841-9196, Website
When you visit Chastain Park Pool, you visit more than just a clubhouse and body of water; you enter a slice of north Atlanta devoted to outdoor play. You’ll find all the sports of the country-club set (swim, golf, tennis, equestrian), but the area, and in particular the pool, sports a rustic, laid-back ambiance. The pool was built around 1940, but the past ten years have seen many upgrades, including new lounge chairs, an updated dressing room, and a landscaped play area. The pool layout is divided into a generous shallow end, ten lap lanes, and a deep end with a half-meter diving board. Grandstand seating is great for swim meets or creative lounging. Ask about the killer Fourth of July party.
The Scene
Crowded during weekends. Teens lying by the pool. Grade-school boys throwing balls. Adults quietly reading. Classic rock from the sound system. The earthy smell of horses from the nearby stables.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (free swim) and 12:30–5 p.m. (paid swim), Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (65 and over) $2. Memberships available.

Grant Park Pool

625 Park Avenue, 404-817-6757, Website
The Grant Park Pool, operated by a private company hired by the City of Atlanta, opens up like a blue mirage in the middle of this creative-class neighborhood’s lumbering green hills and trees. The fifty-meter chlorinated pool plays it simple: four and a half feet deep from end to end, custom-made for splashing, chicken fights, and more splashing. A long wave mural on the far wall is the spot to take pictures of young ones.
The Scene
Weekdays What’s known in the industry as “chill”—at least until word gets out.
Weekends A diverse mix of pool worshippers—Grant Park families, singles, and those who can’t get in to their friend’s loft pool.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 1:30–4 p.m. (free swim) and 4:30–8 p.m. (paid swim), Saturday–Sunday noon–8 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (50 and over) $2. Buy an annual pass and you can get in to other City of Atlanta pools. Resident annual pass: Adults $110, youth and seniors $65, families $245. Nonresident annual pass: Adults $185, youth and seniors $85, families $470.

Mountain Park Aquatic Center

1063 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain, 678-277-0870, Website
Gwinnett County is serious about its public-access, county-run pools. It offers nine aquatic centers, most of them with both indoor competitive-swim pools and outdoor “leisure pools” molded from the same family-friendly architectural theme. Mountain Park Aquatic Center accommodates the Stone Mountain crowd. The leisure pool features a shallow beach entry, dueling two-story curvy slides, a lazy river and whirlpool, and play areas for young kids (including a smaller tube slide). The setup at this pool and other Gwinnett aquatic centers is generally loungeable and not the place for serious swimmers (the main indoor pool seems built for that).
The Scene
Weekends are sort of like a restaurant with a patio on a pretty day. Which is to say, you might find the outdoor leisure pool a bit crowded and stressful, leading you to the massive indoor pool experience.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Saturday noon–6 p.m., Sunday 1–6 p.m. See the website for daily costs.

Glenlake Bathhouse and Pool

1121 Church Street, Decatur, 404-378-7671, Website
In the last decade, Decatur has evolved into an urban-centric, walkable “city within a city.” Municipal planners are paying attention to the public pools, too. Glenlake Bathhouse and Pool was renovated in 2009 (the pool has been around since the seventies), with the kind of shiny blue-yellow-white angles that could match any modern loft-o-minium in Atlanta. It caps the northern end of seventeen-acre Glenlake Park and neighboring Decatur Cemetery, providing the area with the summer sounds of kid squeals and lifeguard whistles. The fifty-meter pool includes a roped-off, one-and-a-half-feet-deep kiddie area, a substantial shallow area for basking families, lap lanes, a quiet deep end (no diving), a picnic nook, lounge and deck chairs, and man-made shade. Park in the Glenlake lot, or along Church Street.
The Scene
Weekends Chairs taken. Towels spread on the cement. Packed shallows. Splash fights. Beach balls. Little kids in floaties and sunscreen. The occasional deep-end cannonballer. The occasional teen in Urban Outfitters sunglasses.
Hours and Cost
May 26–July 31: Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.August 1–September 3: Monday–Friday 4–8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. City of Decatur residents: 14 and over $3, children $2. Nonresidents: 14 and over $5, children $3. Check the site for costs on summer swim passes.

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