Open Water

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

pools spread

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,

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.

Piedmont Park Aquatic Center

400 Park Drive, 404-875-7275, ext. 324, Website
Part of a $41 million park expansion and renovation campaign, the new Piedmont Park pool opened in 2009. Renovated from its 1973 design, the pool reflects the aesthetic of a modern public pool: Give a little something for everyone in a contemporary setting. Overlooking Lake Clara Meer and curled into a nook created by the commanding presence of Greystone, the pool features a beach entry, four lap lanes, a current channel that carries swimmers through refreshing fountains, lounge chairs on a landscaped deck, and a small lawn for sunbathers and their towels. But “a little something for everyone” means everyone goes: Midafternoon on a sunny weekend day, you’ll be lucky to find a spot.
The Scene
Diverse crowd from all over the city. Summer camp kids. Families with small children. Kids with nannies. Teens without parents. Single people wondering why they have to hang out with so many children.
Hours and Cost
Monday–Friday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday–Sunday noon–5 p.m. Adults $4, ages 6–16 $2, ages 5 and under $1, seniors (55 and over) $2. Season pass (with access to extended hours): Individuals $165, couples $280, families $365, seniors (55 and over) $120.

Garden Hills Pool

335 Pine Tree Drive, 404-848-7220, Website
The beauty of Garden Hills is, well—it’s just beautiful, shining like a yuppie oasis amid leafy Garden Hills Park in south Buckhead. And true, the heated L-shaped pool, a City of Atlanta property run by the Garden Hills Pool and Park Association, offers all the accoutrements of a privileged summer day: splashy blue shallows, lap lanes, a ten-foot deep end, a one-meter diving board, and a kiddie pool, as well as teen staff in white shirts and red shorts patrolling the decks, navy blue umbrellas with the Garden Hills logo on them, lounge chairs five-deep in some areas, picnic tables, tall pines and oaks, a rec center up the hill, and fresh mulch. Jeff Clark, the president of the association, points out that the pool keeps open hours and has inexpensive day rates, and it hosts summer camps and swim lessons for kids who live in areas where pool access is limited. “It’s the people’s pool,” he says.
The Scene
Moms reading trendy novels and dads holding babies. Kids taking turns off the diving board. Preppy swim trunks and collared shirts.
Plan Ahead
Go on Tuesday afternoon and “you’ll own the place,” says Clark. Sunday afternoons are also, surprisingly, often not busy.
Hours and Cost
Open to public 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. most summer days; free swim Monday–Friday 10:30 a.m.–1:15 p.m. Adults $4, children and seniors $2. There’s a waiting list for memberships to the pool.

Tolleson Pool

3590 King Springs Road, Smyrna, 770-431-2844, Website
If you take a jog or bike ride on the Silver Comet Trail in Smyrna this summer—or just feel yourself sticking to your car seat while driving on the west side of the Perimeter—Tolleson Pool is a refuge. Tucked away in suburban Smyrna, the city-run neighborhood pool (part of Tolleson Park) boasts the expected family-friendly vibe, complete with purple-and-white bunting for its swim team, the Smyrna Sharks. There are shallows for the casual swimmers, seven lap lanes, and a flower fountain for kids eight and under. Note to old-school thrill seekers: The water beneath the high dive goes down twelve and a half feet.
Plan Ahead
Call to make sure the Smyrna Sharks aren’t taking over the pool.
Hours and Cost
Sunday–Friday 1–6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Adults $5, ages 16 and under $3. Season passes: Individuals $50 (resident) or $75 (nonresident), families $100 (resident) or $130 (nonresident).

Murphey Candler Pool

1526 West Nancy Creek Drive, 770-936-5468, Website
Just off Ashford Dunwoody, barely inside the Perimeter, you can drive down West Nancy Creek Drive and suddenly you’re crossing over a small lake. It feels like you’re no longer in metro Atlanta. Murphey Candler Park includes in its 135 acres of ball fields, nature, and hiking trails a sizable pool that might make you think you’ve gone back to summer camp. The pool and kiddie pool are situated beneath towering pines. Beach-entry shallows lead to an interactive fountain, lap lanes, and a deep end with a one-meter board. A large deck allows
for plenty of bathers, though chairs are at a premium, and there’s little shade except a small covered area. Picnic spots are also available.
Hours and Cost
Tuesday–Saturday noon–6 p.m., Sunday 1–6 p.m. Adults $3, ages 3–17 $2, ages 2 and under free.

Wills Park Pool

1815 Old Milton Parkway, Alpharetta, 678-297-6107, Website
Try not to confuse Wills Park Pool with Lake Lanier. The Alpharetta city pool—all 473,000 gallons of it, including a thirteen-foot deep end—seems to offer enough room for all of Alpharetta (or at least those without personal pools) to cannonball, splash, raft, and lounge. Need a splash pad for kiddies? Check. Need a diving board? The pool has three sizes, including a three-meter board that gets crowded with dads during adult swim. Need snacks? The concession stand offers ice cream sandwiches, snow cones, MoonPies, and more. Need lap lanes? The pool’s Gulf-like shallows can be configured to accommodate. Need shade? Well, that seems to be the only thing at a minimum, but if you get there early you can secure a spot under the blue awnings. Wills Park itself is worth a look around, so feel free to stroll over to the equestrian area. And don’t hide your tattoos! No one else does.
Hours and Cost
Through August 11: Monday 1–6 p.m. (pool pass holders and residents only), Tuesday–Friday noon–5 p.m. and 7:30–9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sunday noon–8 p.m. August 12–September 2: Saturday–Sunday noon–6 p.m. Ages 3 and over $3, children under 3 free, seniors (50 and over) $1. Season family pass: $150 for residents, $225 for nonresidents.

Q&As with some local lifeguards

Sierra Saumenig

Age 21
Lifeguard at Piedmont Park Aquatic Center
Time as a lifeguard 5 years
Graduating from Georgia State University, 2014

What basic pool etiquette should everyone follow?
1. No running.
2. No rough play.
3. No breath-holding games or underwater lap swimming.
4. No diving in shallow water.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen? I saw a fourteen-year-old boy do a backflip into three and a half feet of water and end up breaking his leg.

“I can’t stand it when kids at the pool . . .” Run!

“I can’t stand it when adults at the pool . . .”
Think I am a babysitter and don’t watch their children!

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? Several times. The boy mentioned above was my worst situation. Mostly it is just children who are struggling to get to the side of the pool, and I assist them. It usually is nothing too serious, but at any moment it could be a life-or-death situation.

Have you ever gotten a date because you are a lifeguard? Actually, I have not. But I have been hit on by high school boys numerous times.

How far can you swim? Definitely far enough to save someone.

What’s one valuable thing you’ve learned as a lifeguard that will serve you well in life? Responsibility. Lifeguarding is a pretty simple job. I go, I clean, I sit and watch, and I go home. But I must be prepared for an emergency. Anything can happen at a pool, and I always have to be on my toes. I like to think of it as the easiest, most stressful job I have ever had.

Christopher King

Age 22
Lifeguard at Chastain Park Pool
Time as a lifeguard 6 years
Graduated from University of West Georgia

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do at a pool? Someone tried to ride their bike off the diving board. Pretty mind-boggling.

“I can’t stand it when . . .” Kids at the pool ask when adult swim will be over.

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? A few years back, I had to save another lifeguard’s girlfriend. She fell in the pool. Originally I thought she was kidding, and then I realized she couldn’t swim. Note to all lifeguards: Teach your significant other to swim or don’t invite them to the pool!

What kind of sunscreen do you wear? Banana Boat Sport Performance Coolzone SPF 50.

Have you ever gotten a date because you are a lifeguard? While I haven’t directly gotten a date from being a lifeguard, I would say that women appreciate guys who play with the kids that they nanny for. That has led to a few dates.

How far can you swim? As long as it will take to save someone.

Grace Alexander

Age 21
Lifeguard at Garden Hills Pool
Time as a lifeguard/pool manager 7 years (1 as a manager)
Graduating from Rollins College, 2014

What does a pool manager do? We manage the pool chemicals, inventory, and payroll. We have around sixty people on staff, so we manage the staff each day.

Tell us about your family’s legacy as pool managers for Garden Hills. Now that I’m manager, four people in my family have been managers. I have three older brothers—Sandy (twenty-eight), Tom (twenty-six), and Nick (twenty-four)—and each of them have been pool managers. For the past decade, there has been an Alexander as manager, except for one year.

Is it safe to say you rule the pool? Absolutely. We’re like a dynasty.

What’s your favorite thing about your job? The people that work here and go here. I’ve met so many different people and gotten to know the members. There’s always a chance to meet a new family or kid that makes your summer worthwhile.

What do you like least? When I came in, I was warned that this job tends to be 80 percent relaxed but 20 percent stressful. For an hour out of the day, everything happens at once. Problem with chemicals, someone is injured, someone has a question—it seems to all come at the same time.

Have you ever had to jump in the pool and save someone? I am one of the few guards that has not had to make a save. I like to say I prevent the saves from happening before they happen.

How far can you swim? I swim distance in college, so pretty far. The longest I’ve ever done is a four-mile swim.

More info on pools

Eww Coli

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Atlanta swimmers a fright just before summer when it released a report detailing the rather icky amounts of fecal matter found in Atlanta-area public pools during a 2012 study. While no specific pools were named, ninety-three out of 161—or 58 percent—of the sampled pool filters tested positive for E. coli, a marker for fecal contamination.

While some might blame pool management, Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, says it’s time for swimmers to take at least part of the responsibility for the quality of water in which they swim. (And no, chlorine doesn’t kill everything.)

She offers these simple tips for anyone who uses a pool:

  • Shower before getting into the water—yes, that means you.
  • Minimize the amount of water you swallow when swimming.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks every sixty minutes. If children are in diapers, they should be checked every thirty to sixty minutes.
  • Change children’s diapers in the bathroom area, away from the poolside.

You can also visit the CDC’s Healthy Swimming website and get a free pool test strip to measure water chemistry at your favorite swimming hole.

Fountain Favorites

Used to be, if you jumped into a city fountain to cool off, police would ask you in no uncertain terms to leave. Times have changed. These days, fountains and splash pads are actually built with the specific intention of luring you in. Some of us have become true fans of this communal interaction with water, even preferring it over swimming pools.

The grand dame of splash pads, of course, is the Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park, created to cool the international masses during the 1996 Summer Games. In the years since, the fountain has become one of those rare gathering spots popular with both tourists and residents.

Perhaps recognizing this civic value, neighborhood planners on the Atlanta BeltLine and beyond are setting up splashy play spaces designed to promote running through cold water, screaming, and Instagramming.

Here are some of our favorite spots around town:

This article originally appeared in our July 2013 issue.