Northwest Pool is my all-time favorite. For me, a former suburban kid who logged countless summer hours racing in deep ends and lounging in plastic chairs drinking cans of grape soda, it's my ideal big public pool.
One of my favorite things in life is to go here in the evening, swim a quick set of laps, and then drift over to the deep end and float with my ears underwater so I can't hear anything but the churn of the water. I watch people fling themselves off the diving board as the sun sets behind the pecan trees, and it's about the most relaxing thing I can think of.
The pool: Northwest has a large shallow end for families to play in and a spacious deep end for older kids and adults to hang out in. The two sides are separated by lap lanes. It's huge, which means it's big enough that the water stays fairly cool even in the hottest part of the summer. It's got a diving board. It's great. You should go.
Lap lanes: Six short lanes. They're almost always full, but with some patience you can usually snag a spot. The skill set runs the gamut from dog-paddling beginners to serious athletes, and everyone's pretty friendly.
I haven't been there for the morning lap hours in a few years, but I think they configure the lanes across the pool lengthwise, which is a hell of a workout since you can't push off the end every few yards.
I know you are, but what am I?
Vibe: One of the reasons I really like this pool is that it hosts a pretty representative cross-section of Austin. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds come here to hang out, and I feel like there aren't a lot of spaces in Austin you can say that of.
Since it's Austin, everyone's generally pretty nice to each other. The lifeguards do a good job overseeing such a large space without being too uptight about it.
Amenities: Bleachers, benches, soda machines, and lots of shaded picnic tables. There are live oaks and pecan trees for shade and grassy areas to stretch out and doze on.
The pool has a big changing area with showers and plenty of places to put your stuff while you get dressed. It's a bit rundown but usually clean.
The toilets in the women's room are terrible, though. Instead of doors, the stalls have flimsy shower curtains that flap around violently in the slightest breeze and stick to your sunscreened legs, which is so much worse than no partition at all. Also the back wall doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling and the front desk is directly behind the toilets, which means that the lifeguards have to hear you pee.
Not ideal. But you know, whatever; I don't come here to hang out in the bathroom.
Details: 7000 Ardath Street. $3 for adults, $2 for teens, $1 for kids and seniors, free for babies. Closed Thursdays. Open on weekday evenings and weekends until Labor Day; open weekends only until September 30.