I love to swim, both in the form of lap swimming and splashing around in the deep end pretending I am a sparkly mermaid and not a 40-year-old state worker. I get in the water at least a couple times a week in the summer and once a month in the winter. I've discovered there are pools I prefer for exercise and ones that are better for socializing. Some have nicely designed changing facilities; others boast a single repulsive toilet stall that calls to mind every warning about public bathrooms your mother ever impressed upon you.
I have opinions about pools! So I am going to go to all of them, eventually, and I am going to write about it. I guess August isn't the best time to decide to review every public pool in Austin--the neighborhood pools start closing down in the next couple of weeks--but I'm going to start now anyway.
You probably already know all about it, but I can't think of a better place to start than the crown jewel of the Austin parks system, and possibly of the entire city: Barton Springs.
The pool: Clear, cold, and a lot of it. The pool is three acres, spring fed, and a constant 68-70 degrees. It's natural, so the bottom is rocky and slippery with algae in places. The water has some algae and vegetation in it, but it's mostly clear and clean, and in the deep spots it's this really gorgeous deep turquoise shot through with the sun's rays. It's kind of ridiculous how pretty it is.
Honestly, the water's much chillier than I usually prefer, but on a 100-degree day that's no problem at all.
There's a diving board in the middle of the pool. People applaud when divers pull off a good trick, or even just make a decent effort. It's nice.
Lap lanes: None, but don't worry, there's plenty of room to exercise here, and there are a lot of hardcore devotees. The sides of the pool are painted with distance markers if you want to keep track of how far you've gone.
(Hint: Really far.)
Facilities: Large, sloping lawns and big pecan trees provide plenty of comfort poolside. The women's changing room/showers/restrooms are a labyrinth of cubicles. There is some nice landscaping in the changing area. It's clean enough, and the solar showers are nice. The bathroom stalls are tiny and the doors open inward, which is awkward.
Vibe: Fun, happy, crowded; pure Austin. The lifeguards are professional and friendly. The people watching is stellar. People are mostly friendly. (I think people in Austin are funnier than in other places, as in they joke around with total strangers and try to crack each other up. Is that just me?)
Price: Three dollars for adults, one buck for seniors and kids, two for teens. It's free from 5-8 am and 9-10 pm, though. (The free hour in the evening is its own kind of magic, but without the sun to mitigate, damn is that water cold.)
There is often a line to pay, but it's Austin; there's a line for everything. They recently added electronic kiosks where you can pay with a credit card. Those have a line too.