Summer in Washington isn’t just hot. It’s a sticky, sweltering mess, so much so that a cold beer sometimes isn’t enough. A drink can cool you down a few degrees, but that’s nothing compared to the sweet sting of jumping into a pool.
If you don’t have one at your place — or aren’t lucky enough to have a good friend who does — you’re stuck forking money over for a hotel pool pass, or wrangling an empty lounge chair at the neighborhood pool. So which hotel passes are actually worth the splurge? And what should you expect from the public pools? We set out across the Washington area to find the very best way to spend a hot day, not only in terms of pools, but also in terms of slides. Because they’re lots of fun — and really, isn’t that what summer’s all about?
Here’s a secret about the Liaison Hotel’s rooftop pool: If you show up after 5 p.m. on a weekday, it’s free to get in for happy hour. After a long day of work, what could be better than a fruity drink next to a pool? Bring your swimsuit to the office and change in the hotel’s bathroom; towels are provided. During the week, there are copious lounge chairs, and the cabanas, if not reserved ($150-$250), are free for the taking. The bar has happy-hour deals, including $10 sangria, and the snacks (think pimento cheese and crackers or hummus and olives) are light enough for lounging. On weekends, day passes cost $35, and Sundays bring “Sip and Dip,” a raucous party with DJs. But on a recent Monday evening, the pool was quiet, tranquil and felt just like a three-hour staycation. — Maura Judkis
Day pass: $35, reserve online.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
415 New Jersey Ave. NW.
For the Embassy Row Hotel pool, the best strategy isn’t splurging on a $30 day pass, but having dinner on the rooftop. If you dine there after 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, you can get into the pool without paying any fees. Day passes are available only after 3 p.m. anyway — so you’d lose just two hours of pool time.
The only catch? Whether you’re dining or buying a pass, you have to arrive before 6 p.m. to get into the pool. Once there, don’t expect to swim laps; this pool’s better suited for soaking than swimming. The rooftop has a great view and a chill party vibe, thanks to the electronic music booming from speakers, making it perfect for a crowd that’s more into carousing than lounging. And if you leave work early on Fridays, you can spend the most time hanging by the pool: From 2 to 7 p.m., day passes — and cocktails — are half off. — Emily Codik
Day pass: $30, towels included.
Hours: Day-pass entrance begins at 3 p.m.
2015 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
For eight years, the Capitol Skyline Hotel was the epicenter of the District’s weekend pool-party scene with DJs and floatie-related high jinks. That changed this year, as hotel management decided to dial back the party vibes, restricting them to major holiday weekends. The result, surprisingly, is a much more pleasant and laid-back experience. The enormous pool is surrounded by an 18,000-square-foot deck, most of which is covered with sun loungers, all-weather couches and cabanas with daybeds draped with gauzy fabric. The crowd is a mix of hotel guests — expect to see a lot of fans of whoever’s playing at Nationals Park that week — and 20- and 30-somethings treating the hotel like their local swim club, lying out on their own towels and celebrating birthdays. Drinks at the small bar indoors don’t go far beyond vodka cocktails and cans of Corona and Bud Light; servers occasionally come around. If you want a drink, your best bet is to get it yourself. — Fritz Hahn
Day pass: $30 per person, towels included.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
10 I St. SW.
Fifty dollars is the price of admission to the Washington Plaza’s pool deck, a sum that’s sure to give anyone pause. But the lozenge-shaped pool, nestled into the curve of Morris Lapidus’s 1962 hotel, is one of the most attractive in Washington. Sun loungers are royal blue, matching the pillows, umbrellas and stacks of neatly rolled towels. The area is surrounded by white-stone boxes holding trees, bamboo and bright-colored flowers, which help shield you from the busy noise of Thomas Circle.
A small poolside bar sells draft beer and bottles of sparkling wine and takes orders for food from the hotel restaurant (think fish tacos and fried calamari). Even with $10 half-bottles of Freixenet at hand, the vibe never reaches a pool-party level.
Two quibbles: There’s no locker room, so you’ll wind up changing in a stall in the hotel bathroom. More important, day passes for a couple cost $100. According to the hotel’s website, which I accessed while on my sun bed, I could book a room for the same night for $99 pretax, which includes free use of the pool. — F.H.
Day pass: $50 per person Monday-Friday, $60 Saturday-Sunday, towels included.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
10 Thomas Cir. NW.
If lazing by the pool is more your style than actually swimming, head over to the Courtyard by Marriott in Dupont Circle, which offers the most affordable standard day pass of the bunch. The highlight here is the gorgeous and ample seating area, with bronze-colored chaise longue chairs and views of the Brutalist-style Washington Hilton across the street. Although the pool is well kept and exceptionally clean, it can seem like a puddle compared with the vast one at Washington Plaza. But it’s often uncrowded and quiet; on a recent Sunday, only two guests used the pool the entire day.
The surrounding high-rises can block the sun, making it hard to get a tan. For more sunlight, you can move over to the adjoining terrace, featuring plush sofa sectionals and patio umbrellas. You can bring your own food and drinks — only single servings, no beer packs or full bottles — or order a Corona or cocktail from the hotel bar or lobby market. The Courtyard’s Bistro bar also serves happy-hour specials and free tastings. — Winyan Soo Hoo
Day pass: $20 per person, towels included.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
1900 Connecticut Ave. NW.
If your idea of “going to the pool” includes DJs, cocktails and people-watching, try one of these regular gatherings. — F.H.
Summer Sundays at the Donovan House Hotel
The Kimpton hotel group has some beautiful pools and pool bars, but taking a dip almost always requires being a guest. The exception is the new Summer Sundays at DNV, the Donovan’s rooftop bar. Pay a $10 cover and get access to the small pool from noon to 5 p.m., or just sit on the side and dip your feet in while sipping $5 Orange Crushes and listening to DJ Sean J. Bonus: Brunch is served until 4 p.m. Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. 1155 14th St. NW. donovan hoteldc.com. $10.
Twilight Tuesdays at Penthouse Pool Club
Timur Tugberk knows how to throw a great pool party: He launched Twilight Tuesdays, a weekly LGBT party at the pool atop the Donovan Hotel in 2009; in 2013, he and his partner, who goes by John-Michael, moved it to the exclusive Penthouse Pool Club atop the Vida Fitness gym on U Street. Some guests do hit the water during the party, but more are lazing on the lounge beds or drinking cocktails while chatting and listening to the local DJs. Admission is free, but RSVPs are required. This party fills up in advance. Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to midnight. 1612 U St. NW. facebook.com/ TwilightTuesdaysDC. Free.
Watergate Wet Bar Mixers at the Watergate Hotel
The most lavish pool party in Washington might be the Watergate’s monthly Wet Bar Mixers in the hotel’s Argentta Spa. Tickets include access to the indoor pool, filled with colorful inner tubes, and the sauna, hot tub and lockers. It also gives you access to a full open bar. The next events will be held July 20 and Aug. 17. One Thursday per month from 9 to 11 p.m. 2650 Virginia Ave. NW. $50.
Pools are free for residents unless otherwise noted. Daily swim passes for nonresidents in the District are $3-$7.
With four pools, the Bethesda Outdoor Pool proves that bigger is better. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by crowds. But it’ll cost you: Unlike other public pools, this one has entry fees even for residents. Make your way to the diving board for a cannonball and climb out again for back-to-back rides down the drop slide. The sizable Z-shaped main pool is 50 meters long with six lap lanes and an open wading area. There’s also a tot pool, a shallow teaching pool and an additional lap pool, where serious swimmers can finish a workout without bumping into others. Towering canopy tents shield loungers from the sun in a grassy knoll, where you can replenish with food and drinks. Little Falls Parkway and Hillandale Road, Bethesda. 301-652-1598. Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. $5-$7. Twilight fees (after 5:30 p.m.) for residents, $4.50-$6.50; for nonresidents, $8-$10. — W.S.
Located in the West End, Francis can seem like the District’s busiest pool. On a hot Sunday afternoon, 20-somethings and families with children alike vied for the shadiest spots at this site near Rock Creek. Kids will appreciate the pool’s large shallow section, while grown-ups may enjoy its 25-yard lap lanes and comfortable lounge chairs. Cries of “Marco!” and “Polo!” will provide a soundtrack as you sunbathe — that is, until children are ushered out of the pool for adult swim. If your little ones get tired of swimming, nearby Francis Playground is a convenient diversion. Adults can stroll over to Dupont Circle for a post-pool smoothie or snack. 2435 N St. NW. 202-727-3285. Monday and Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Closed Tuesday. — Maia Silber
One of the larger and better-known pools in the District, Banneker benefits from a wide pool deck and a concession area. Its popularity can be a downer, though, with lines forming once the pool hits capacity on weekends, and people just throwing their towels on the concrete deck once all the chairs are gone. Still, the diving boards, separate kiddie pool and pop music playing through speakers make it worth trying on a steamy day.
Note for adult swimmers: With the East Potomac Pool closed through 2018 for renovations, Banneker has taken an increased number of swim teams, but multiple lanes are reserved for lap swimmers on weekday mornings. 2500 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-673-2121. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, 8 to 10 a.m. (lap swimming only) and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Closed Thursday. — F.H.
An oasis in Petworth, this pool — actually on Arkansas Avenue — draws people of all ages: senior citizens, 20-something hipsters and young families. It’s smaller and less crowded than other city pools, such as Banneker and Francis, and most days, it’s not too hard to snag a lounge chair, although shady spots remain a hot commodity. Tree-lined and on a quiet street, it’s pretty tranquil for a city pool, even with the happy shrieks of children. Upshur Pool is surrounded by park facilities, so you can sweat it out on the adjacent basketball courts or recently resurfaced tennis courts before cooling off with a dip. The pool is shallow and has only one lane, so it’s not very conducive to lap swimming. 4300 Arkansas Ave. NW. 202-576-8661. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Closed Monday. — Maura Judkis
Don’t expect anything luxurious at the Old Town Pool; this neighborhood spot is akin to an outdoor YMCA — reliable and sans frills. The unkempt changing and bathroom areas are nothing to write about. But this destination features a 25-yard main pool with lap lanes, a separate kid-training pool, a diving well and a poolside basketball hoop. The pool is kid-friendly, as seen from the dozens of tots and teens playing around. The watchful lifeguard staff makes sure the scene never gets overly chaotic — at least beyond the boisterous laughter from young dog-paddlers kicking by. For the lap-lane area, it helps to be courteous to fellow swimmers and go at a swift pace — lanes can get full quickly. There’s no eating or drinking allowed in the pool area, but there’s a quaint brick courtyard in front that’s used as a picnic area and space to hang out. 1609 Cameron St., Alexandria. 703-746-6999. Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 7 p.m. Residents, $2-$3. Nonresidents, $5. — W.S.
Situated in Georgetown alongside playgrounds and tennis courts, Volta Park Pool is ideal for a family day trip. Children in floaties and their parents occupy much of the small pool, the only one in the complex, with a single lane reserved for laps. (If you’re an early riser, the entire pool is available for swimming laps weekdays, except Monday, from 8 to 9:30 a.m.) Teenagers and young adults can be found treading water in the six-foot deep end or stretching out on the 30 or so loungers that surround the pool. Although it’s not difficult to find a free spot in the early afternoon, space is limited, and the pool’s central location means it’s bound to fill up as the day stretches on. 1555 34th St. NW. 202-645-5668. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Closed Monday. — Sonia Rao
Pools are great. But pools aren’t as exciting as slides. When we set out to cover the best ways to cool off this summer, I was given an important assignment: Find the top slides around Washington.
You might wonder about qualifications. How can I sit here in my ivory tower and dictate what is “fun”? Isn’t that subjective? Yes. Totally subjective. But I’d like to think that the powers that be realized that I, as the funnest member of the staff, was born for this beat. Trust me, I still have plenty of childlike wonder — and years of slide experience — to cut through the summer haze and deliver only the best in area slides.
It could also be the fact that I’m one of the few who actually has a car. — Savannah Stephens
Water park at Bohrer Park
Height requirement to ride: 48 inches
The water park at Bohrer Park, in Gaithersburg, has amenities for families, such as a zero-depth entry pool and overhead buckets that dump water, but the main attractions are the two green slides dominating the back area. For sliders who want a nice, leisurely journey to contemplate how lovely summer is, try the dark green, open-air slide. For those who enjoy more of a thrill or like to go wildly fast, the lime green one is more like an extreme ride. Prepare for a steep drop and curves that propel you into the pool at a rate you didn’t even know you could hit. Be advised that Bohrer Park takes its “no jewelry” rule seriously. Quarter rental lockers are available; others require that you bring your own lock. 512 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. 301-258-6445. $5.75 for residents, $10-$16 for nonresidents.
Height requirement to ride: 48 inches
Perhaps the most complete water park in the area, Splashdown, in Manassas, has a lazy river, play areas and several slide options. My favorites? The pipeline slides that stand several stories tall. The open-air blue one uses inner tubes that help you nicely bank the curves on the twists and turns. (Warning: Small children might bounce pretty high.) It also tends to have a significantly shorter line, because you have to bring a waterpark-provided inner tube up the stairs. The white slide, which feels like you’re slipping down a cloud, also offers a great family-friendly ride. Honorable mention: the two cannonball slides that drop you into the deep pool. It’s like a log flume ride, minus the log and the animatronic animals. 7500 Ben Lomond Park Dr., Manassas. 703-792-8200. $5-$15.25.
Height requirement to ride: 42 inches
Ocean Dunes is an adorable park tucked away in the Arlington woods. Complete with mini-golf and batting cages, the complex gives everyone something to do after they’ve conquered the water park — which, by the way, is no easy task. Filled with pool and play areas for all ages, Ocean Dunes has two slides that caught my attention: The red one has more unexpected twists than you’d imagine, adding a level of surprise to an otherwise straightforward open-air slide. The blue one, however, has an almost blackout effect for the whole ride. Younger sliders might get a little scared, but thrill-seekers will delight in the sensory deprivation. 6060 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-534-3437. $5.25-$8.50.