The Best Swimming Holes Near San Diego

Sunset Cliffs near San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego
© Jon Bilous/

Written by Kirstin Harrington

Updated: July 17, 2023

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San Diego is known for having fantastic beaches. Still, we are fortunate to have other great places to swim and cool off if you don’t feel like heading to the beach. These locations are excellent choices to mix up your San Diego outing routine! Here are a handful of great swimming locations that would be ideal on any of our gorgeous sunny days!

Three Sisters Waterfall

Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest, near San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

In San Diego County, visitors can find one of the few watering holes available inside of the county lines, Three Sisters Falls.

©Jimmy W/

One of the few locations in San Diego County where watering hole fans are able to visit and beat the heat is Three Sisters. Boulder Creek carved a sequence of falls out of the Cuyamaca Foothills, and it only takes two miles to get there. Naturally, this implies that the two-mile hike back might be rather hot, so pack and store lots of water.

To the east, Cuyamaca Peak is visible in the distance, while to the west, the trail descends gradually while providing sweeping views of eastern San Diego’s rolling hills and Cuyamaca Peak. The hill gets steeper and more difficult as you get closer to Boulder Creek.

There is a portion just before the valley floor that takes some minor climbing in order to go down, but there is also a rope in place that makes the descent quite simple. After you arrive at the falls and determine the depth of the water, feel free to use the slide from the center pool to ride to the bottom. 

For those seeking more privacy, a short scramble and a medium rock hop provide entry above the falls, where a number of other pools are located further up the creek. Throughout the trek, several undeveloped campsites are visible not far off the trail for people who want to camp there overnight.

Cedar Creek Falls/Devil’s Punchbowl

Cedar Creek Falls (Devil's Punchbowl) in San Diego - Swimming Holes near San Diego

The Devil’s Punchbowl is at the bottom of Cedar Creek’s waterfall.

©Jimmy W/

In the San Diego region, Cedar Creek Falls is a fantastic seasonal waterfall and an excellent trek. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a deep swimming hole that it enters after dropping 80 feet. The three-mile track, which is somewhat challenging, meanders through eastern San Diego County’s chaparral hills. 

It doesn’t matter what time of year you go on this hike; you need always take the heat into account. Expect a temperature increase of 10 degrees as you drop into the valley. Temperatures can rise above 115 degrees in the summer.

The entire journey to the waterfalls is on an incline. In front, there is a calm, rocky spot where you can unwind and wash off. You can swim even if there isn’t any cliff jumping or diving allowed. Be on the lookout for poison oak along the water’s edge as well as submerged cactus branches that can be difficult to see. 

Animals use waterways and pools for drinking water, including foxes, quail, mountain lions, and deer. Speaking of, take plenty of water and sunblock for yourself. It is advised that each individual carry one gallon of water. Permits must be obtained in advance here in order to visit the falls.

Black’s Beach

Black's Beach in San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

North of La Jolla Shores is Black’s Beach.

©Alexandre Moraes/

Black’s Beach, located north of La Jolla Shores, south of Torrey Pines State Beach, and close to the campus of the University of California, San Diego, boasts several of San Diego’s greatest surf. Where once there were meadows and the Black family horse farm, there are now opulent eight-figure residences and cutting-edge medical research facilities lining the bluffs. The name Black’s Beach is a result. 

Black’s is well-known among beachgoers for its large winter swells, but the remainder of the world is more familiar with it as San Diego’s nudist beach. Despite the fact that it is forbidden in San Diego, nudism has long existed at Black’s, with the only major obstacle being the trek to get there.

Although surfers travel south to the main peaks, nudists typically relax north of the Glider Port Trail. The only individuals who are typically driven to hike to Black’s are surfers and those in their birthday suits, so if these aren’t your motivations, you might want to consider going to La Jolla Shores instead.

Lake Murray

Lake Murray in San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

A reservoir in San Diego, called Lake Murray, is owned by the Public Utilities Department of the City of San Diego.

©Sherry V Smith/

The Public Utilities Department of the City of San Diego owns Lake Murray, a reservoir located in San Diego, California. It is situated inside Mission Trails Regional Park. 95 feet is the depth at maximum capacity. A well-liked recreation area for the Navajo population is the asphalt-paved service road that surrounds nearly two-thirds of the lake’s circumference. 

Hikers, cyclists, and runners who travel around the lake’s edge frequent this location. On the reservoir, fishing and kayaking are both permitted. Birdwatchers love going to Lake Murray since there are so many heron, ducks, and geese there. At least 149 different species of birds have been seen and documented at this lake. 

Murray is accessible from 5:30 am to sunset every day of the week for shore fishing as well as in private boats, kayaks, and float tubes. With the exception of the second Tuesday of every month, the perimeter road and picnic sites are open every day.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs near San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

The Arch is one of the most unique features of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

©Jon Bilous/

Sunset Cliffs is a fantastic nature park to visit and is located just north of San Diego. This section of Sunset Cliffs beach is located beneath massive cliffs that weave their way down Southern California’s coast. A refreshing breath of ocean air in the well-liked San Diego region will be provided by Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, which is just around the bend from the unique Ocean Beach.

Your attention will initially be drawn to the well-known swimming spot known as “The Arch.” The 20-foot ridge that hovers over the primary pool of water gives The Arch its name. It’s typical to witness individuals flying into the air and diving into the lake below on a hot summer day!

You can find beachgoers and revelers equally savoring the day in this quiet haven hidden behind Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. You can see a less steep hill where most other people usually hike down on the far end. Despite the fact that, despite its name, it may not be the best surfing location, we have always enjoyed going there to swim and spend an afternoon.

Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek in Encinitas, California, near San Diego - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

Late winter and early spring are great times to visit Cottonwood Creek, which tends to dry up a bit during the summer.

©Wasquewhat/Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

A little-known treasure hidden in the Laguna Mountains’ southwest corner is Cottonwood Creek Falls. The swimming spots and canyon vistas make the journey worthwhile even if the waterfall is not as visually impressive as Three Sisters Waterfall or Cedar Creek Falls. 

Late winter and early spring are the greatest times to travel, especially after a lot of rain. The falls typically dry up throughout the summer and stay dry into the fall because of the arid climate.

Between mileposts 15.3 and 15.4, the trailhead is situated along the Sunrise Highway’s eastern turnout. Turn left at the intersection after proceeding down the overgrown trail that runs beneath the power lines and into the valley. 

Getting to Cottonwood Creek Falls, which is up the canyon, requires some scrambling. Before going back, you can cool yourself in the swimming holes, which can be up to four feet deep.

Point Loma Tide Pools

Point Loma Tide Pools in San Diego, California - Swimming Holes Near San Diego

Home to some of San Diego’s best sights is Point Loma.

©Adam Springer/

You can find some of San Diego’s greatest treasures near Point Loma. The bulk of the point is not surrounded by buildings and is not fenced off from the public because it is protected by Cabrillo National Monument. Point Loma has some of the best tide pools in the state. 

This location is popular during low tide. Both locals and visitors have heard of this location and will bring their children there to learn about the fragile and lovely marine life that is revealed when the ocean recedes. Check out tide tables before setting out for Cabrillo National Monument.

Summary of The Best Swimming Holes Near San Diego

Here are The Best Swimming Holes Near San Diego:

RankSwimming Holes
1Cedar Creek Falls/Devil’s Punchbowl
2Black’s Beach
3Lake Murray
4Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
5Cottonwood Creek
6Point Loma Tide Pools

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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