Best Swimming - 2005
West end of Fisherman's Wharf (Van Ness & Beach)
It's an area steeped in history and thronged by tourists. But a number of thick-skinned locals consider Aquatic Park the ideal spot to strip down to Speedos and swim laps in 50-degree water. The location couldn't be more picturesque: A wraparound pier protects the swimmers and calms bay waves; the 219-foot C.A. Thayer, built in 1895, looms over the water. Onshore, concrete bleachers give way to a beach and gentle shallows, all of which get packed in the summer months. A line of buoys runs parallel to the shore for swimming, but often you'll see people strike out and circle boats or test the choppy waters at the narrow mouth of the larger bay. Many simply park and suit up next to their cars, but serious swimmers join one of the clubs that sit on the sand -- the South End Rowing Club (founded in 1873) or the Dolphin Club (1877) -- to take advantage of the showers, lockers, gyms, and rowboats. But be warned: Members frown on wet suits, so toughen up.