Should You Get a Baja Shelf?

Some swimming pool trends turn out to be fads that fade away after a few summers. Others hold so much appeal that they become mainstays of backyard pool design. Only time will tell, but the Baja shelf appears to fit in the “mainstay” category.

You might know it by another name: tanning ledge, tanning shelf, sun shelf, Cabo shelf, etc. Whatever you want to call it, we’re talking about a shallow section of the pool where kids can play and adults can relax and soak their tootsies. In many cases, this popular feature is incorporated into the pool steps, effectively serving as a second (oversized) step down into the main pool.

In addition to their general usefulness, Baja shelves have the potential to look amazing. With creative use of tiling, lighting, and water features, you can make a shelf into the luxurious centerpiece of your inground pool.

But of course, Baja shelves come at a cost – not only in terms of money, but also space. Despite the obvious advantages and considerable hype, they’re not for everyone. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether this feature makes sense for your pool, or whether you should shelve the idea.

Shelf Options

One reason Baja shelves are so popular is that they can fit into just about any pool design. The shape can be customized to fit the pool, whether it’s geometric, freeform, or some other style. And, while space is an issue, they require a lot less room than beach entries, which offer many of the same benefits.

That said, if you’re thinking of a fiberglass pool, you will be limited to whatever options the shell manufacturer offers (which may not be many). Also, if you’re planning a vinyl pool, a ledge may not be feasible for various reasons. If a Baja shelf is one of your must-have features, your best choice is a custom concrete pool.

Baja shelves often have bubblers to make wading more enjoyable. Another common feature is a built-in umbrella sleeve, allowing you to insert a pool umbrella whenever you want shade. Finally, the shelf is a prime location to include any special tiling or lighting to “class up” your pool.

Large L-shaped swimming pool with a tanning ledge
A Baja shelf can fit into just about any pool shape.

Worth the Cost?

On its own, a Baja shelf doesn’t necessarily add a lot to the cost of a pool, especially if pool steps are already in the mix. Of course, if you’re adding extra features like bubblers, or expanding the size of your pool to accommodate a Baja shelf, that’s a different story. Similarly, renovating an older pool to add a Baja shelf is obviously a major project with a major price tag.

Whatever the price is, consider the fact that a Baja shelf could help you get more use out of your pool. It allows you to relax in the water without having to change into your swimsuit or maneuver yourself onto a pool float. And on days when the deeper water is too chilly, the warmer shallow end can remain open for business.

Of course, if you have young children or grandchildren, a Baja shelf also offers them a safe place to play. If you include an umbrella sleeve, that play area can easily be shielded from the sun. Finally, as opposed to other kiddie water features like splash pads, a Baja shelf fits neatly into your poolscape.

Two young girls standing in an inground swimming pool at the edge of a baja shelf
Baja shelves are great for the kiddos.

When deciding whether to get a Baja shelf – or any other pool feature, for that matter – it’s important to focus on how you plan to use your pool. If swimming and sports are your thing, then you may not want to give up the extra space. But if you’re more of a sun worshiper, then a Baja shelf could make for the perfect altar.