Places We Swim California: A Guide to the Best Rivers, Lakes, Waterfalls, Beaches, Gorges, and Hot Springs by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon

Hardie Grant

Review by Brian Tanguay

California’s geographic diversity and beauty has long inspired seekers, dreamers, and people of capacious imagination. The state’s many natural wonders dwarf our human stature and at the same time uplift our spirits. In the Introduction to their meticulously curated book, Places We Swim California, Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon, write: “From dusty chaparral to sun-drenched beaches. The calm of ancient redwood forests. Granite canyons and emerald pools, volcanic peaks, and thermal springs.” Clements and Seitchik-Reardon are intrepid outdoor enthusiasts and present a generous guide to a cross-section of the state, from the coast to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, wine country to gold country. 

As much as I was enticed by the photographs, the detailed notes about each location, starting with the swimming available, are what captured my attention; each entry also includes a nod to the clan affiliations of the original indigenous inhabitants. In choosing these destinations, Clements and Seitchik-Reardon considered whether the spot was unique or in some way special to the region, worth the investment of a day or more, and not prohibitively expensive or difficult to access for an average person.

California has always been defined by the presence or absence of water. No natural resource is more valuable or more contested. Water sustains California’s magic and, as this book demonstrates, it offers spectacular rewards for the outdoor adventurer, swimming in particular. Readers will learn tips for doing so safely. Here’s one simple and sensible example: “Sit and look for a while before getting in the water.” Accessing some of the featured lakes, rivers and waterfalls requires a short trek, so the authors also include useful information about minimizing natural hazards such as poison oak, rattlesnakes, ticks, and bears. 

The authors advocate for basic outdoor etiquette that is expressed by their succinct admonition: “Don’t be a jerk.” In other words, be respectful of the place and other people. Collect any trash you see, even if it’s not yours. Do your best to minimize your personal impact. But most of all, enjoy. Follow the example of Clements and Seitchik-Reardon and be the sort of wilderness lovers who leave a spot better than they found it. People filled with reverence tend to act that way, and only such people could have produced this book.