A Baja shelf is an expansive shallow-water step that serves as an entry point into a swimming pool. Typically, the shelf is submerged 8-16 inches.

A Baja shelf may also be called a Baja step, Acapulco shelftanning ledge, Shamu shelf, shallow reef step, thermal ledge or a sun shelf.

It is a scaled-down resort feature that adds functionality to residential pools for bathers of all ages. They have grown in popularity in residential pools since the mid-1990s.

The Whole Family

The shelf gives toddlers and young children a place to play without swimming in water over their heads. It is a safe place from which to stage lessons for early swimmers.

The elderly and handicapped benefit too. The ability to sit in a lounge chair in the pool or wade in ankle-deep water brings everyone to the party. Older swimmers can participate without needing the upper body strength to pull themselves up a ladder or climb stairs out of the pool.

Moreover, it allows pets an easy ingress-egress point from deeper water. My inlaws have a Cocker Spaniel who loves to lie half-submerged on the pool shelf during hot Arizona summer afternoons.


The Baja shelf option will add approximately $2,500 to the cost of a new in-ground pool. Shelf options with fiberglass pools are limited. To get a truly customized look, the best option is a concrete pool.

Discuss your goals with your pool builder. Take into account shelf depth, width, shade requirements, lounge chair size, cleaning, and accessories.

Your automatic pool cleaner won’t reach the shelf and it may not be located near the skimmer. For this reason, anticipate how you will keep it clean. In-floor cleaning heads are an option.

The water on the Baja shelf gets warmer than water in the other areas of the pool. If you live in a desert climate like Phoenix, consider making your Baja shelf deeper so the water on the ledge stays cooler. Another good reason to favor a deeper ledge is if you are building a plaster pool. The additional water depth here helps to avoid damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light. Plaster is susceptible to UV damage when exposed near or above the water line.

Demarcate the far edge of the Baja shelf with mosaic tile. This gives bathers a visual indicator where the water changes depth.

If you are designing your pool, consider accessorizing the shelf with underwater bubblers, in-floor cleaning heads, a removable handrail or an umbrella sleeve. Design guidelines like water depth and umbrella clearances from the pool deck should be spelled out in writing with your contractor.

Retrofitting an existing pool with a Baja shelf is tricky because it may not match what is already there. If you go this route, resurface the entire pool when you add features like a spillover spa or a shelf.

Margaritas, Anyone?

You may find that a Baja shelf becomes the most popular corner of your pool. When you have a Baja shelf and a blender, who needs the Biltmore Resort?

The Baja shelf in the photo above was installed by American Backyards, Inc of Gilbert, Arizona.


Somebody said to me, ‘But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.’ That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool. – Sir Paul McCartney, English singer-songwriter for The Beatles