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15 Inspiring Baja Shelf Designs

Custom swimming pool design has come a long way in the last few decades. As technology and materials have evolved, so have designs. Today, swimming pool designers and contractors are more innovative than ever. One of the most popular swimming pool designs is the Baja shelf.

Also referred to as a tanning shelf or a sun shelf, a baja shelf is a structural design element added to many modern swimming pools. In its traditional form, a baja shelf is a built in, shallow area of your swimming pool. Typical depth is between .7 and 1.5 feet deep, and its functionality is a huge part of the appeal.

Baja shelves, or tanning ledges, add functionality, safety, and style to any swimming pool. Perfect for relaxing on chairs, letting kids splash around, or giving pets a safe way to enjoy the pool, a tanning ledge is equal parts functionality and aesthetic appeal.

If you’re looking to install a swimming pool with a baja shelf, you might be looking for inspiration. We’ve compiled 15 unique baja shelf designs to help inspire your swimming pool renovation.

Funky Conversation Pit

Swimming pool design is more creative than ever. The above design showcases the best of what unique, in-pool structures have to offer. Here, the pool’s baja shelf provides a sizable and cordoned off shallow area.

From here, pool goers can descend the stairs, or step left into a fully functional, completely dry, conversation pit. The layout of these two elements allows parents to cozy up by the fire while keeping a watchful eye on kids splashing a few feet away on the baja shelf.

A Pop of Color

A great way to make any unique feature of your pool pop is to integrate color. Just like a bold pain choice can completely change a room, incredible tile work can elevate any design element of a pool. The baja shelf above has become the star of the show. Multi-color glass tile lines not only the coping, but creates the base of the tanning ledge as well. The effect is a shimmering shelf that is as beautiful as it is functional.

Long and Linear

Credit: Builder: @akinshomes⁠, Landscape Architect: @danstuart⁠, Designer: @Ericabryendesign⁠⠀⠀

Baja shelves come in all shapes and sizes. Above, a long linear baja shelf creates space to tan along the entire long edge of the pool. This offers plenty of space for guests to kick off their shoes and splash around. At the same time, it leaves plenty of room for lounge chairs, like those seen above, to reach their full potential. The final effect is a resort-like pool that perfectly fits the rest of this modern outdoor living space.

Cool and Curved

Baja shelves don’t need to have straight edges. In fact, some of the best design inspo comes from tanning ledges that fit the organic shape of the rest of the pool. Above, a large, curving baja shelf provides plenty of room for kids and pets to splash around while adults relax in partially submerged lounge chairs. When you tire of the pool, step directly into a new, luxury spa with curving lines to match the shelves organic edges.

Baja Shelf Built-Ins

Like we saw in the first design, the only limit when it comes to pool design is imagination. In the above design, a baja shelf becomes ground zero for a series of dynamic design choices. Above the shallow shelf, raised concrete steppers create a walkway across the pool. As in the first design, a conversation pit opens to create more dry living space to the right. To the left, lounge chairs look out over the rest of the pool. Above the shallow space, a pergola casts shade from harsh summer sun.

Island In The Sun

Baja shelves can turn a standard pool entrance into a destination. Above, the designers have turned a typical stair entrance into an island-like space. Serving as a retreat from the depths of the rest of the pool, a series of stairs slopes gently up towards the tanning shelf where pool-goers can relax, have a drink, and soak up the sun before diving back in.

Step Into The Spa

As we’ve seen, many baja shelves serve multiple purposes. Many provide aesthetically pleasing ways to create an entrance into the pool. If designed well, they can also serve as a way to access other features of the swimming pool space. In the photo above, a custom baja shelf is set into the pool’s curved edge. From here, swimmers can enter the pool, or step up onto the spa’s exposed edge, and down into the hot water.

Multi-Level Functionality

If you’re going to devote a large amount of square footage to a baja shelf, you’ll need to find subtle ways to make it more interesting. Above, the designers have created a large baja shelf where the homeowner’s can easily step out of the pool onto an auxiliary deck. However, built into the tanning ledge itself is a series of concrete steppers that double as seats. This geometric design makes the shelf more visually interesting, while also boosting its functionality.

Stone Finish

Credit: Tile isn’t the only material that can finish a baja shelf. In this design, multi-color stone creates a rock ledge tanning shelf. This design choice helps tie the baja shelf into the rest of the pool design, which includes large, naturalistic boulders and a custom waterslide. 

Pergolas and Fountains

If you want to add some dynamic movement to your baja shelf, there’s an option for you. Water jets can be installed in shallow areas such as tanning ledges. The result is a running stream of water that adds visual and sonic interest. Little kids will have fun splashing, while you enjoy peaceful white noise and relax next to the pool.

A Ledge With a View

A tanning ledge can be the perfect opportunity to make the most of a view. In the design above, a half-moon shaped tanning ledge looks out over the city below. Not everyone has a million dollar view, we know. But this concept can be applied to most backyard spaces. What is the focal point of your space? What is the area you would like to highlight, or the main entertainment space? Orienting your baja shelf in that direction keeps it in conversation with the rest of the design, while maximizing functionality.

Separate Spaces

While the above shots have all included baja shelves that were immersed in the pool themselves, a standalone baja shelf is also a possibility. In the design above, an infinity style pool creates a waterfall edge. Below, a large tanning shelf is outfitted with a fleet of lounge chairs. This separation of space not only increases safety for kids and pets who cannot fall into deeper water, but also serves as an interesting design choice.

Use The Space You Have

If your pool has an unusual footprint, or your backyard doesn’t accommodate a completely symmetrical design, then a baja shelf is an opportunity to use that unique space. Above, an asymmetrical baja shelf creates a rounded edge for the main pool. At the same time, the shallow area creates room to lounge, and enter the spa to the right. The tanning ledge makes the blend of right angles and curved lines more cohesive, as well as offering additional functionality.

Fun with Fountains

What’s better than two fountains? How about eight? In the above design, the contractors and designers took the bubbler fountain idea to the next level. This baja shelf showcases eight separate jets, each shooting above the level of the water. If you’re not interested in tanning in your pool, this can create more of a “water-park” like interest point for kids and pets. For adults, the splash of the fountain creates a lovely ambience and relaxing white noise.

Beach Entry

Last but not least, we wanted to highlight the cousin of the baja shelf–the beach entry. While it has a similar function, providing a shallow area in a standard swimming pool, the design is slightly different. Classic baja shelves have distinct levels. Beach entries, like the one seen above, gradually slope from the pool deck into the water, like a beach into the ocean. This can be a good option for homes where stairs provide mobile challenges.

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