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The Baja Shelf: Pros and Cons for Your Pool

Getting the most functionality out of your backyard space is important. This is especially true when you’ve invested money in designing a brand new pool. Finding ways to ensure that your backyard pool gets used can be difficult. Part of making sure that you get use out of your swimming pool is by being smart with the design. Features such as a Baja shelf can be a good way to add functionality and style to your pool.

Today’s swimming pool design is varied, and there are niches and styles for everyone. Some are trendy, while others persist through functionality and aesthetic appeal. One example of a functional element experiencing a surge in popularity is the Baja shelf.

What is a Baja or sun shelf?

Also known as a tanning shelf, sun shelf, lounge ledge, or Shamu shelf, this structural element could be exactly what you're looking for. A tanning ledge adds necessary functionality and safety to your swimming pool without compromising style. A typical pool area consists of a shallow end around 3 ft high, and a deep end around 5 to 8 ft. The baja step is an additional level installed with a new swimming pool, or added to an existing pool.

Less than a foot deep, the tanning ledge stands out from the rest of the pool and surrounding, deeper water. This low water depth is a big plus for families looking to give young children and dogs a safe place to swim, or just have another place to relax.

How deep is a sun shelf?

A tanning shelf, or baja shelf, is typically between .75 and 1.5 feet deep. This depth is great for soaking in the sun, relaxing on some in-pool furniture, or lounge chairs, or watching the kids and dog splash around.

This depth is at a great contrast to the standard depth of all purpose swimming pools, which usually are around 3 to 4 feet in depth.

How big is a swimming pool tanning ledge?

The size of your shelf will vary depending on the size of the rest of the pool. Pool design for a bigger pool will create a larger shelf to keep things proportional. Families with smaller pools could opt for a smaller shelf.

The size of your shelf also depends on the amount you intend to use it. If you have young children or pets who swim often, a larger shallow section is a good idea. However, if you find yourself swimming solely in the deep end, a smaller pool shelf should be worked into your pool design. New pools can be whatever you want them to be, so long as your contractor and pool design allow.

However, for as many pros as this addition boasts, there are still certain drawbacks to choosing to create a tanning shelf as part of your pool design.

What are tanning shelves made of?

A baja shelf can be made of many materials, depending on the design. While many will make the construction of the rest of a swimming pool's interior, this doesn't always have to be the case. Using a variety of materials such as stone or mosaic tile can help your baja shelf stand out and add a pop of color or fun to a simpler pool area.


Swimming pools are more than just a place to do laps. Whether you’re looking to create a more functional backyard environment for the whole family, or are designing your backyard with your four legged friend’s best interests in mind, a tanning shelf can be a welcome addition for the entire family. Pool owners can enjoy all these benefits in the next pool season.

Great For Kids

It’s normal to have a few reservations about installing a pool in your backyard space. Even for homeowners who are committed to the idea, there are still things to consider. Those with little ones are often concerned about the safety conflict of small children and deep water. A Baja shelf solves this problem without compromising the availability of a deep end.

Think of a tanning shelf as a built in “shallow end”, or a built in kiddie pool. You can watch your kids splash around and enjoy their freedom, teach your little ones to swim, or just relax while your kids get their feet wet.


Baja shelves are marketed as a way to get more out of your pool by turning what would have previously been one level space into two separate sections of functionality. For those spending a lot of time soaking up the sun, tanning shelves or a tanning ledge makes it easy to transition between laying out and taking a dip. Proximity to the water means you can sunbathe without overheating.

If you find yourself avoiding the swimming pool, a baja shelf may make the endeavor more appealing. The shallow water means there’s no need to soak yourself completely. You have the option to sit, recline, or just dip your feet in, without ever getting your hair wet.

Extra Seating

An additional use for a well placed tanning shelf is the unlikely opportunity for more outdoor seating. As tanning shelves have grown in popularity, so has accompanying pool furniture. From a great chaise to a functional table and lounge chairs, the shallow waters of a tanning shelf allow you to keep cool while reclining, relaxing, or even eating a meal.

sun shelf with lounge chairs

Swimming pools need furniture, too. Find some of the most popular in ground pool furniture here. Shop the perfect lounge chair for your tanning shelf, or outfit your pool deck with a new patio umbrella Some chair options even come with a built-in umbrella.

Safe For Pets

Dedicated pet owners are always looking for easy ways to keep their furry friends cool on long, hot summer days. Swimming can quickly get exhausting for dogs, and most pups don’t take kindly to swimming pool floats. A baja shelf offers a perfect middle ground. Separate from the main pool, this shallow area is just the right depth for man’s best friend.

It is important to consider that the more you let your pup in your pool, the higher the chance that debris, dirt, and pet dander will follow. If your pool is frequented by your dog, make sure you’re making an effort to clean the filter more regularly.


Depending on your wishlist, you should be able to design a Baja shelf that is specified to your needs. A good pool builder works with your family to figure out what design is appropriate for your swimming pool.

Some families are just looking to add a small wading space to their pool. In this case, the design should take up only a small section of the design. Those looking to provide a larger splash zone for kids can talk to their designer or pool contractor about extending the shelf.

Aesthetic Benefits of a Baja Shelf

Thankfully, tanning shelves aren’t simply functional. When designed correctly, a baja shelf can add real visual interest to your pool as well. Let it blend seamlessly into the rest of the space, or create contrast by finishing the shelf with a separate tile. Create hard angular shelves, or work with your designer to create curving, organic lines.

The best contractors and designers will take their time to ensure that whatever design you choose, the shelf looks appropriate and intentional in your space.


There is a wide range of uses and positive attributes to Baja shelves. However, they may not be perfect for all families or households. Before talking to your contractor or pool builder and giving them the green light, it’s important to understand some of the common complaints or drawbacks associated with tanning shelves.

Reduced Swimming Space

If you’re already working with a small pool, adding a baja shelf into the mix may be overwhelming. Though the shelf is great for soaking or splashing around, adding a large shelf to a small pool can make the space feel claustrophobic

If you’re unwilling to compromise swimming space, and are similarly opposed to renovating your existing pool, the idea of adding a Baja shelf may not be realistic.

Attract Unwanted Wildlife

To you, it’s a tanning shelf. To birds, it’s a giant birdbath. And while seeing more wildlife in your yard is always nice, attracting more wildlife to your pool may not be your ultimate goal. Of course, more birds means an influx of debris and dirt. It also may mean an influx of bird poop.

This is a bigger problem in some areas than others. Yards that already get very few wildlife birds may not deal with this problem. However, those with a high volume of feathered friends should take this into consideration.

Not All Pools Can Accommodate A Baja Shelf

Unfortunately, not all pools can even accommodate a tanning shelf in the first place. It is almost always possible to install Baja shelves in new pool constructions, but adding one to a renovated pool can be tricky.

While tanning shelves may seem simple, they take careful pool planning. Done incorrectly, they can be safety hazards. They may even begin to crack and cause maintenance issues later on down the road. Installing a Baja shelf may even be impossible for some existing pools.

Homeowners should be careful to check the size of their pool when considering a tanning shelf. It’s important to consult your contractor before making any decisions. The worst thing you can do with your outdoor space is to commit to a vision before knowing if your plan will really work.

Understand How You Use Your Pool

At the end of day, installing a Baja shelf, sun shelf, or tanning shelf all mean the same thing–a shallow shelf that provides a great deal of uniquely usable space to your pool for people of all ages. However, some may benefit more from a tanning shelf than others.

If your favorite part of having a pool in your backyard is the opportunity to swim long laps, a baja shelf may not be for you as it takes up valuable swimming space. However, for families with small kids and pets, this innovative addition could be the solution you’ve been waiting for. Before you settle on a new pool, ask your pool builder if a tanning ledge, or other shelf options can work in your space.

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