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Swimming Pool Sun Shelves Uses, Benefits, and Options—With Photos

Posted by Blue Haven Pools & Spas on Apr 13, 2024 8:48:47 PM

—A photo-packed guide to this attractive, functional aquatic amenity


What is a swimming pool sun shelf—also called a tanning ledge or Baja bench? While this feature is simple in concept, it delivers big benefits.

Fundamentally, a sun shelf is a shallow platform or ledge inside the pool perimeter upon which one or more chaise lounges can be placed or upon which you can directly lie submerged in 6 to 9 inches of water.

You may be surprised at all the ways this versatile, customizable option is used and how it enhances the pool experience!


Soaring in popularity during the past decade, sun shelves were developed when observant pool builders noticed that pool owners and their children often used the pool’s top entry step for relaxing, playing, and socializing—often more than for entering and exiting the water.

Widening the top step to create a broad shallow platform made practical sense.

The idea caught on in a big way, and today, many new pools include a sun shelf. The feature is a favorite add-on in major pool remodels as well.

While a version of a sun shelf is possible on a fiberglass or vinyl liner pool, this feature only achieves its full, beautiful, functional glory when built in a concrete (gunite/shotcrete) swimming pool.

If you are considering a sun shelf in your new aquatic resort—especially if it’s a custom concrete design—here’s the lowdown on this trending pool upgrade.



Beyond giving you a pleasant space to get your tan on, a sun shelf serves several purposes. In fact, many pool owners will tell you the sun shelf is the most used feature in their pool.

Typically positioned beneath 6 to 9 inches of water, a sun shelf provides an ultra-functional, miniature aquatic retreat unto itself.

It’s a shallow area for lounging, a perch for socializing, a safer play area for children and non-swimmers, and an entry point for adults who may be hesitant to fully submerge.

Tanning and Relaxation

This aquatic amenity is ideal for sunbathing while providing respite from the heat.

Depending on the structure’s depth, you can lie directly on it so you have several inches of water keeping you cool.

More commonly, pool owners place a chaise lounge or upright chair on the structure. You can relax and splash water to cool down or easily take a quick dip in the water and return to your comfortable spot.

To block the sun's harsh rays, some sun ledges can accommodate a patio umbrella to provide shade. (More about that under “Design Ideas” below).




As pools and their surrounding areas are often used for gatherings, a sun shelf typically becomes a social hub within the setting. Its position allows for easy interactions between those in the pool and others staying dry.

On some projects, the shelf is built adjacent to the gunite spa, making conversation ultra-convenient between those on the shelf and those in the hot swirling water.


Play Places

Sun shelves are ideal for small children to enjoy the water.

The structure serves as a shallow play area for them. Parents can relax while staying within arm’s reach of their kids.

This multi-generational functionality makes sun shelves optimal for families spending time together. Around the pool.

Comfortable Access

Whether young or old, sun shelves provide an inviting spot for non-swimmers and those just learning to swim. Seniors and those with mobility challenges may also appreciate this shallow area.

Some individuals are simply more comfortable in water less than a foot in depth. This feature makes the pool less intimidating, enabling those who fear an expanse of water to enjoy it, too.

Your family pooch may also appreciate being able to cool off on this handy perch.


Sun shelves have become a key design feature that complements the pool, making it appear more welcoming or even resort-like. (Yes, growing numbers of commercial pools also include sun shelvesusually on a much larger scale.)

By way of its size, shape, depth, finish materials, location inside the pool, and style, you can customize this simple structure to complement any swimming pool shape and its style.


Strategy is critical when deciding where in the pool the sun shelf should go.

In most cases, it will be somewhere in the pool’s shallow area. However, in some pool designs, the shelf can go into the deep end to serve as a rest spot.

Many homeowners and their builders choose a spot near a social area. Inside the pool, this could be adjacent to a set of entry steps or integrated into the step configuration.

rectangle-pool-with-bubbler-fountains two-fountains-and-umbrella-on-large-swimming-pool-sun-ledge

The sun shelf could go next to or in front of an attached gunite spa, with water overflowing the spa dam wall’s spillway onto the water surface above the shelf.

Or, the shelf could be integrated into the entry steps that are strategically built adjacent to or surrounding the spa.

custom-pool-with-spa-surrounded-by-custom-sun-shelf tanning-ledge-and-spa-on-pool

Another option for placing the shelf is near a social hub on the deck, such as a patio seating area or poolside kitchen.

By contrast, you may want a sun shelf for indulging in a bit of solitude. Toward that goal, position it far as possible from the aquatic action that goes on around a pool slide, jump rock, diving board, swim-up bar, or swim-up table.

The same goes for keeping distance from high-traffic areas on the adjacent patio.

Your builder can use a ledge to form a kind of supplemental section of the pool’s perimeter shape; the shelf can sit outside of the pool’s main silhouette, creating an extended niche.

rectangular-pool-with-exterior-sun-shelf-lounge-chairs-jpg gunite-spa-and-sun-shelf-on-inground-pool


Sun shelf size will vary based on a number of considerations.

First and foremost, the structure should be scaled to meet your desired use. If you anticipate multiple users at a time—be they children or adults—you will naturally want to have enough room to accommodate them.

On the other hand, if one or two people will ever use it simultaneously, you can limit the square footage.

By far, homeowners want adequate space for one or two chaise lounges; some want room for three or four lounges.

Some even request room for a miniature table (that’s manufactured for in-pool use) next to the chaise lounge(s).

To place a chaise lounge, you want a shelf measuring at least 7 feet long.

To hold two lounges, at least 7 feet in width is best. Bear in mind that the structure’s shape can impact the needed dimensions.

If your pool’s size will limit the shelf’s dimensions, an option is to place upright or semi-upright chairs that require less horizontal space.

chairs-on-pool-sun-ledge chairs-on-small-pool-sun-ledge

Again, knowing the intended use is crucial in the design phase.

Sun shelves should also be sized in the context of the pool. Most pool owners want an ample shelf—but simultaneously don’t want to sacrifice too much interior pool area for the amenity.

The real estate needed for a sun shelf can be a challenge in a compact pool. However, some small swimming pools can include one.

The solution is to build the first entry step with expanded dimensions so it serves double duty as a space-saving sun shelf.


A word of caution if you plan to regularly swim laps in your pool: It’s critical to avoid building the ledge on either end of the pool where it might disrupt your flip turns.


The shape of the sun shelf should harmonize with the pool shape you have picked, as well as its overall architectural style.

A sun shelf that’s square, rectilinear, semi-circular, or 360-degree round makes the most sense for a modern geometric pool with straight lines, right angles, and symmetrical radii.

The same generally holds true for a classical Roman/Grecian pool.



But what if your pool shape is a modern kidney? Designed like a cloud or figure-8? Or an organic, free-form silhouette?

For pools with these kinds of soft, flowing lines, a shelf that’s also curved will marry well. It might take the form of a kind of “melting” half-moon

curvy-pool-with-large-curved-sun-shelf wavy-gunite-spa-and-sun-shelf-on-custom-pool

While these approaches to the shelf’s shape are common, an experienced pool builder may propose a creative alternative to achieve an attractive result.


A sun shelf can be designed and built as a distinct, individual feature unto itself within the pool.

However, it can also be incorporated into the pool’s entry step formation. As part of the entry, the shelf typically comes in the form of an expanded first step, as described earlier.

custom-pool-with-island-sun-shelf gunite-pool-with-water-features-sun-shelf

On some pools, the shelf is part of a more intricate arrangement with an attached spa or even a rock waterfall.

custom-pool-spa-sun-ledge pool-with-spa-rock-waterfall-and-sun-shelf


Sun shelves usually range from 6 inches to 12 inches deep; nine inches is the most common.

If your goal is a shelf that holds one or more chaise lounges, 6 to 9 inches will accommodate most models. However, a few pool lounge models are specifically created for ledges that are deeper than nine inches.

If you prefer to keep cool by laying directly on the shelf in the water without any furniture, consider a depth of 6 inches.

A note about chaise lounges for a pool sun shelf:

Regular patio lounges are a poor choice to use inside a pool. Instead, choose models specifically manufactured for sun-shelf use.

These units can be filled with water to make them stationary inside the pool. They are also fabricated in material that withstands chemically treated water.

Toward this goal, consider quality brands such as Ledge® and HydraLounge®—versus settling for cheap imported knock-offs.


Because the sun shelf is extremely shallow compared to the rest of the pool, it is often the most visible feature beneath the water’s surface.

The most common finish for the structure is to use the same material as the pool interior. That means traditional marcite plaster, ColorQuartz, or color pebble.

Keep in mind: Even if the same finish as the pool is used on the shelf, its appearance will not visually be the same.

Here’s why: Since it is typically under less than a foot of water, the shelf often appears lighter than the rest of the pool interior. In some cases, it may appear like an entirely different color.

pool-with-spa-and-sun-ledge rectangular-sun-shelf-on-swimming-pool

Now, perhaps you want a shelf that makes a bolder visual statement. You can splurge on several options.

One is to upgrade the shelf’s exterior finish. Have your builder cover the entire structure with sleek pool tile for a contemporary aesthetic.

large-custom-swimming-pool-sun-shelf pool-with-square-tiled-sun-shelf-and-square-spa

Another route is stone fascia that matches or coordinates with the pool coping or deck. This material is a particularly good choice for pools with a rustic or tropical design theme.

Flagstone is a popular choice, but you can use other stone such as quartz or travertine as well.

Sealing the stone so it better withstands chemically treated pool water is a prudent move. (So is reducing your pool’s chemical needs by using an alternative water sanitizer: either ozone or advanced oxidation process.)

inground-pool-with-flagstone-covered-sun-shelf curvy-entry-steps-sun-shelf-on-gunite-pool

You can bling out your sun shelf in other ways.

Choose colorful pool mosaics of sea creatures or symbols. Or, ask for a design that trims the shelf’s borders with accent tile.

turtle-mosaic-on-pool-steps turtle-mosaic-on-pool-sun-shelf

On a lagoon pool, you could include small accent boulders on the shelf to elevate a tropical theme.

gunite-pool-sun-shelf-with-accent-boulders accent-boulder-on-pool-sun-ledge

For an addition that’s both decorative and functional, plan for a patio umbrella: Ask your builder to include a pole sleeve into which you can slip your choice of colorful umbrella to provide shade over your sun shelf.

sun-shelf-with-umbrella-on-rectangle-pool sun-umbrella-and-chaise-lounges-on-pool-sun-ledge

Pool builders often accent a sun shelf with one, two, or three bubbler fountains. An upgrade here is to light up these playful water features with integrated LED pool lighting.

woman-sitting-on-pool-sun-shelf-with-fountains illuminated-bubbler-water-fountain-tiled-pool-sun-shelf

Even if you do not include fountains, you can add color-changing LED lighting to the sun shelf. Illumination on the shelf’s surface adds stunning nighttime drama and may also improve safety.

custom-pool-spa-in-blue-lighting-2 swimming-pool-and-spa-in-blue-lighting



Some challenges exist for keeping a sun shelf clean without some manual upkeep, especially if it is located near or under deciduous trees.

Typically, automatic pool cleaners cannot reach the surface of a sun shelf to effectively clean it.

However, options are available to keep the feature tidy. Homeowners investing in an in-floor cleaning system can have one of the cleaning heads integrated into the shelf.

A more affordable alternative to in-floor systems is a supplemental cleaning & circulation device, such as a SmartFlow™ JetSystem.

A SmartFlow head pointing upward is plumbed into the ledge’s horizontal surface. It produces tiny, targeted water jets that sweep debris off the shelf and into the pool, where the automatic cleaner can remove it. In some configurations, this head can be plumbed into the pool wall adjacent to the shelf.

In addition, a bubbler fountain—ideally two or three—on a sun shelf may help with cleaning.

The agitation from the bubblers produces extra water circulation around the shelf that can move debris off the shelf and into the pool.

illuminated-fountains-on-swimming-pool-sun-shelf bubbler-fountain-on-swimming-pool-1


The price of a sun shelf varies widely based on size, style, pool configuration, and upgrades. Like the base price of a pool and other features, where you live significantly impacts the project budget.

Design choices, such as using the shelf as an expanded first step, may minimize the cost of certain designs.

Upgrades such as mosaics, lighted bubblers, or an all-tile finish will increase the price tag.

Plan with Care

By understanding a sun shelf's functions, benefits, design options, and considerations, you can have one that best suits your family’s needs, lifestyle, and aesthetic preferences. And those using your pool will be able to enjoy this wonderful amenity for years to come!


Topics: Remodeling, Design / Features, LED, custom pool design, Buyer Tips, tanning ledges, Owner/Lifestyle, pool mosaics


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