When you’re building a pool, you might hear a lot of words that you’ve never heard before. Scupper, bond beam, baja shelf; we promise we aren’t making up words!
At California Pools & Landscape we’ve been building custom pools in Arizona for 34 years. Over the years we’ve seen design trends come and go, but a baja shelf is one that stands the test of time!
In this article we’ll introduce you to a baja shelf, cover the standard cost and go through all of the design options you could include on yours. By the end of this article you’ll be a baja shelf expert!
What Is A Baja Shelf Or Tanning Ledge?
A baja shelf is an extended step into a pool that creates a shallow area in the water for lounging and play. It’s also referred to as a tanning ledge, extended step, sun shelf or baja step. It is the perfect middle ground between pool and poolside where you can partially submerge a chair and relax in the water.
Picture this: Two lounge chairs sitting in your swimming pool, hovering just above the water line — perfect for sipping an umbrella drink and dipping your toes in occasionally, without having to submerge yourself.
Sounds perfect, right? This is the delightful scene a baja shelf provides — and it’s not just relegated to high-end resorts. A baja shelf can create an instant resort vibe in your backyard environment.
A Baja shelf’s shallow waters also make it a built-in kiddie pool. Instead of having to lug the kids around the deep end with you, they can perch on the shelf, splashing and playing to their heart’s content.
How Deep is A Baja Shelf?
Baja shelfs sit submerged under water, but how deep under the water do they typically sit? A baja shelf can sit anywhere from 6” – 18” under the waterline depending on your preference.
If you’re looking into a baja shelf, it’s important to keep in mind that any custom pool builder will offer various options for the depth of a baja shelf. Depending on your preference for functionality when using your baja shelf, having the water at a shorter depth might make sense for you.
At California Pools & Landscape, we typically build a baja shelf to sit at 6”, 12” or 18” below the waterline of the pool.
6” Baja Shelf
Building a baja shelf that is 6” below the waterline would allow the water to cover your legs while seated on the shelf. This shallow shelf is a popular option for homeowners with small dogs.
12” Baja Shelf
Building a baja shelf that is 12” below the waterline will allow the water to come up to your midsection while seated. This is a nice depth for you to be able to kick out your legs and relax. This is a very popular depth for those looking to create a kiddie pool water height for children to be able to splash around in the shallow water.
18” Baja Shelf
Building a baja shelf that is 18” below the waterline will allow the water to come up to your arms while you are seated and is at the same level that a pool bench is at. This is a popular selection for pool enthusiasts that are wanting to put a lounging chair on the baja shelf and relax with the lower half of their body in the water while the top of their body is above the surface.
How Much Does A Baja Shelf Cost?
Sure a baja shelf sounds great, but is it expensive to have one in your pool? The price of a Baja shelf can range greatly based on the size of the elevated shelf and any special design features added.
A Baja shelf of a typical size will cost somewhere between $1,000 – $1,500.
For example, at California Pools & Landscape our standard baja shelf is somewhere between 40sqft – 100sqft which would roughly amount to $800 – $1,400. Of course as you add to the size of the shelf or add things like water features or specialty tiles, the price will increase.
What Design Options Are Available For A Baja Shelf?
When it comes to the design of your baja shelf, there are a multitude of options for you to consider. The shape, size and depth are all important decisions to make.
This means the choices are endless when designing a Baja shelf, because the configuration can be completely customized to fit geometric or freeform pools. Your baja shelf should mirror the design characteristics of your pool with either straight lines & sharp angles or a free flowing feel with round curves.
First Step Baja or Second Step Baja?
Do you want your baja shelf to be the first step into your pool? This initial entry to your pool is a popular option. Another trending design option is having a normal entry step and then having your baja shelf below that. You likely haven’t thought about this decision before, but there is a different appearance between these two options.
First Step Baja Shelf
A first step baja shelf is an extended entry step into your pool. This design choice provides an immediate large landing zone for entry and exit out of your oasis. Typically these are created with a shallower depth than a second step baja shelf.
Second Step Baja Shelf
A second step baja shelf typically will sit deeper than a first step baja shelf. These are also customizable to be the size and shape of your choice. A first step will be connected to the baja shelf and can be small or large and located at a preferred entry point into your pool.
There are several cosmetic options that can enhance your baja shelf. You could potentially add water features, umbrella sleeves or specialty tiles to add a personal touch to your pool.
Baja Shelf With Umbrella Sleeves
Adding umbrella sleeves into the design of your baja shelf will enable you to easily add an umbrella into your environment. This can be a great addition whether the kids are playing on the baja shelf or if you’re looking to escape the sun and relax.
Depending on the size of your baja shelf, you might be able to include multiple sleeves in your design. This would allow you to create an option for extra relief in places that get a ton of sunlight year round, like Arizona, while relaxing in the water.
Baja Shelf With Water Features
Water features are another popular design feature to add with your baja shelf. These can be added for design symmetry and for additional ambiance in the yard.
Parascoping fountains are popular additions to a baja shelf as they will shoot water up above the pool’s water line, creating a relaxing look and sound in your backyard environment.
Baja Shelf With Specialty Tiles
If you’d like to enhance the design of your baja shelf with some specialty tile, there are several that you could add. We’ve seen rows of tile added near the step edge, mosaic designs and custom creations over the years.
Tile options provide you a chance to add some flair or personality into your project. A baja shelf is prime real estate for a specialty tile because it sits so close to the surface. Oftentimes these tiles will be an upgrade and add to the cost of your project.
Baja Shelf With A Pool Table
You can also enhance the design of your Baja shelf with a raised table to sit around in your baja shelf. This will instantly create a popular watering hole to congregate around in the shallow water.
It is also possible to insert planters, creating an island effect in the middle of a baja shelf. This can add a dramatic design pop, adding a tropical feel and offering a ledge for sitting on resting drinks on.
Is A Baja Shelf Worth The Investment?
Now that you know more about a baja shelf, can you envision one in your pool? This can be a tough decision to make, but ultimately we’d encourage you to strongly consider the functionality that you’re seeking from your pool.
If lounging in shallow water while catching some Arizona sun is how you can picture enjoying your pool, a Baja shelf is a great investment. If having a shallow area for children to enjoy is high on the list, a Baja shelf is worth including in your pool budget.
Is A Baja Shelf For Me?
A Baja shelf will be a good fit for you if:
- You enjoy relaxing in shallow water
- You want a shallow section for children to play
- You want a variation of depths in your pool
A Baja shelf might not be the right fit for you if:
- You are looking for a lap pool
- You enjoy swimming in deep water
If a baja shelf isn’t high on your wish list, there are other ways of forming shotcrete to create benches, entry steps, various depth areas, stools and tables, and more. This stunning Peoria backyard features several other design inspirations.
After reading this article you now have a better idea of what a baja shelf is and if it is right for you in your pool. Creating a custom backyard living area is a fun, yet detailed process. Figuring out what design features are right for you and how you’d best enjoy your backyard is important.
Ultimately establishing a budget for your pool and backyard project is something that you need to do before meeting with a contractor or pool company. Adding a feature like a Baja shelf can increase the cost of your project, but also increase the enjoyment of your own personal oasis.
*Please note that this article reflects 2021 pricing.