In 1967, Northern California gave birth to America's first nude beach, at San Gregorio, near Santa Cruz. Now, 40 years later, there's great news coming from the sand: in the biggest surge in more than a decade, clothing-optional beaches and other skinny-dipping sites are booming once again. Check out our miniguide below. And in the near future, visit an expanded version on the web that includes our unveiling of a pristine cove near Capitola and directions to a place where you can take a naked full-moon hike.
The one bummer? The popular Red White and Blue Beach, in Santa Cruz County, is closing in the wake of the retirement of owner Ralph Edwards.
San Francisco County
LAND'S END BEACH
Tucked away among craggy cliffs, patches of sand, and some of the Bay Area's best scenery, a nude beach is the last thing you'd expect to find within a short walk of the end of Geary Boulevard. But on warm days, Land's End usually draws dozens of visitors.
HOW TO FIND IT Go to the end of Geary, and park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. A hundred yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, rises and falls, and eventually becomes the width of a road. Don't take the road on the right, which leads to a golf course. Instead, keep going past another bench, and as the trail turns right, take a left toward a group of dead trees. Where there's a stairway with a Dogs Must Be Leashed sign, descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Alternately, follow the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot a quarter mile until you reach a bench, then take the trail there. It's rough in spots, and at the end you'll scramble over rocks.
THE BEACH Rocks and little watery grottoes. Look for some good sandy areas away from the beach's entrance. For the best sunbathing spots, walk west (left). Some visitors build little rock windbreaks, which provide protection from blowing sand.
THE CROWD The quarter-mile-long cove gets up to 30 visitors on the warmest days, with up to 80 percent gay male usage being fairly standard. One visitor counted six or so nudes, all men, during a May visit.
PROBLEMS Long walk, random "sex patrols" by rangers, reports of drug use, public sex on trails and nearby. Fog and wind. Quite rocky. Swimming not allowed. Trails other than the main one are unsafe and may be closed and have poison oak.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE BEACH
Overrun by fans undeterred by its slippery and often dangerous trails, the Golden Gate Bridge Beach usually turns into a mob scene on summer weekends. The waves don't break as hard here as at Baker Beach, so on the nicest days in low tide, you can go out up to 50 yards. A favorite activity: watching the sunset while staring toward the site's namesake, the Golden Gate Bridge. But don't visit if you're looking for privacy and solitude. "I had to stop going there because it's such a pickup scene," frequent visitor Joseph Friday says.
Also known as Nasty Boy Beach and Marshall's Beach, the shoreline here features a trio of adjacent coves. In the spring, check for beautiful flowers on the bluffs. Drawbacks include some poison oak on the path (often trimmed back by volunteers), which is otherwise unmaintained and becomes a muddy bluish goo after rainstorms. Golden Gate National Recreational Area rangers strongly recommend that visitors stay away from the trails and avoid swimming.
HOW TO FIND IT Go to North Baker Beach, park in the main lot, and walk north along Lincoln Boulevard, passing the sand ladder that leads to North Baker. Just north of the ladder trail, look for a dirt road with a gate leading to Battery Crosby.