North Baker Beach

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Rating: A

Social activists have begun streaming onto the sand of America's biggest urban nude beach, creating what visitor Santosh calls "a tone that's like Burning Man," with regulars bringing guitars, drums, and Frisbees to the sand, putting up art work best described as eclectic, and occasionally staring down gawkers.

"There's no requirement that you go nude," says Santosh, an artist, graphic artist, and producer of San Francisco's How Weird Street Faire, an outdoor street fair held each year in the SoMa neighborhood as a fundraiser for the World Peace Through Technology Organization. "But if a creeper dude plops down next to a (nude) person or if they are staring at someone's private parts and it's happening close to where we are, on the far north end (of North Baker), then they will start being the object of ridicule."

"But it's done in a nonconfrontational way," he adds. "Our approach is like the Jedi Mind Tricks (in "Star Wars"). Pretty soon they get it and leave."

Self-policing of the beach isn't the only change happening at Baker. Art work has also been springing up. Included in an array of driftwood projects taking shape in the clothing-optional area of the beach is a 10 foot tall object that Santosh calls a "seaweed art tree." "I keep adding new seaweed," he says, "but don't worry, the seaweed doesn't really smell after it dries. It's really trippy. People stop by to photograph it. Others are constantly asking me what it is and why I'd spend all year working on it, which is greatly satisfying to hear. That's what being an artist is all about."

Nearby are up to 10 shade structures dubbed "dunies" by regulars. Similar to tents without walls, each is made by affixing a bedsheet to the top of four driftwood sticks and another bedsheet to the bottom. "I sometimes invite people into my duney to get out of the sun," says Santosh, who lives about 20 blocks from the beach. "We even have a driftwood bar. It's like a day at Club Med."

Not everyone likes the newly emerging beach community at Baker. "They demand tolerance," says one detractor who wanted to remain anonymous, "but if you disagree with them, they come across as very close-minded."

"They even changed the rules to make the beach volleyball games less competitive," adds the visitor. "They lowered the net because they felt it was too high for some players. And they give women another serve if they fail to get it over the net, but don't do the same for men."

Whatever the case, like everywhere else, things are continuing to evolve at Baker, where "duney" isn't the only new term on the sand. Another is "Baker Day," which is described as being any day when the sun's out and it's not overly windy.

"The threshold is really 68 degrees," says Santosh. "Of the 100 or so days a year I go to the beach, maybe only 30-40 are primo Baker Days."

Legal status:

Part of the GGNRA. See Land's End entry for policy.

How to find it:

Take the 29 Sunset bus or go north on 25th Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard. Turn right and take the second left onto Bowley Street. Follow Bowley to Gibson Road, turn right, and follow Gibson to the east parking lot. Head right on the beach to the nude area, which starts at the brown and yellow "Hazardous surf, undertow, swim at your own risk" sign. Some motorcycles in the lot have been vandalized, possibly by car owners angered by bikers parking in car spaces; to avoid trouble, motorcyclists are urged to park in the motorcycle area near the cyclone fence.

The beach:

A long, narrow beach. If you have a moment, be sure to check out Baker's "secret spot": its intriguing tide pools! They're tucked away at the north end of the beach. Access is possible only during low tide, so consult a tide table and then, to find them, walk around the big rocks at the northern tip of the nude beach. Also at the far north end of the north portion of the beach: most of the beach's regular visitors. According to some users, a so-called "bubble effect" significantly magnifies temperatures at the far end of Baker, giving it a micro-climate that is warmer than much of the rest of The City.

The crowd:

On the hottest afternoons, over 100 persons visit North Baker. "We get maybe 50-70 people on an average good day," estimates Santosh. On afternoons that are warm but not hot, the beach usually draws 30-40 regular visitors, plus a few newbies. While more women than ever are on the sand, there's still a heavy male to female ratio at Baker, where you'll find a wide range of humanity, from lawyers with neither business suits nor swim suits to job seekers who aren't dressed for success or anything else and retirees who have retired their clothing. "You'll see young people, older types, men, women, Bay Area residents, tourists, gays, and straights," says former Baker veteran Ray Brokowski. Adds a beach regular: "It's like the cantina in the first Star Wars." 

Problems:

Fog; wind; parking lots fill early; some gawkers (especially in the afternoon); large crowds on hot days; sand may be very hot; hazardous waves; cold water; increased visits by rangers in 2008 and 2009 after several reports of sexual activity in the beach bathroom and near middle Baker, where the nude area begins.

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