Bonny Doon Beach


Rating: A

Despite the erection of anti-nudity warning signs at longtime nudie fan favorite Bonny Doon Beach, north of Santa Cruz, officials have told us they have no immediate plans to issue citations at the north end of the site, which has traditionally been occupied by naturists.

In fact, in June, Pam, of San Mateo, even found a nudist "wandering around," as she calls it, the main public, south side of the beach, which is used by suited visitors. A 15-foot long rock on the sand, along with a sloping cliff with rocks that jut out, separate the two sides of the cove that form Bonny Doon.

"In the short term, things at Bonny Doon are destined to continue the way they are," says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon and nearby state beaches.

"Ultimately it would be nice to see some level of improvement, maybe trail work or stair work," adds Lingenfelter. "But before we'd even do that, there would need to be a General Plan or an Interim Use Plan, which we don't have. And we also don't have any funding for it."

Lingenfelter says he likes Bonny Doon just the way it is. "It's one of our pocket beaches," he explains. "They can really give you the feeling of rugged, untouched majesty. I like standing on those beaches. You can sometimes forget that there's a highway in the distance. It's a very important feeling to maintain."

As for nudity, Lingenfelter says his rangers, who periodically patrol the beach, haven't issued a single warning or citation for nudity since the state approved the acquisition of the beach in 2006. "We'll respond to complaints we receive," he explains, "but I can't recall (receiving) a single complaint."

Asked about reports to a nudist group by two naturists, in separate incidents in the summer of 2009, that they were told to suit up by an unidentified law enforcer, Lingenfelter denied his rangers were involved. He admitted that "there is some overlap" of law enforcement at the beach by deputies of the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department, but a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department says they did not take such action.

Bonny Doon usually gets high marks from beachgoers. "It was perfectly secluded," says Pam who plans to return. "Folks kept to themselves." John, of San Leandro, who dropped by in February, calls it "gorgeous." Dusty, of Santa Cruz, rates it as "tranquil." He also likes its "stunning views."

"I love this beach," said visitor Caitlin, of Campbell, on a message board.

But last year five beachgoers, including a friend of Caitlin's, encountered overly aggressive men at Bonny Doon.  Says Jeff P., of Palo Alto, on Yelp, who was approached for sex by one: "These pervs sap the credibility from nudists." Elizabeth, of San Jose, reports being asked by a middle-aged male nudist if "I needed to get tanning lotion put on. I gave them the get away from me look and things were cool after that." 

"I love nude beaches," said another poster, Jill, of Santa Cruz, after a visit. "So far, Bonny Doon is the only one at which I've actually felt uncomfortable, even with my boyfriend at my side the entire time ... Even after we ... left the nude part of the beach, one of the men actually got up and followed us. How creepy can you get?"

Julie, of the East Bay, had a similar experience. "For women, I would not recommend going solo if for no other reason than to be left alone," she said. "I've had a few brave 'johns' that like to walk up (naked) and introduce themselves even when I'm there with my boyfriend."

And in a more humorous vein, summer visitor Katie, of Redwood City, complains about the looks of the guys on the sand: "Why don't some hot dudes come here and sun-bathe naked? That might make it a 5 star beach."

The clothing-optional section usually attracts more women and couples than most nude beaches. "Minuses" include occasional vehicle burglaries and gawkers on the bluffs or in the bushes.

Legal status:

The beach was frequently used by nudists in the 1960s, following the formation of the so-called Experimental Beach 1958 (XB-58), popularized by Sol Stern, Stan Stohler, and Ed Lange, to bring nudist club members together on the sand and develop the concept of a nude public beach. Formerly privately owned but with public access available under state law, Bonny Doon Beach was sold in 2001. Today, the area east of the highway is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, while the state parks system has, since 2006, controlled the beach, which may eventually become Bonny Doon State Beach. 

How to find it:

From San Francisco, go south on Highway 1 to the Bonny Doon parking lot at milepost 27.6 on the west side of the road, 2.4 miles north of Red, White, and Blue Beach, and some 11 miles north of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, head north on Highway 1 until you see Bonny Doon Road, which veers off sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is just off the intersection. Park in the paved lot to the west of Highway 1; don't park on Bonny Doon Road or the shoulder of Highway 1. If the lot is full, drive north on Highway 1, park at the next beach lot, and walk back to the first lot. Or take Santa Cruz Metro Transit District bus route 40 to the lot; it leaves the Metro Center three times a day on Saturdays and takes about 20 minutes. To get to the beach, climb the berm next to the railroad tracks adjacent to the Bonny Doon lot, cross the tracks, descend, and take a recently improved, sign-marked trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the nude cove on the north end. Alternately, Dusty suggests parking as far north as possible, taking the northern entrance, and, with good shoes, following a "rocky and steep" walk down to the sand.

The beach:

Bonny Doon is a sunny patch of sand and surf. You can bring dogs, and if you come before July, you may see whales. "The area just away from the cliff offers good shelter from the wind," says Pasco. But don't sit right next to it, as erosion (and falling rocks) is a problem.

The crowd:

Pam spotted a nude man on the clothed end of the beach, plus a photographer, nude model, and several other persons fully or totally unclad on the north side. Later, several older men, two older couples, and a family in their 30s arrived. Bob Wood of San Francisco found several dozen people, almost all nude: young and old, couples and singles, gays and straights, and men and women, though more men than women.


Anti-nudity warning signs added; numerous complaints by both male and female visitors in 2011 and 2010 about men making unwanted advances toward them; two warnings for nudity from unidentified law enforcers reported by beachgoers in separate incidents in 2009; fog; wind; gawkers; hazardous waves; loose cliffs; parking lot fills early; auto burglaries; sometimes becomes rocky shelf with no sand in late winter; grains of beach sand are "too big," according to some visitors.

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