Devil's Slide (Gray Whale Cove)


Improved directions!


Devil's Slide (Gray Whale Cove)

Rating: A

Gray Whale Cove, which is often called Devil's Slide, continues to get rave reviews from visitors.

"There were lots of young, fit guys on the nudie part and about five women," reports Alexis, of San Leandro, who visited this June and told Yelp she stayed for over five hours because it was "very warm and sunny." The water was "very cold, but just jump in," she suggests. "It's somewhat tolerable and you'll get used to it."

"This is a great nude beach and it is a romantic place," reports a male visitor who dropped by in April.

Adds Grace, of South San Francisco: "You don't have to walk a half mile just to see the edge of the water." And, she added, it's "very secluded" so it isn't as crowded as many other local beaches.

And here's some even better news: although the beach appears on the list of parks scheduled to be closed this month by the state due to budget shortfalls, officials plan to keep it open while they negotiate with what Paul Keel, San Mateo coast state parks sector superintendent, calls a prospective "donor to keep it in operation for the coming year."

At press time, Keel told us that although "nothing's been signed or inked, it's fair to say we are optimistic, so hopefully we will know more in the next month."

Access to the site, though, is changing: after a long-awaited, voter-approved Devil's Slide tunnel is completed this fall, Keel and others expect a possible increase in traffic to the beach, as more pedestrians and bicyclists use a nearby section of Highway 1 that is being closed.

Meanwhile, rangers say they will allow a long-standing tradition of nudity to continue on the sand unless visitors complain. "But it's not a nude beach," Supervising State Park Ranger Michael Grant told us several seasons ago.

However, with state budget woes and cutbacks of personnel, there have not been any reports of nudists being chased off the sprawling, pristine site. Even if someone wants to complain about the naked people, rangers aren't usually at the beach and cell phone reception there to try to reach them is regarded as poor. 

Part of the beach isn't even within state land, so it's not subject to enforcement by rangers.

Grant told us that enforcement is being left up to individual rangers. "What we do varies, depending on the circumstances," he says. "Every case is different."

Another administrator claims that it's unlikely nudists will be told to leave. "It's a relatively remote place, so we aren't going to be pursuing enforcement against nudity at Gray Whale Cove," said the administrator, who wanted to remain anonymous. "Nothing's changed about our enforcement."

He said, though, that if a ranger drove up and saw two groups of school children approaching, then the beach would not be regarded as "remote" anymore. In such a case, naturists would probably be asked to suit up.

About one or two in every 20-30 visitors go nude at the beautiful cove -- quite a contrast to the several hundred who used to strip off their clothes when the site was a privately operated nude beach a decade ago.

The remaining naturists tend to hang out on the north end of the shoreline. "It's a good place to recharge from work," says regular visitor Ron, who enjoys swimming there, even though signs warn of dangerous surf. The beach is open every day. Dogs are prohibited.

Legal status:

Gray Whale Cove State Beach.

How to find it:

From San Francisco, take Highway 1 south through Pacifica. Three miles south of the Denny's restaurant in Linda Mar, turn left (inland or east) on an unmarked road, which takes you to the beach's parking lot. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for the turnoff road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the Chart House restaurant in Montara.

New directions after this fall: from the north, take Highway 1 through the Devil's Slide tunnel and then turn left onto the road described above. From the south, continue using the above directions.

Park in the beach lot and then take a 146-step staircase leads to the sand. "The steps are in good shape," Ron says. 

Most naturists use the north end of the sand, which some visitors regard as the prettiest part of the shore. It's separated by rocks from the rest of the beach, so regular visitors suggest waiting until low tide to make the crossing to the nude area. 

Alexis, who visited when the tide was high, says: "You have to be in some kind of good shape and have the agility to climb over those boulders with the waves violently crashing into them. I got cuts on my feet, but it was easier to do it barefoot, though."

"I lost my flip flops" during the climb, she adds. It was "too slippery with them on anyway." She notes it is "probably not always like this." The "tide was very rough and high at 5 p.m."

The beach:

The 300-foot long site is surrounded by orange-hued sandstone cliffs on one side and the beautiful Pacific Ocean on the other. "The beach is beautiful" and "tucked away on the coast," so it's not "over populated with city folks," tells Jane, of San Francisco. Devil's Slide is a great place to read, tan, jog, play Frisbee, or watch (true to its state beach name) gray whales, pelicans, and surfers. 

The crowd:

Tourists, families, surfers, and naturists all use the beach.


Says Ranger Grant: "There's been an increase in break-ins of vehicles parked along the highway. No matter where you park, be sure to remove any property and take it with you." Other concerns include highway scheduled to be permanently closed this fall; slippery nude area access rocks; attempting to reach the nude spot in high tide can be dangerous; change in enforcement policy (see above); influx of suited visitors; cold water; fog; wind; landslides sometimes close Highway 1; long walk to the beach; three great white sharks seen in '80s; parking fee; some sexual activity reported in north cove area and arrests for lewd behavior; and gawking (numerous reports on message boards).

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