At Limantour, in Point Reyes National Seashore, you can walk a mile wearing nothing but your smile. "I just head away from any people and put my towel down in the dunes or against a wall," says Lucas Valley's Michael Velkoff. "Nobody else bothers you. Of course, I carry a pair of shorts, just in case I need to put them on. I love it at Limantour. Plus it has tons of nice sand." You may also want to don a pair of binoculars for watching birds, seals, and other wildlife. This May, Velkoff saw a whale from his vantage point on the sand; he's also seen porpoises frolicking just offshore.
The long shoreline is one of America's most beautiful beaches, yet few visitors realize the narrow spit of sand, between Drakes Bay and an estuary, is clothing-optional. The site is so big -- about 2.5 miles in length -- you can wander for hours, checking out ducks and other waterfowl, shorebirds such as snowy plovers (if you are lucky enough to see these endangered birds on the north end of the beach), gray whales (including mothers and their calves during spring), and playful harbor seals (offshore and at the north edge of the sand). Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end of the beach.
"Usually, nobody hassles you," says Velkoff. "I wanted to be comfortable and I knew it was going to be hot, so I went there. It's a really mellow place. I just love the open space."
Velkoff suggests walking from the parking lot for 10 minutes or several hundred feet before removing your clothes. "Where we sit, the closest person is usually 100-to-150 yards away," he says. Another popular spot for disrobing is the sand dunes on the north end, which provide protection from the wind. Nudity is allowed, as long as it's away from the main public areas, such as next to the parking lots of Point Reyes' beaches. "You shouldn't rip your clothes off right after you've left your car and then walk through a picnic area on the way to the beach," former district ranger Marc Yeston has told us. "If you think a family nearby might be offended, maybe you should choose a more discreet area." Rangers will respond to complaints.
During another visit, Velkoff was surprised by rangers, even though he says he wasn't near a main public area. "My wife and I were stretched out," he recalls. "I turned around and there were 10-12 rangers there. One said, 'This is a family beach. You gotta put your pants on.' It turned out that it was the one day a year when all the rangers take their training tour of the beach."
Tip: on spring weekends or warm days in the summer, arrive by 10:30 a.m. or the parking lot may be full. Overflow parking is available a half mile away.
Property of Point Reyes National Seashore. Would a ranger cite a naked person lying on his or her back out of sight of others? "Probably not," former district ranger Marc Yeston told us. "It seems about as innocuous as it can get. If somebody is away from other people, I can't imagine it would arouse a problem with any of the rangers."
How to find it:
From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit, then follow Sir Francis through San Anselmo and Lagunitas to Olema. At the intersection with Highway 1, turn right onto 1. Just north of Olema, go left on Bear Valley Road. A mile after the turnoff for the Bear Valley Visitor Center, turn left (at the Limantour Beach sign) on Limantour Road and follow it 11 miles to the parking lot at the end. Walk north a half-mile until you see some dunes about 50 yards east of the shore. Nudists usually prefer the valleys between the dunes for sunbathing. "One Sunday we had 200 yards to ourselves," Velkoff says. But lately, the dunes have been more crowded.
Sprawling Limantour features soft sand, sand dunes, and plenty of wildlife. In late spring whales can often be seen. To see hundreds of seals, walk north of the "nude dunes" mentioned above until you come to the point known as Limantour Spit. Swimming is fairly safe.
Even with several hundred visitors on the sand on a hot weekend day, Limantour is so large that it usually looks deserted.
Increased ranger warnings; parking lot fills early on hot days; complaints about sex; fog, cold water, and wind. If you don't like dogs, stay away from the area south of the parking lot. (Dogs are not allowed on the north end, near the seal colony, and only on six-foot leashes on the south end.)
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