Red Rock Beach

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Recommended!

Rating: A

One of the most popular Bay Area nude beaches, Red Rock has struggled with sand erosion that's left a smaller site the last few seasons, along with a more crowded feel to it and, perhaps in reaction, fewer overall visitations.

Except for being a little overgrown with vegetation in early July and some poison oak encroaching on the half nearest the highway, the beach trail, however, is reported in good shape this year. "Just wear shoes with socks, go single file in spots, and you should be okay," advises Stinson Beach attorney/teacher Fred Jaggi.

Rock climbing (one day in June, there were 20 climbers) and various kinds of Frisbee continue to be frequent pastimes at Red Rock. "We had 10 ultimate frisbee games by mid-June, which is pretty amazing," says Jaggi.  "And there have been lots of new players."

Long regarded as having the friendliest local nude beach crowd, Red Rock's ultimate frisbee games can last as long as three hours. Last summer, two more games surged to the forefront: Double Disc Court, in which you toss two Frisbees at once, and Befuddle, during which players toss the first disc softer and the second one harder.

Naked Scrabble and Nude Hearts are among the other games played by sunbathers. "It's very peaceful at the beach," says Jaggi. "Nobody ever brings down a large boombox."

Tips:  the lower part of the trail sometimes is slippery, especially later in the year, so even if you're not worried about poison oak, wear good shoes on the path instead of flip-flops. Because the beach is far smaller during high tide, visit when the tide is low (check tide tables before visiting). Or stake your claim on sitting and sunning space early in the day, before crowds arrive, and/or bring a folding beach chair with you.

Suggests Jaggi, "take a light-weight beach umbrella with you to prevent sunburns." Foldable versions that come with slim carrying packs are avilable at retail outlets and online.

And on hot days, arrive early so that you can grab parking in one of the lots on either side of Highway 1. If you want privacy, try visiting on Monday, which is known by regulars as Club Day because it attracts the largest percentage of longtime, repeat visitors.

Legal status:

Part of Mount Tamalpais State Park. State rangers rarely make the trek up and down the beach trail. But in May 2011, two rangers showed up on the sand and snapped a few photos, which startled onlookers.  "There were 100 people on the sand," remembers Jaggi. "Essentially, they said this isn't legal, but just looked." One regular visitor confronted them, saying, "you're supposed to only come here if there's been a complaint."  "We can come anytime," responded a ranger. The officers then left.

How to find it:

Go north on Highway 1 from Mill Valley, following the signs to Stinson Beach. At the long line of mailboxes next to the Muir Beach cutoff point, start checking your odometer. Look for a dirt lot full of cars to the left (west) of the highway exactly 5.6 miles north of Muir and a smaller one on the right (east) side of the road. The lots are at milepost 11.3, one mile south of Stinson Beach. Limited parking is also available 150 yards to the south on the west side of 1. Or from Mill Valley, take the West Marin/Bolinas Stage toward Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Get off at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Highway 1. Then walk south .6 mile to the Red Rock trailhead. The path to the beach starts near the large dumpster near the main parking lot. It's a long, steep, three to five-foot-wide trail, so take your time, especially in the middle and near the traditionally crumbly last few feet of the path, near the beach, and when walking back up.  

The beach:

Except for high tide, when it sometimes nearly disappears or has more rocks than sand, Red Rock features a quarter-mile curve of sandy shore with rocky sides.

The crowd:

Jaggi has counted "over a hundred" visitors on a few hot days. Through the end of June this year, crowds averaged about 50 people per day; there hadn't been any 100-person days yet. During a visit last year, Jaggi spotted "almost as many women as men." But, say other regulars, on weekends most users are men. 

Problems:

Crowded on weekends; shrinking beach size; long trail walk that is sometimes slippery; some poison oak near top of trail; past auto break-ins in parking lot; cold water, rough waves, small beach; dogs; gawking is said to have eased; a little trash (often picked up by regulars); occasional fly infestations; sign banning dogs has been removed, which irks some visitors who like to walk or play games unobstructed.

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