Our updated guide to places to strip by the shore
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In 1967, Northern California gave birth to America's first nude beach, at San Gregorio, near Santa Cruz. Now, 40 years later, there's great news coming from the sand: in the biggest surge in more than a decade, clothing-optional beaches and other skinny-dipping sites are booming once again. Check out our miniguide below. And in the near future, visit an expanded version on the web that includes our unveiling of a pristine cove near Capitola and directions to a place where you can take a naked full-moon hike.
The one bummer? The popular Red White and Blue Beach, in Santa Cruz County, is closing in the wake of the retirement of owner Ralph Edwards.
San Francisco County
Tucked away among craggy cliffs, patches of sand, and some of the Bay Area's best scenery, a nude beach is the last thing you'd expect to find within a short walk of the end of Geary Boulevard. But on warm days, Land's End usually draws dozens of visitors.
HOW TO FIND IT Go to the end of Geary, and park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. A hundred yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, rises and falls, and eventually becomes the width of a road. Don't take the road on the right, which leads to a golf course. Instead, keep going past another bench, and as the trail turns right, take a left toward a group of dead trees. Where there's a stairway with a Dogs Must Be Leashed sign, descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Alternately, follow the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot a quarter mile until you reach a bench, then take the trail there. It's rough in spots, and at the end you'll scramble over rocks.
THE BEACH Rocks and little watery grottoes. Look for some good sandy areas away from the beach's entrance. For the best sunbathing spots, walk west (left). Some visitors build little rock windbreaks, which provide protection from blowing sand.
THE CROWD The quarter-mile-long cove gets up to 30 visitors on the warmest days, with up to 80 percent gay male usage being fairly standard. One visitor counted six or so nudes, all men, during a May visit.
PROBLEMS Long walk, random "sex patrols" by rangers, reports of drug use, public sex on trails and nearby. Fog and wind. Quite rocky. Swimming not allowed. Trails other than the main one are unsafe and may be closed and have poison oak.
Overrun by fans undeterred by its slippery and often dangerous trails, the Golden Gate Bridge Beach usually turns into a mob scene on summer weekends. The waves don't break as hard here as at Baker Beach, so on the nicest days in low tide, you can go out up to 50 yards. A favorite activity: watching the sunset while staring toward the site's namesake, the Golden Gate Bridge. But don't visit if you're looking for privacy and solitude. "I had to stop going there because it's such a pickup scene," frequent visitor Joseph Friday says.
Also known as Nasty Boy Beach and Marshall's Beach, the shoreline here features a trio of adjacent coves. In the spring, check for beautiful flowers on the bluffs. Drawbacks include some poison oak on the path (often trimmed back by volunteers), which is otherwise unmaintained and becomes a muddy bluish goo after rainstorms. Golden Gate National Recreational Area rangers strongly recommend that visitors stay away from the trails and avoid swimming.
HOW TO FIND IT Go to North Baker Beach, park in the main lot, and walk north along Lincoln Boulevard, passing the sand ladder that leads to North Baker. Just north of the ladder trail, look for a dirt road with a gate leading to Battery Crosby. Follow it, then hike up the trail immediately on the south (left) side of the old fort to the top of the bluff. Rangers recently added some rails that make the path a little easier to follow. Take the trail straight west as it goes downhill toward the ocean (wear long sleeves and pants to protect against poison oak). At a small crumbling concrete bulkhead, the trail heads north along the bluffs and eventually down a shorter, steep section with small steps cut into the gully. The main path ends at the south end of Golden Gate Bridge Beach.
THE BEACH Three small rocky beaches located below Fort Winfield Scott. The main beach trail tends to be slippery, heavily eroded, and dangerous.
THE CROWD During the week, Golden Gate Bridge Beach attracts dozens of users. On weekends, (mostly nude) usage soars to between 100 and 300 visitors on the hottest days.
PROBLEMS Slippery, crumbling, sometimes muddy, and poison oakedged trails. Trash, rocks, wind, fog, unsafe swimming conditions, sex on the beach, too many people often jammed into too little space.
San Mateo County
Now that its main access road, landslide-prone Highway 1, is finally reopened, visitors are flocking back to one of California's only state beaches that officially permit nudity. Called Gray Whale Cove State Beach, the site known to many users as Devil's Slide draws maybe 200 people on warm days about 25 percent of them nude.
Nude use is especially popular on the north end of the long sandy shore. If you like Frisbee, it's easy to find somebody to play with at the cove. Signs, though, warn about dangerous surf. There's no lifeguard on duty. Dogs are prohibited. The beach is open all year and is one of the only California state parks that doesn't accept an Annual Day Use Pass.
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 east (inland, or left) on an unmarked road, which will take you to the beach's parking lot, from which a 146-step staircase leads to the sand. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the east (right) 1.2 miles north of the Chart House restaurant in Montara.
THE BEACH A 300-foot-long site surrounded by orangish sandstone cliffs on one side and the beautiful Pacific Ocean on the other. Devil's Slide is a great place to read, tan, jog, play Frisbee, and watch (true to its state beach name) gray whales, pelicans, and surfers.
THE CROWD Tourists, families, surfers, and naturists all use the beach.
PROBLEMS Influx of suited visitors, cold water, fog, wind, long walk to the beach. Landslides sometimes close Highway 1, three great white sharks seen in the '80s. Parking fee. Some sexual activity reported in north cove area in recent past. Rangers have made a few arrests.
A visit to San Gregorio combines history with recreation. Approaching its 40th anniversary, clothing-optional, privately run San Gregorio is America's oldest nude beach, founded right next door to San Gregorio State Beach, where nudity is not allowed. The huge property attracts some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. First-timers are sometimes a bit put off by the driftwood structures on the sandy slope leading down to the beach, which are used by some visitors as sex condos. Others relish San Gregorio's scenery. There are two miles of soft sand and tide pools to explore, as well as a lagoon, a lava tube, and, if you look close enough on the cliffs, the remains of an old railroad.
HOW TO FIND IT From Tunitas Creek Way, south of Half Moon Bay, the beach is about a mile up Highway 1. Around 100 yards north of Highway 84 on 1, take the dirt road past the big white gate with the Toll Road sign. Go a few hundred feet, and just after the 55 mph sign on your right, turn left on the dirt road (look for the address 19429 above the fence) and head past a grassy field to the parking lot, where you'll be asked to pay an entrance fee. Take the long path from the lot to the sand; everything north of the trail's end is clothing optional. The beach is also accessible from the San Gregorio State Beach parking area to the south; from there hike about a half mile north. Take the dirt road past the big white gate with the Toll Road sign to the parking lot.
THE BEACH You'll find caves, cliffs, driftwood structures, and a beach full of clean, rolling sand. Pets are OK (though dogs are not allowed on weekends or holidays); fires, cameras, and overnight camping are banned. Swimming is not recommended. There are toilets in the parking lot.
THE CROWD On the warmest days, 50 to 200 visitors may be spread along the sprawling beach, which is so large that it never feels crowded. Straight couples and families tend to hang out on the south end of the beach, gay men on the north side.
PROBLEMS Fee, wind, riptides, cold water, summer fog, sex on the beach or in driftwood condos, not much of a social atmosphere. *
For more nude beaches, please check out our official guide , which is in the process of being updated.