Our 36th annual guide to Bay Area nude beaches
Entertainer Wavy Gravy and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg like Red Rock Beach; Marin Superior Court Commissioner Roy Chernus favors Bass Lake, and Marin County Sup. Steve Kinsey says he's been naked at Red Rock, Bolinas, Hagmier Pond, and Mount Vision Pond.
"I've probably hit every nude beach in Marin," says Kinsey, who has described his visits as "exhilarating and normal." "My last dip was at Bass Lake last fall. It has beautiful, fresh water, and the swimming environment is wonderful. I look forward to the next opportunity."
But on their next trips to the nude section of beautiful Muir Beach, visitors may notice something new: a warning sign is being erected by the county this summer to urge users to be "respectful" of each other and to notify authorities if there's trouble.
The sign is the result of a compromise worked out by nudists, law enforcers, county officials, and local homeowners, some of whom wanted nudity stopped. Under the agreement, cops are making a few more visits than before. But through July 1, 2010, only four complaints about nudity and one citation for improper sexual conduct have occurred since January 1, 2009, and none since August 13, 2009, according to marin county sheriff's office crime analyst Susan Medina. "We keep responding to complaints, but I can't recall any recent citations," says Lt. Cheryl Fisher, commander of the Marin County Sheriff's Office's West Marin Station. Fisher says the subjects are usually suited up by the time deputies arrive. "A deputy showed up on a very hot Sunday," says regular visitor Michael Velkoff of Scotts Valley. "As soon as he left, everybody was naked again."
"Of course, guys in spiked penis rings not parading themselves around also have helped," says Sup. Kinsey, who, for now, has spiked his previous threat to fight back by starting an effort to make Muir and other beaches clothing-optional under a 1975 law giving Marin County the power to exempt areas from its anti-nudity provisions. "Sometimes the best thing we can do in government is to stay out of the way."
Homeowners remain wary. One, who wants to remain anonymous, tells the Guardian: "We are optimistic" about being able to "coexist" with the naturists, "but we also remain very clear about what is legal and what will and won't be tolerated." And a former advocate of the ban told me that instead of not going to Muir Beach "a person wanting to use the beach nude might do it in a manner that doesn't draw a lot of attention."
As if the Marin mashup wasn't enough, nervous naturists also got ready to do battle with state authorities, who they feared would eventually ban nudity at Devil's Slide in San Mateo County and at Bonny Doon Beach near Santa Cruz, both of which are state beaches.
The jitters came in the wake of an October 2009 California high court ruling allowing a crackdown on nude sunbathing on state beaches, even in areas traditionally used for such activity. "All it takes now is an individual ranger with the desire to issue a citation," warns R. Allen Baylis, a Huntington Beach attorney representing the Naturist Action Committee, the country's biggest nudist lobbying group. "It could have a chilling effect [on nudity] on any state beach."
"Our thin line of security has been overturned," says Rich Pasco, head of the Bay Area Naturists, based in San Jose. "So let's hope that in today's economy, the thin level of state park staff has better things to do with their time than dealing with naturists."
At press time, the NAC, along with BAN and 14 other nudist groups, were preparing, for the first time, to officially petition California to "designate clothing-optional areas" on one or more state beaches. Other efforts have, says Baylis, been "less formal." "Do they really expect us to pack up and leave?" Baylis asks. "We're going to fight back. This is our freedom they're messing with!"
What's the good news? Just like at Muir Beach, it doesn't look like naturists have anything to worry about for now in Northern California. "In the short term, things at Bonny Doon are destined to continue the way they are," says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon. He wants a better trail, stairs, and parking, but says the cash-starved state doesn't have the budget to make even a preliminary plan or increase ranger visits. He said his staff have not issued any citations or warnings at the nude cove, which he calls one of the spots that "really give you the feeling of rugged, untouched majesty. It's a very important feeling. Going to places like Bonny Doon helps you get recharged."
And the Devil's Slide police source, who wants to remain anonymous, told us: "Rangers aren't going to be pursuing enforcement against nudity per se. Nothing's changed." Rangers will continue responding to complaints, he explained, but it usually means they arrive too late to do anything about them because cell phones don't work on the beach. "We hear about it after the fact," says another Devil's Slide enforcer, Supervising State Park Ranger Michael Grant.
Want to contribute to the glad tidings? There's still time for plenty of fun in the sun. You can donate your body to the record books, at least temporarily, by showing up Saturday, July 10 at the Sequoians Clothes Free Club (www.sequoians.com ) in Castro Valley, when its annual attempt at setting a world skinny-dipping record, with 138 other nude locations, will be held. And if you've ever been dying to do a little light cleaning in the nude (no window-washing needed), here's your chance: Your butt can be bare if you stop by Bonny Doon Sept. 18 to help fans pick up cigarette butts and other litter on the beach.
Speaking of good things, would you like to help improve our report? Please send brainstorms, your new beach "finds," improved directions (especially road milepost numbers), and trip reports to email@example.com  or by snail mail to Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Guardian, 135 Mississippi St., San Francisco CA 94107. Please include your phone number so we can verify that you're not just another mirage in the nude beach sand.
Things are really cooking at San Francisco's long, narrow North Baker, which is in good shape this year, with plenty of sand and an influx of young people and more women than five years ago, even though the beach is still heavily male. "If you want to see naked chicks and guys, it's the place to go," says aficionado Paul Jung. Although beach regulars like himself welcome all the new nude volleyball players, "some of them seem to make up rules as they go along," he laughs. Fun activities: Look for dolphins that occasionally surface in the water off shore. And in low tide only, walk around the big rocks at the north end of the beach to check out Baker's "secret" tide pools.
Directions: Take the 29 Sunset bus or go north on 25th Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard. Turn right and take the second left onto Bowley Street. Follow Bowley to Gibson Road, turn right, and follow Gibson to the east parking lot. Head right on the beach to the nude area, which starts at the brown and yellow "Hazardous surf, undertow, swim at your own risk" sign. Some motorcycles in the lot have been vandalized, possibly by car owners angered by bikers parking in car spaces; to avoid trouble, motorcyclists should park in the motorcycle area near the cyclone fence.
Land's End is just the beginning: it's not just the ground that seems to "disappear" into the sunset at this little slice of paradise off Geary Boulevard. So do your clothes, if you want to be magically transported to another dimension, away from the cares of everyday constraints. Shorts, swimsuit, even work clothes during a quick lunch break — they all can be removed at this delightful cove, which features a mix of sand and rocks plus some of San Francisco's best views. Better still, only a handful of people are usually present. Bring a windbreak for protection in case the weather changes.
Directions: Follow Geary Boulevard to the end, then park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. About 100 yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, then rises and falls, eventually becoming the width of a road. Don't take the road to the right, which leads to a golf course. Just past another bench, as the trail turns right, go left toward a group of dead trees where you will see a stairway and a "Dogs must be leashed" sign. Descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Or, instead, take the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot 1/4 mile until you reach a bench, then follow the trail there.
Don't come to Golden Gate Bridge Beach, also called Nasty Boy Beach, if you want privacy: dozens to hundreds of visitors show up on the hottest days at the site that some have likened to a "gay meat market." Along with the guys, a smattering of women, straight couples, children and fishermen are spread out on the three adjoining rocky coves that make up the beach, whose stunning views of the Bridge will make you feel like you're the star of your own postcard. "It's really nice to walk in the water," says a woman. "In low tide, you can sometimes go out 150 feet."
Directions: Directions: from the toll booth area of Highway 101/1, take Lincoln Boulevard west about a half mile to Langdon Court. Turn right (west) on Langdon and look for space in the parking lots, across Lincoln from Fort Winfield Scott. Park and then take the new, improved beach trail, starting just west of the end of Langdon, down its more than 200 steps to Golden Gate Bridge Beach, also known as Marshall's Beach.
If you try to be naked here on weekends, you'll be barking up the wrong tree. The main creatures who go nude at Fort Funston, south of Ocean Beach, are dogs, but that hasn't stopped a small band of stark naked sunbathers from hiding away in some sand dunes when rangers aren't in the area. Authorities usually issue several citations a year here. But if you don't make a fuss and visit on a weekday, you probably won't be busted. If anyone complains, put on your beach gear right away. Two more fun activities at "Fort Fun": watching hang-gliders take off from the cliffs and checking out a seemingly endless passing parade of people and their pets.
Directions: From San Francisco, head west to Ocean Beach, then go south on the Great Highway. After Sloat Boulevard, the road goes uphill. From there, curve right onto Skyline Boulevard, go past one stoplight, and look for signs for Funston on the right. Turn into the public lot and find a space near the west side. At the southwest end, take the sandy steps to the beach, turn right, and walk to the dunes. Find a spot as far as possible from the parking lot. Do not go nude here on the weekends. And if you don't like dogs, go elsewhere.
Nudity's banned in the East Bay Regional Park District, but if you tell that to the nude hikers who will be once again walking across park land July 23 and Aug. 22 — at night — they may moon you en masse. On America's only naked "Full Moon Hikes," participants leave the grounds of the Sequoians Naturist Club in Castro Valley fully clothed at dusk and walk through meadows and up hills until the moon rises, before heading back down the slopes with their clothes folded neatly into their backpacks. Says Dave Smith, of San Leandro: "It's truly wonderful. Except for deer, we're usually the only ones on the path." Agrees James, of Fremont: "It's one of the best experiences I've ever had. You're walking in this silvery light. The moonlight is flooding everything. You feel like you're in the middle of a beautiful dream."
Directions: Contact the Sequoians Naturist Club (www.sequoians.com ) or the Bay Area Naturists (www.bayareanaturists.org ) for details on how to join a walk. Participants usually meet at and return to the Sequoians Club. To get there, take Highway 580 east to the Crow Canyon Road exit. Or follow 580 west to the first Castro Valley off-ramp. Take Crow Canyon Road toward San Ramon 0.75 mile to Cull Canyon Road. Then follow Cull Canyon Road around 6.5 miles to the end of the paved road. Take the dirt road on the right until the "Y" in the road and keep left. Shortly after, you'll see the Sequoians sign. Proceed ahead for about another 0.75 mile to the Sequoians front gate.
Will they be having a devil of a time in paradise? For the first time, rangers say they'll begin enforcing state anti-nudity regulations if offended beachgoers complain about the nudists who visit Gray Whale Cove, which is commonly called Devil's Slide. The good news: It's a nonissue because cell phones (used to summon rangers) don't work on the beach, so by the time cops arrive, the offenders have long since suited up or left. And the beach's top enforcer told us he won't be telling rangers to bust nudists they see. Most visitors love the long sandy shore, where nudies, about 20 percent of visitors, hang out on the north end.
Directions: Driving 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 and to a 146-step staircase leads to the sand. "The steps are in good shape," Ron says. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the Chart House restaurant in Montara.
America's oldest nude beach, near Half Moon Bay, offers two miles of soft sand and tide pools to explore, as well as a lagoon, lava tube, and, if you look closely enough on the cliffs, the remains of an old railroad line. Pets are allowed on weekdays. Up to 200 visitors may be present, but they're usually so spread out, you may not even notice them. Gay men tend to hang out on the north side and in "sex condos" made of driftwood by visitors — a major annoyance to those who are easily offended. On the south end of the beach, there are sometimes dozens of straight couples and families, naked and clothed. For weather information, call (415) 765-7697.
Directions: Head south on Highway 1 past Half Moon Bay. Between mileposts 18 and 19, look on the right side of the road for telephone call box number SM 001 0195, at the intersection of Highway 1 and Stage Road and near an iron gate with trees on either side. From there, expect a drive of 1.1 miles to the entrance. At the Junction 84 highway sign, the beach's driveway is just 0.1 mile away. Turn into a gravel driveway, passing through the iron gate mentioned above, which says 119429 on the gatepost. Drive 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.
Bonny Doon isn't doomed. To the contrary, because the state has no plans to develop it or send rangers out to make anti-nudity patrols, it looks like it will remain Santa Cruz County's prettiest nude beach, which should please the nudists who were on the edge of their towels wondering what would happen. Says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon and nearby state beaches: "Going to places like Bonny Doon helps you get recharged." Naturists usually use the cove on the north end of the beach, which attracts more women and couples than most clothing-optional enclaves.
Directions: Head 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 sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is right 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. 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 the trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the cove on the north end.
Size matters at 2222, which is the smallest nude beach in the U.S. — and probably smaller than your backyard. Not many people can fit into it and not many have heard about it, so not many are there, which is just fine with its mostly young crowd of local college students. Located across from 2222 West Cliff Drive, it's a great place to sunbathe, read, relax, or even watch Neal the Juggler practice tossing balls, pins, and beanbags on the sand. But don't attempt the very steep climb up and down the cliff unless you're in good shape.
Directions: The beach is a few blocks west of Natural Bridges State Beach and about 2.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. From either north or south of Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 to Swift Street. Drive 0.8 miles to the sea, then turn right on West Cliff Drive. 2222 is five blocks away. Past Auburn Avenue, look for 2222 West Cliff on the inland side of the street. Park in the nine-car lot next to the cliff. If it's full, continue straight and park along Chico Avenue. Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco suggests visitors use care and then follow the path on the side of the beach closest to downtown Santa Cruz and the Municipal Wharf.
Privates Beach, at 4524 Opal Cliff Drive, north of the Capitola Pier, is so private that it has a locked gate, security guards, and, unless you're too cheap to pay and want to try another option, a $100 per year fee (cash only). The two coves are exceptionally clean and you're likely to see families, kids, and dogs on the shore.
Directions: 1) Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (not a good idea since at least four people have needed to be rescued after being trapped by rising water). 2) Others reach it in low tide via the stairs at the end of 41st Avenue, which lead to a surf spot called the Hook at the south end of a rocky shoreline known as Pleasure Point. 3) Surfers paddle on boards for a few minutes to Privates from Capitola or the Hook. 4) Most visitors buy a key to the beach gate at Freeline Design Surfboards (821 41st Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-476-2950) 1.5 blocks west of the beach. Others go with someone with a key or wait outside the gate until someone with a key goes in. "Most people will gladly hold the gate open for someone behind them whose hands are full," says Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco. The nude area is to the left of the bottom of the stairs.
The mellowness of marvelous Muir Beach was marred last year when some homeowners verbally clashed with nudists over use of the sand. After a few meetings, it was decided that while bare buns on the beach wouldn't be banned, a warning sign stressing "respect" for everyone and listing a phone number for complaints will be erected, most likely in July, near the border of the nude and clothed sections of the shore. The nude spot is pretty and curved and usually has excellent swimming conditions and access. Instead of a trail, you just walk along the water from the public beach and go around and over some easy-to-cross rocks.
Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 1 north to Muir Beach, to milepost 5.7. Turn left on Pacific Way and park in the Muir lot (to avoid tickets, don't park on Pacific). Or park on the long street off Highway 1 across from Pacific and about 100 yards north. From the Muir lot, follow a path and boardwalk to the sand, and then walk north to a pile of rocks between the cliffs and the sea. You'll need good hiking or walking shoes to cross; in very low tide, try to cross closer to the water. The nude area starts north of it.
Bay Area fan favorite Red Rock is still rocking with an improved trail, more sand than last summer, Ultimate Frisbee games that last as long as three hours, a shower where you can cool down on a hot day, and up to 75 people a day. "More rock climbers than ever are coming to the beach," says the Rock's "ambassador," Fred Jaggi. "You can get more privacy there." Three nude women who were perched on a terrace overlooking the cove in June were recently anointed as the Cheerleaders by members of the fun, highly social crowd below.
Directions: The easiest way to find the beach is to 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 Highway 1. Take the path to the beach that starts near the Dumpster next to the main parking lot. The trail's doable but moderately long, steep, and slippery, so don't wear flip-flops.
If you're sleepless in San Anselmo, a cure might be to bare your bottom at Bass in Bolinas. "If you want to visit an enchanted lake, Bass is it," says Ryan, of the East Bay. "Tree branches reach over the water, forming a magical canopy, and huge bunches of calla lilies bloom on the shore." Even walking to Bass, 45-60 minutes from the lot over 2.8 relatively easy miles, can be an adventure like none other. You may see people with backpacks but no pants on the trail. Rangers once stopped and cited a clad man who had an unleashed dog but let the nudists continue. Says Dave Smith, of San Leandro, who unusually walks naked: "I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion sitting like Egypt's Great Sphinx of Giza 50 yards down the path." Bring a heavy towel or tarp for sitting on a somewhat prickly meadow near the water.
Directions: From Stinson Beach, go north on Highway 1. Just north of Bolinas Lagoon, turn left on the often-unmarked exit to Bolinas. Follow the road as it curves along the lagoon and eventually ends at Olema-Bolinas Road; continue along Olema-Bolinas Road to the stop sign at Mesa Road. Turn right on Mesa and drive four miles until it becomes a dirt road and ends at a parking lot. On hot days the lot fills quickly. A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail to the lake.
Couples love RCA Beach near Bolinas, and so do singles who long for a ruggedly isolated shoreline that doesn't take long to reach. This summer, there's even more to enjoy: the beach is reported to be about four to six feet wider than last year. But it has more gravel this season. "A downside is that it's very exposed to the wind," says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. "There's so much driftwood on the sand that many people build windbreaks or even whole forts. The last time I went, somebody built a 30-foot-tall dragon." The breathtakingly beautiful beach seems even bigger than its one mile length because, Velkoff says, "you might only see eight people spread out on the sand. Everybody's like 100 feet apart. It's great."
Directions: From Stinson Beach, take Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway) north toward Calle Del Mar for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Olema Bolinas Road and follow it 1.8 miles to Mesa Road in Bolinas. Turn right and stay on Mesa until you see cars parked past some old transmission towers. Park and walk a 0.25 to the end of the pavement. Go left through the gap in the fence. The trail leads to a gravel road. Follow it until you see a path on your right, leading through a gate. Take it along the cliff top until it veers down to the beach. Or continue along Mesa until you come to a grove of eucalyptus trees. Enter through the gate here, then hike a 0.5 mile through a cow pasture on a path that will also bring you through thick brush. The second route is slippery and eroding, but less steep.
You can tour long, lovely Limantour in Point Reyes National Seashore while wearing only your smile and some suntan lotion. Few visitors realize the narrow spit of sand is clothing-optional. But unless there are complaints or if you beach your bare body too close to a parking lot or the main entrance, you shouldn't be hassled. The site is so big — about 2.5 miles long — you can wander for hours, checking out ducks and other waterfowl, shorebirds such as endangered snowy plovers, gray whales in the spring, and playful harbor seals (offshore and on the north side). Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end. Directions: Follow 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 the highway. 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 0.5 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," says a nudist. But lately, the dunes have been more crowded.