Everything you need to know to drop trou waterside
A few snippets from the year in nude beaches: TV installer Paul Jung enjoyed playing nude volleyball on the north end of Baker Beach. Stinson Beach local and attorney-teacher Fred Jaggi preferred to be naked while tossing a Frisbee on Red Rock Beach in the North Bay. And when he wasn't busy representing an area that stretches from Tomales south to Muir Beach and as far east as Novato, Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey could sometimes be found without a stitch of clothing at a beach in Point Reyes National Seashore.
They'll be able to continue enjoying their favorite clothing-optional spots. Unfortunately, that's not the case for all Californians.
As you may have heard, our state government plans to close 70 state parks and beaches, including at least three places in Northern California that have traditionally attracted naturists: Montara's Gray Whale Cove State Beach in San Mateo County, Garrapata State Park near Carmel, and Zmudowski State Beach in northern Monterey County. All three sites have seen declines in nude use recently.
But there's good news too: After a July 8 meeting of the California State Park & Recreation Commission, Allen Baylis, a board member of the Naturist Action Committee, was hopeful that the state will soon officially designate some beaches as clothing-optional — and said that progress is being made behind the scenes. "We're going to get there sooner or later," he predicted. Plus, we've learned that none of the spots slated for closure will be fully shuttered before July 2012.
Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications of the California State Parks, says that until then "there may be service reductions and closures on non-peak days, such as Monday through Thursday," but nothing firm has been decided yet.
"And how do you really close a beach?" asks a state official who wants to remain anonymous. "It's never been done before in California, so it's new territory to us. Sure, we can close the bathrooms and the doors, turn off the electricity, and stop the garbage pickup, but you probably can't keep people out."
To prevent them from being broken or vandalized, authorities may even decide to keep some gates open at closed beaches.
Thankfully, Kinsey won't have to worry about those concerns in Marin County, although he has had his hands full trying to broker an agreement between homeowners and nudists at Muir Beach in 2009 and 2010. In the end, county officials ordered a sign to be erected on the sand, warning visitors not to engage in lewd behavior and encouraging them to report violations to law enforcers.
"My favorite ongoing spot for going au natural is Limantour Beach, in the dunes heading toward Drakes Estero," Kinsey says. In fact, while others were mowing their lawns or having barbecues with their families, Kinsey spent part of his Fourth of July weekend sunbathing in the nude area of Limantour.
Limantour isn't the only clothing-optional place in Marin where Kinsey likes to relax. He was at Bass Lake, also in the Point Reyes National Seashore last year. "And I make it a point to check Red Rock once a year to make sure things are steady and stable," Kinsey says.
Even while some nude beaches face closure, we're proud to add North Garberville Nude Beach in Humboldt County to our online guide this year.
Its discovery comes as a surprise to us, even though it has been known to locals for years. If there's one thing we've learned about covering — and uncovering — nude beaches over the years, it's to expect the unexpected.
For instance, at North Garberville some visitors even camp naked. "I've done it, but so have others," says reader Dave.
In January, the leader of the Tahoe Area Naturists, North Swanson, used snowshoes to walk down a flurry-covered hill and go nude with some friends at Secret Harbor Creek Beach, just south of Incline Village, in North Lake Tahoe. "If it's above 40 degrees and there's no wind, it's okay," says Swanson, who went back several more times that month.
A few times, bears have wandered onto nude beaches at Tahoe during broad daylight, though nobody's been injured, and the bears have left quickly every time. Once, a federal park ranger on a trail near Marin County's Bass Lake let a group of nudists pass without incident while he was busy writing a citation to a man (clothed) for not having his dog on a leash.
About the ratings: We give an A to spots that are large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude, B to places where fewer than half the visitors are nude, C to small or emerging nude areas, and D to areas we suggest you avoid.
Please send brainstorms, your new beach finds, trip reports, and improved directions (especially road milepost numbers), along with your phone number to email@example.com  or Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Bay Guardian, 135 Mississippi St., San Francisco CA 94107
NORTH BAKER BEACH
From the first day of summer, when several hundred people appeared — by the estimate of regular visitor Paul Jung — to the warm spells that followed, visitors have been swarming onto San Francisco's North Baker Beach this year. And when it's been hot, 60 percent to 80 percent of those people showing up on the shoreline have been nude. The only bummer: a mini-war has erupted between beach regulars and a few gawkers with cameras or binoculars who occasionally hang out in the rocks above the site. "Most of the regulars carry small mirrors to shine at them," explains Jung, who keeps one in his beach bag. "Some people are even starting to shine laser pointers at them, with great success. Sometimes, five of us will aim up at one guy. So far, it's been pretty effective in getting them to back off."
Directions: Take the 29 Sunset 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. At the beach, head right 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 BEACH
What ends at Land's End? Quite possibly your tan lines. Shorts, bikini tops, and even a few work clothes seem to disappear during weekday lunch breaks on warm summer days at this fun cove, which attracts a few skinny-dippers among a mostly swimsuit-wearing crowd. The site features a mix of sand and rocks, plus some of the Bay Area's best views. The beach is a quarter-mile long, with some nice sunbathing nooks. Bring a windbreaker in case the weather changes or check out the mini-windbreaks that visitors there have made with rocks and put together one of your own.
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 for a quarter-mile until you reach a bench, then follow the trail there. It's eroded in a few places. At the end, you'll have to scramble over some rocks. Turn left (west) and walk until you find a good place to put down your towel.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE BEACH
Golden Gate Bridge Beach's rocky shoreline features incredible views of the world-famous bridge, along with water that can be great for wading. "In low tide," one woman says, "you can sometimes go 150 feet." But if you want to be alone, don't even think about visiting this site, where hundreds of gay men — along with some women and straight visitors — pack three side-by-side coves on the hottest days. No wonder it's also known as Nasty Boy Beach!
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 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. Despite recent improvements, the trail to the beach can still be slippery, especially in the winter and spring.
FORT FUNSTON BEACH
Even though Fort Funston has gone to the dogs — who appear here with their human entourages by the hundreds — a few naturists sneak in from time to time. But don't even think about going naked here on weekends. Even on weekdays, be sure to use discretion before disrobing. Suit up quickly if you see rangers or families in the area. Authorities usually only issue several citations a year at Fort Funston, south of Ocean Beach, so if you don't make a fuss and remain in the dunes, you may not be busted. If anyone complains, put on your beach gear right away. Two more fun activities at Fort Fun: watching the passing parade of people and their dogs, and watching the hanggliders that take off from the cliffs.
Directions: From San Francisco, go west to Ocean Beach, then south on the Great Highway. After Sloat Boulevard, the road heads 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. Don't go nude here on the weekends. And if you dislike dogs, try another beach.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
LAS TRAMPAS REGIONAL WILDERNESS
Are you ready to moon the moon? Imagine walking nude on parkland in the East Bay Hills, with the trail silhouetted by a full moon and small herds of horses coming up to greet you: it's a scene that makes you feel like you're on Avatar's fictional planet Pandora, mingling with another species.
"It's absolutely surreal," says Jurek Zarzycki of Fremont. "The horses come within inches of you, so close you can feel their breath. It's like being on a moonscape with aliens. You may be a little afraid at first, but the horses are very friendly."
As part of a partnership between the Sequoians nudist park and the San Jose-based Bay Area Naturists, Hikers leave the Sequoians' property fully clothed at dusk and walk through meadows and up hills until the moon rises, before heading back down the slopes completely nude, with their clothes folded neatly into their backpacks. Some people walk partially nude, especially near the top of the main ridge used by the hikers where, says Zarzycki, "there can be very cold winds." San Leandro resident Dave Smith, who leads the naked treks, adds that "the coastal air just starts pouring over the hilltop. And the wind begins howling." Once on the peak, almost everyone dons a windbreaker.
Zarzycki suggests hikers bring good hiking shoes, a flashlight — though most of the time, the moon provides plenty of light — and bug spray. And don't forget baby carrots to give to the horses. "It's truly wonderful," says Smith. "We're usually the only ones on the path."
Zarzycki agrees. "It's one of the best experiences I've ever had. I pitched my tent right there at the Sequoians and then slept under the sky."
After the walk, most hikers shower at the Sequoians, then take a dip in the pool or hot tub.
Directions: Contact the Sequoians (www.sequoians.com ) or the Bay Area Naturists (www.bayareanaturists.org ) for details on how to join a walk. Meet at the Sequoians park. 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 three-quarters of a mile to Cull Canyon Road. Then follow Cull Canyon about 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 for another three-quarters mile to the Sequoians front gate.
SAN MATEO COUNTY
DEVIL'S SLIDE, MONTARA
Though it's one of 70 beaches and parks being closed by the state to save money, Gray Whale Cove is set to remain available for use through at least July 2012. (But days and hours may be reduced according to Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications of the California State Parks.) Today only a few visitors go nude: naturist numbers are down sharply form the several hundred that came during Devil Slide's heyday as a privately operated nude beach. The nudists that do come tend to hang out on the pretty northern end of the shoreline. "It's a good place to recharge from work," says Ron, a regular visitor who enjoys swimming there, even though signs warn of dangerous surf. Dogs are prohibited.
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 that leads to the sand. 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.
SAN GREGORIO NUDE BEACH, SAN GREGORIO
Now in its 45th year of operation, San Gregorio continues its reign as the USA's longest continually used nude beach. The beach, adjacent to the no-nudity-allowed San Gregorio State Beach, usually attracts a large gay crowd, along with some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. First-timers should be wary of the driftwood structures on the sandy slope leading down to the beach, which are used by some visitors as "sex condos." (If you see one with a t-shirt on a pole, it means it's occupied.) However, fans of the beach savor San Gregorio's stunning scenery. It has "awesome natural beauty," says regular visitor Bob Wood. Attractions at this 120-acre site include two miles of great sand and intriguing tide pools to explore, as well as a lagoon and lava tube.
Directions: From San Francisco, drive 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 Stage Road intersection. From there, continue 1.1 miles to the entrance, ABOUT 0.1 MILES from Junction 84. Turn into a gravel driveway, passing through an iron gate with 19429 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 (families and swimsuit-using visitors tend to stay on the south end of the beach). 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.
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
BONNY DOON NUDE BEACH, BONNY DOON
At Bonny Doon, "free bathers" head for the northernmost of two coves, where Santa Cruz County's best-looking nude beach usually has a friendly, social crowd. In recent years, its delightful scenery and peaceful vibes have attracted more women and couples than most clothing-optional sites. However, the Doon's reputation has been tarnished recently by reports of increased visits by law enforcers and comments left on message boards by men and women alike about some men on the sand making unwanted advances. Jill from Santa Cruz visited the beach in March and wrote that, even after she and her boyfriend left, "one of the men actually got up and followed us." But after a June visit, Elizabeth from San Jose said, "I gave them the get-away-from-me look and things were cool after that."
Directions: Go south on Highway 1 to the Bonny Doon parking lot at milepost 27.6 on the west side of the road, about 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.
2222, SANTA CRUZ
Named for the house number across the street, America's smallest nude beach could probably fit in your yard. And that's what makes it a magical place. You won't find crowds at this pocket size cove, which takes scrambling to reach and isn't recommended for children or anyone who isn't a good hiker. However, those who are agile enough to make it down a steep cliff and over some concrete blocks on the way down will probably be rewarded with an oasis of calm and a good spot to catch some sunrays. Even though there's a walking path just above it, the beach can't be seen from above. College students like to hang out here and, if they're lucky, get a glimpse of a local juggler who can sometimes be seen practicing his routines on the sand.
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 for 0.8 miles to the ocean, then turn right on West Cliff Drive. The beach 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. Use care in following the path on the side of the beach closest to downtown Santa Cruz and the municipal wharf.
PRIVATES BEACH, SANTA CRUZ
Surf and turf conditions at Privates are excellent once again. The beach — 4524 Opal Cliff Drive, north of the Capitola Pier — is nearly always pristine. "Privates is one of my favorite beaches," says Brittney Barrios, manager of the nearby Freeline Design Surfboards shop. "It's always very peaceful." Nudists, surfers, and families all mingle on the sand. "Everyone gets along," adds Barrios. "And it's never crowded." Barrios, who likes to lay out in the sun at Privates, says many of the local naturists share a favorite pastime: "They like to play paddle ball."
Directions: Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (not a good idea since at least four people have needed to be rescued). 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 shore known as Pleasure Point. Surfers can paddle on their boards for the short stretch between Privates and Capitola or the Hook. But most visitors buy a key to the beach gate for $100 a year at Freeline (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 a person with a key goes in, provided a security guard is not present (they often are). "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 starts to the left of the bottom of the stairs.
MUIR NUDE BEACH
Happier times have returned to the clothing-optional portion of Muir Beach, long cherished by nudists and known to locals as Little Beach. "Dogs without leashes have replaced people without swimsuits as the top beach concern of the season," says Steve Kinsey, the member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors who found himself smack dab in the middle of the brouhaha between some homeowners and nudists over use of the sand in the last few years. After several community meetings, it was decided that, while naked use of the incredibly beautiful cove would not be ended, a warning sign stressing "respect" for everyone and listing a phone number for complaints would be installed by the county. Unlike many other nude beaches, Muir doesn't have a challenging beach path, with eroded steps or poison oak — and the swimming here can be good. To reach it, walk along the water to the north end of the public beach and follow the others you will see crossing over a line of rocks there.
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. 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.
RED ROCK BEACH, STINSON BEACH
With what's thought to be the friendliest Bay Area nude beach crowd, Marin's Red Rock Beach plays host to Ultimate Frisbee games that last up to three hours. Nudists are also trying their luck at double disc court, for which players toss two Frisbees at once ("We throw them really hard and fast," says Fred Jaggi, the attorney-teacher from Stinson Beach), and Befuddle, which, Jaggi explains, means that "you throw the first one soft and the second disc hard." Naked Scrabble has replaced nude hearts as the most popular game played by sunbathers. Tips: the lower part of the trail sometimes is slippery, so wear good shoes on the path instead of flip-flops. For more sitting space, visit when the tide is low (check tide tables before visiting) and bring a folding beach chair. If possible, arrive early in the day, before crowds, or come on a Monday.
Directions: 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 5.6 miles north of Muir and a smaller one on 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. 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 0.6 mile to the Red Rock lots. Follow the long, steep path to the beach that starts near the Dumpster next to the main parking lot.
BASS LAKE, BOLINAS
"It really was nice in May," says Dave Smith of San Leandro regarding his visit to beautiful Bass Lake, deep in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The lake lies off a path that, if you continue past the lake turnoff, will eventually take you to a waterfall. "The trail was a little overgrown — but I had fun swimming nude in the lake." Bass, though, doesn't attract as many nudists as it did 10 years ago. "When I first went, everybody was nude," says Smith, who usually leads a group of Bay Area Naturists once a year for picnicking and swimming outings at Bass — which, by the way, doesn't have any bass fish. Pat, a recent visitor, says, "Most people are cool if you take off your clothes, but some are kind of freaked out." Suggestions: bring an air mattress, water shoes, and a thick towel or tarp for sitting on the matted, sometimes prickly meadow near the water. For even more fun, try the lake's rope swing.
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. For directions to Alamere Falls, 1.5 miles past Bass Lake, please see "Elsewhere In Marin" in our online listings.
RCA BEACH, BOLINAS
Inspiring. Romantic. Isolated. Rugged. However you describe RCA Beach, a Point Reyes National Seashore property near Bolinas, you'll probably say you like it. "It hasn't changed much in 20 years," says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. But it can be a bit breezy at the cove, which requires a moderately long walk to reach. The good news is that there are lots of nooks that are sheltered from the wind. And there's so much driftwood on the sand that many people build windbreaks or even whole forts. Though seldom deserted, RCA is never crowded and averages five to 20 people per day. "It's a quiet place," says Velkoff. "Whenever I've been there, everyone's been nude."
Directions: From Stinson Beach, take Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway) north toward Calle Del Mar for4.5 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 quarter mile 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 half 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. "It's shorter, but toward the end there's a rope for you to hold onto going down the cliff," says Velkoff.
LIMANTOUR BEACH, OLEMA
On warm days in the summer, arrive by 10:30 a.m. or the parking lot of this Olema-area clothing-optional beach may be full. More parking is located a half mile away. Even with several hundred visitors on a hot weekend day, Limantour is so large that it usually looks deserted. Recently named one of the USA's top 10 national park beaches in the west by Sunset Magazine, you may just want to wear one thing: a pair of binoculars for watching birds, whales, and seals. Leashed dogs are okay, but only on the south half of the beach. Nudity is allowed away from main public areas like the parking lot or a picnic area, as long as nobody complains. A regular visitor says he walks several minutes from the lot before going nude. "The closest person is usually 100 to 150 yards away," he says. Also popular for disrobing are the sand dunes on the north 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 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, which may be nearly devoid of, or dotted with, users depending on the day.
GET NAKED: UPCOMING NUDIST EVENTS
A five day long, clothing-optional summer camp at a retreat in the Santa Cruz Hills
July 20–26, www.photonaturals.com 
The family friendly Castro Valley park is holding a naked luau on July 30, an outdoor movie on the lawn Aug. 6, and a day of Jamaican food and reggae music Aug. 20.
For fun that's not in the sun, join this group nude hike in the East Bay Hills.
Next hike Sept. 9. Leaves from the Sequoians, Castro Valley. www.sequoians.com 
Want to help the environment and work on your tan at the same time? Drop by this nude beach to give back to nature, in your natural state.
Sept. 17. Bonny Doon Beach, Santa Cruz. www.bayareanaturists.org 
Clothes-free races, nude fashion show, track and field events, naked sand sculpting, and body painting — and prizes up to $500 for winners.
Oct. 8, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., free. North Baker Beach, SF. www.photonaturals.com