Our 38th annual survey of Northern California naked fun in the sun
Editors Note: Below you'll find our annual update on the state of nude beaches in the Bay Area, along with detailed guides and directions to several of our favorites. For details on dozens more, please see our complete Nude Beaches Guide , which we are in the process of updating.
NUDE BEACHES Arrests for being naked on the sand, anti-nudity warning signs going up at previously unthreatened spots, outright threats of beach closures, social activists making their mark on San Francisco's most well-known clothing-optional beach: this is shaping up to be one of Northern California's busiest nude beach seasons in recent memory.
Faced with a July 1 deadline, on June 28 Governor Jerry Brown's administration announced it saved or would stall shutting down all but one of 70 state parks and beaches targeted for closure due to budgetary shortfalls. These include three sites in our annual guide: Montara's Gray Whale Cove, Carmel's Garrapata State Park, and Zmudowski State Beach in northern Monterey County.
Officials said they would use $13 million in bond money in the budget to keep the properties running at least through summer. Some 40 parks will remain open for an estimated one to five years, due to temporary funding and support agreements being negotiated with nonprofit foundations and other organizations. More than 25 other properties, including Gray Whale Cove, also known as Devil's Slide, will keep going while deals are completed.
When asked exactly how long Gray Whale Cove, Garrapata, and Zmudowski would stay open, California State Parks spokesman Dennis Weber told me they could keep going for a month, the entire summer, a year, or even longer. "We don't know how much time we have," he said.
Paul Keel, the state parks sector superintendent for the area that includes Gray Whale Cove, was more optimistic. He told me he's keeping the popular beach open through at least the end of July because while "nothing's been signed or inked, it's fair to say we are optimistic" an agreement with a private operator or nonprofit will be finalized before then. Until the state took control, the site was run by a private licensee, San Francisco developer Carl Ernst and his company, Gray Whale Cove Enterprises, Inc.
Ruth Coleman, head of the State Parks and Recreation Department, said the bonds would fund solar power systems, as well as automatic pay machines that take credit and debit cards. And visitors arriving at Devil's Slide or Garrapata are likely to notice signs that urge them to pay for parking instead of parking outside.
The card machines are likely to be particularly handy at Devil's Slide after a long-awaited tunnel bypassing rockslide-prone Highway 1, which remains the access point to the beach, is expected to open this fall. Keel suspects the Devil's Slide Tunnel will bring larger crowds to the beach.
But the news wasn't all good. Maintenance and garbage pick up operations are likely to remain reduced or eliminated. In late June, Brown partly vetoed a larger, $41 million funding bill that had been OKed by the state legislature. State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who coauthored the bigger funding plan, criticized the veto, calling it "a lost opportunity to take action." Another lost opportunity: in November 2010, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have raised about $500 million for state parks.
Meanwhile, while Sacramento was cutting back beach services, activists were making additions to the section of San Francisco's Baker Beach used by nudists. Naturists have erected driftwood art sculptures and tent-like structures without walls, called "dunies," at the north end of the beach. And they've vowed to keep the site free of gawkers by staring them down in what organizers call a non-confrontational approach to self-policing. "They usually decide to leave pretty soon," says Santosh, 46, an artist and street fair producer.
Speaking of policing, in the past year cops have raided Garrapata and put up signs about nudity at Bonny Doon Beach and at least two other beaches north of Santa Cruz.
At Garrapata, rangers and lifeguards cited over a dozen persons for public nudity last summer and began patrolling the beach at least two times a day after receiving what lifeguard Eric Sturm told the Carmel Pine Cone were reports of "sex acts on the beach."
And at Bonny Doon, Laguna Creek, and Panther Beach, "Nudity In The State Park System Is Prohibited" signs have been posted, although naturists there remain defiant and are still visiting the sites. "A 50-year tradition (of clothing-optional use at Bonny Doon) cannot be extinguished by a simple sign," said Rich Pasco, coordinator of the Bay Area Naturists, after the signs went up. He urged nudists to "be polite and respectful" of rangers and suit up "if requested," but to engage them in "intelligent conversations." After two months, the signs at Bonny Doon, though, were taken down because, according to Joe Connors, public safety superintendent for state beaches in the Santa Cruz area, "we don't get a big volume of complaints there."
Want to join others in having fun at a clothing-optional spot this summer? The USA's only naked "Full Moon Hikes" will take place in Castro Valley in late July, August, and September (see our listings online at SFBG.com for Last Trampas in Contra Costa County for details). Another idea to meet and socialize with fellow naturists: drop by Bonny Doon on September 15, when fans of the site will be gathering to keep it pristine by finding and removing trash.
Finally, you can aid the naturist community by sending me your new beach discoveries, 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, 71 Stevenson, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.
Our ratings: [full moon] signifies a beach that is large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; [half moon] indicates places where fewer than half the visitors are nude; and [quarter moon] means small or emerging nude areas.
NORTH BAKER BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
Social activists have begun streaming onto the sand of America's biggest urban nude beach, creating what visitor Santosh calls "a tone that's like Burning Man," with regulars bringing guitars, drums, and Frisbees to the sand, putting up art work best described as eclectic, and occasionally staring down gawkers." There's no requirement that you go nude," says Santosh, an artist, graphic artist, and producer of San Francisco's How Weird Street Faire, an outdoor street fair held each year in the SoMa neighborhood as a fundraiser for the World Peace Through Technology Organization. "But if a creeper dude plops down next to a (nude) person or if they are staring at someone's private parts and it's happening close to where we are, on the far north end (of North Baker), then they will start being the object of ridicule.
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. 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
Considered one of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area to doff your togs, Land's End should really be called Swimsuit's End. The reason: although it draws more clothed users than nudists, more than a few swim tops and bottoms magically "disappear" on warm spring, summer, and fall days at the little cove off Geary Boulevard. Come early to grab your share of the sand on this semi-rocky shoreline, which is sometimes dotted with rock-lined windbreaks left by previous sunbathers. Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt 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. 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
On the hottest days, Golden Gate Bridge Beach becomes so packed with people that one visitor describes it as a "gay mob scene." But the rocky shore, which connects three picturesque coves, also gets its share of straight men and women. Prime, non-cruising activities include sunbathing, enjoying breathtaking views of the Bridge, and even taking some dips in the water. "You can sometimes go out over 100 feet during low tide," a woman tells me.
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 spring and winter.
FORT FUNSTON BEACH
What's the only Golden Gate National Recreation Area park where you can walk your dog without a leash, as well as the spot where the world record for the farthest tossed object (a flying ring sent soaring 1,333 feet by Erin Hemmings) was set in 2003? Answer: Fort Funston, which is affectionately called Fort Fun by its fans. Known for its magnetic sand, steady winds (especially in March and October) that make its cliffs popular for hang gliding, and, in particular, its dogs, who appear here with their human escorts by the hundreds, the area even attracts a few naturists from time to time. Mostly hidden away in the sand dunes on the beach, naked sunbathers usually stay away on the weekends, when families swarm the area. To keep the "fun" in Fort Funston, even on weekdays, be sure to use caution before disrobing.
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.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
LAS TRAMPAS REGIONAL WILDERNESS, CASTRO VALLEY
Want to go walking around nude at night outside without being hauled off to jail? Imagine hiking naked guided only by your flashlight 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 absolutely surreal," says Jurek Zarzycki. "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."
America's only nude "Full Moon Hikes" have been taking place on summer full moon nights in Castro Valley for more than seven years. The next ones will be held July 29, August 31 (arrive by 6pm), and September 28 (starting at 5:15pm) "We start early so that we have the full moon already risen by the time the sun sets," says San Leandro's Dave Smith, who leads most of the hikes. "Then we hike up the trail around sunset."
Coordinated by a partnership between the Sequoians Naturist Club and the Bay Area Naturists, based in San Jose, walkers leave the property of the Sequoians 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.
After the walk, most hikers shower at The Sequoians, and, for a fee of $5, take a dip in the 86-degree pool there and enjoy a plunge in the facility's hot tub. "It was fabulous," says Zarzycki about an earlier trek. "I pitched my tent right there at The Sequoians and then slept under the sky."
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. 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 .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 .75 mile to The Sequoians front gate.
SAN MATEO COUNTY
DEVIL'S SLIDE, MONTARA
Although Devil's Slide, also known as Gray Whale Cove, was scheduled to be closed this month by the state due to budget shortfalls, officials plan to keep it open while they negotiate with what Paul Keel, San Mateo coast state parks sector superintendent, calls a prospective "donor to keep it in operation for the coming year." At press time, Keel told us that although "nothing's been signed or inked, it's fair to say we are optimistic, so hopefully we will know more in the next month." Access to the site, though, is changing: after a long-awaited, voter-approved Devil's Slide tunnel is completed this fall, Keel and others expect a possible increase in traffic to the beach, as more pedestrians and bicyclists use a nearby section of Highway 1 that is being closed. Meanwhile, rangers say they will allow a long-standing tradition of nudity to continue on the sand unless visitors complain.
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. Starting this fall, from the north, take Highway 1 through the Devil's Slide tunnel and then turn left onto the road described above. From the south, continue using the above directions. Most naturists use the north end of the beach, which is separated by rocks from the rest of the shore.
SAN GREGORIO NUDE BEACH, SAN GREGORIO
Still the USA's longest continually used nude beach, San Gregorio even has its own web site and live web cam at www.freewebs.com/sangregoriobeach . The privately run operation, which is located next to San Gregorio State Beach, recently began its 46th year of serving the clothing-optional community.
The beach often draws a large gay crowd, along with some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. "It's a really romantic spot," says a single woman. However, first-timers are sometimes annoyed (as I was, years ago) by the driftwood structures on the sandy slope leading down to the beach, which are used by some visitors as "sex condos." However, fans of the beach savor San Gregorio's stunning scenery. It has "awesome natural beauty," says regular visitor Bob Wood. Attractions of the 120-acre site include 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.
Directions: From San Francisco, drive south on Highway 1, past Half Moon Bay, and, 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 .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 (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
GARDEN OF EDEN, FELTON
Tucked away in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, between Santa Cruz and Felton, the Garden Of Eden is a much-used skinny-dipping hole on the San Lorenzo River, which is also visited by clothed families. Some hikers are surprised when they see people nude there and either use the spot anyway or keep walking. Watch out for poison oak and slippery sections on the trail. Eden is one of three clothing-optional swimming holes on the river. To find them, look for cars pulled over on Highway 9, next to the state park, which bans nudity but seldom sends ranger patrols to the creek.
Directions: From Santa Cruz, drive north on Highway 9 and look for turnouts on the right side of the road, where cars are pulled over. The first, a wide turnout with a tree in the middle, is just north of Santa Cruz. Rincon Fire Trail starts about where the tree is, according to reader Robert Carlsen, of Sacramento. The many forks in the trail all lead to the river, down toward Big Rock Hole and Frisbee Beach; Carlsen says the best area off this turnout can be reached by bearing left until the end of the trail. Farther up the highway, 1.3 miles south of the park entrance, is the second and bigger pullout, called the Ox Trail Turnout, leading to Garden of Eden. Park in the turnout and follow the dirt fire road downhill and across some railroad tracks. Head south, following the tracks, for around .5 miles. Look for a "Pack Your Trash" sign with park rules and hours and then proceed down the Eden Trail.
Ox Trail, which can be slippery, and Eden Trail both wind down steeply to the creek. "The path continues to the left, where there are several spots for wading and sunbathing," Carlsen says. The main beach is only 75 feet long and 30 feet wide, but fairly sandy. Carlsen's favorite hole is accessible from a trail that starts at the third turnout, a small one on the right side of the road, about 4.5 miles from Highway 1 and just before Felton. A gate marks the start of the path. The trail bends left. When you come to the road again, go right. At the railroad tracks, go right. From here, look for the river down the hill on your left; many paths lead to it. Says Mike: "Within 10 yards, you can be in the water."
BONNY DOON NUDE BEACH, BONNY DOON
Despite the temporary erection of anti-nudity warning signs at longtime nudie fan favorite Bonny Doon Beach, north of Santa Cruz, officials have told us they have no immediate plans to issue citations at the north end of the site, which has traditionally been occupied by naturists. In fact, the signs were taken down after just two months.
In fact, in June, Pam, of San Mateo, even found a nudist at the main public, south side of the beach, which is used by suited visitors. A 15-foot long rock on the sand, along with a sloping cliff with rocks that jut out, separate the two sides of the cove that form Bonny Doon.
"In the short term, things at Bonny Doon are destined to continue the way they are," says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon and nearby state beaches. Lingenfelter says he likes Bonny Doon just the way it is. "It's one of our pocket beaches," he explains. "They can really give you the feeling of rugged, untouched majesty. I like standing on those beaches. You can sometimes forget that there's a highway in the distance. It's a very important feeling to maintain. "The clothing-optional section usually attracts more women and couples than most nude beaches. "Minuses" include occasional vehicle burglaries and gawkers on the bluffs or in the bushes.
Directions: From San Francisco, go 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 off sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is just 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. Or take Santa Cruz Metro Transit District bus route 40 to the lot; it leaves the Metro Center three times a day on Saturdays and takes about 20 minutes. 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 a recently improved, sign-marked trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the nude cove on the north end. Alternately, Dusty suggests parking as far north as possible, taking the northern entrance, and, with good shoes, following a "rocky and steep" walk down to the sand.
2222 BEACH, SANTA CRUZ
In late May, when my girlfriend and I visited a little cliffside park above it and peered down on the aptly named 2222 — it's the number of the house across the street — we discovered that the pocket-size cove looked as beautiful as ever. In fact, America's smallest nude beach is so small it could probably fit in your yard. And that's what makes it a magical place. You won't find crowds at 2222, 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.
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 .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, SANTA CRUZ
"Privates is one of my favorite beaches," says Brittney Barrios, manager-buyer of Freeline Design Surf Shop, which is located nearby and sells keys to unlock the gate leading to the clean, beautiful cove. "It's always very peaceful." Visitors include nudists, surfers, families, and local residents. "Everyone gets along," adds Barrios. "And it's never crowded."
Barrios says many of the naturists, who often visit in groups, like to play Paddle Ball on the sand. As for Barrios, she prefers to "lay out," as she calls it, in the sun.
There's almost no litter, wind, noise, or troublemakers — security guards plus a locked gate keep the latter out — and world class surfers, such as those who starred in Endless Summer II, regularly put on a free show for the naked people who share the warm, clean sand with surfers.
"It's really nice," says Hunter Young, a former worker at Freeline, which sells up to 600 beach passes a year. "Surfers love it because it has good waves. It's 100 percent standup surfing, with paddling. Anytime I go to Privates, I can expect a long ride on my longboard."
"The beach is also very family oriented," explains Barrios. "And it's OK for dogs too."
"There are two different coves on the beach," says Young. "Clothed families who use the beach know which cove is nude and stay away from it. If you want to play naked Frisbee, at the bottom of the beach stairs you just walk to the left."
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). 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 shore 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 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 there). "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, MUIR BEACH
Mellow times are continuing at one of the Bay Area's easiest to reach and most enjoyable nude beaches, the clothing-optional north side of Muir Beach. Also known as Little Beach, it's separated by the main public beach by a line of large rocks that visitors usually walk over. Says Lucas Valley's Michael Velkoff, who switched from Red Rock to become a regular at Muir: "This season, there's plenty of sand. It's also a great place for women because people leave you alone here. Nobody's hitting on you. And high tide only comes a third of the way up the beach." Recent additions include a new bridge over a marshy, lagoon-like area near the parking lot, plus about a half dozen Porta-Potties.
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
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 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 and various kinds of Frisbee continue to be frequent pastimes at Red Rock — Ultimate Frisbee games there can last as long as three hours. 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."
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 .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.
BOLINAS, BASS LAKE
After Tracey, of San Anselmo, hiked to what she called "beautiful, clean, sunny" Bass Lake, she went onto a message board in June to urge those who are considering trying the Bolinas attraction to "Go. Go. Go now." "The trail was a little overgrown. But I had fun swimming nude in the lake," says regular Dave Smith, of San Leandro, about his adventure last year. "If you want to visit an enchanted lake, Bass is it," agrees Ryan, also of the East Bay. "Tree branches reach over the water, forming a magical canopy, and huge branches of calla lilies bloom on the shore." Ryan isn't kidding: even walking (45-60 minutes from the parking area over 2.8 mostly easy miles) to Bass can be an adventure unlike any other. One time, rangers stopped and cited a clad man with an unleashed dog, but let some passing nudists continue. And Smith, who usually walks naked, has come across bobcats and mountain lions early in the morning. "I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion sitting like Egypt's Great Sphinx of Giza 50 yards down the path," he says.
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
Want to recharge your life? A trip to RCA can do just that. And a single stopover at the beautiful beach will probably inspire you to keep coming back. "It hasn't changed much in 20 years," says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. "A downside is that it's very exposed to the wind. 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. You could build a village with all that driftwood. The last time I went, somebody built a 30 foot tall dragon out of it." Suited and unsuited males and females and families visit the shoreline, which seems even bigger than its one mile length because, adds Velkoff, "we'll see six people on a beautiful day on a Sunday. Picture [please see next listing] Limantour as far as how people are 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 .25 miles 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 .5 miles 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," tells Velkoff.
LIMANTOUR BEACH, OLEMA
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 visitor Michael Velkoff. "Nobody 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 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, gray whales, and playful harbor seals. Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end of the beach. To grab the best parking, arrive by 10:30am.
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 .5 miles 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.