"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 okay 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."
There are four main ways to get to Privates, which is off Opal Cliff Drive, north of the Capitola Pier, and takes its name from the gate at the entrance, as well as the young security guards at the top of the path ("They're usually 18-23 year old guys who give information on how to get a key or assist people in using theirs," says Young), both intended to keep the site "private":
1) Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (Four people walked from Capitola Beach to a beach just east of Privates, only to become trapped by rising water; they were rescued by swimmers and officers from a harbor patrol boat).
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) And still others enter the beach from little Opal Cliff Park, on the cliffs, via a key entry gate at the top of a staircase. The park is between two houses, near 4524 Opal Cliff Drive.
Most users buy a key for $100 (cash only) at Freeline Design Surf Shop, 821 41st Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-476-2950, some 1.5 blocks west of the beach. The keys, which are changed yearly, are good June 1 through May 31; if you purchase a key late in the year, there's no discount. Local residents listed on a roll of taxpayers (kept at Freeline), who pay property taxes to support the park and gate, can get a yearlong key for $50.
Another option is to try to go through the gate for free. "I've either gone along with someone with a key, or waited outside the gate until someone with a key goes in and then followed them," says Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco. "Most beachgoers will gladly hold the gate open for someone behind them whose hands are full." But that only works if a guard is not present (they often are there).
Legal status: Privates is managed by the Opal Cliffs Recreation District and is funded by neighborhood property taxes and beach dues. The district maintains the park and stairwell, but is subject to the terms of the California Coastal Commission, which as recently as 2009 asked the district to make some changes.
How to find it:
In Santa Cruz, park in the five-vehicle lot next to Opal Cliff Park, in front of the gate near 4524 Opal Cliff Drive; find street parking elsewhere on Opal Cliff; or, from Freeline, walk 1.5 blocks (roughly five minutes) east to the park, which is the size of an average house lot. Go down the staircase. The nude area is to the left of the bottom of the stairs.
A beautiful, gently curving, sandy site. Clothing-optional users usually gather at a separate cove on the south part of the beach (to the left of the entrance, when facing the ocean); a quarter acre cove used by clothed beachgoers, separated from the nude one by a rocky outcropping, is to the right. The beach is backed by slowly eroding sandstone and siltstone cliffs.
Expect a mix of nudists and surfers, including locals and out-of-towners. "I was down there with a friend who was babysitting a bunch of little kids," says Young, who's now an emergency medical technician on an ambulance. "There were families there having a really good time. Then there were all these people surfing. And to the far left, as you face the ocean, there were the nudists." Depending on when you arrive, you may be alone or one of several dozen visitors. "Usually, you'll see five-to-10 nudists at the most," adds Young. "They act cool and mostly sunbathe. It's not like they are walking around with their stuff hanging out. On a really hot weekend day, there will be maybe six-to-15 families on the beach and eight-to-12 surfers when the waves are small, or up to 15 during big waves."
Entrance fee; small parking lot; cold water; fog; sometimes a few sticks on the beach.