At Willits' nude swimming hole, "just about everyone goes nude," says Mary. "In fact, if you leave your clothes on, it's considered strange." But don't worry, nobody's going to haul you away if you don't conform to local tradition. In fact, Willits has both nude and non-nude holes, so there are plenty of choices available. The town's skinny-dipping site is about 30 minutes from downtown. "It's a great place to visit from spring into the early autumn," adds Mary. "It tends to be warm, but not overly hot." Visitors follow paved roads from town and then turn onto a rutted road that leads to the river. You can pick from a number of holes on either side of the water. "It's a miserable, hot, dirty road, with lots of dust," says Mary. And you may get a surprise in the water if "you feel something nipping at your feet," tells Mary's husband, Bill. Depending on the time of year, "little black clouds" of small fish or possibly pollywogs may emerge from under river rocks and swarm around you. Bring water shoes to wear along the shore, which has both sand and rocks. Except for the rutted road and small, somewhat ticklish fish, expect a day of fun at this mellow, clothing-free sun spot.
How to find it:
From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north to Willits. In downtown Willits, turn right on E. Commercial Street and, passing the library and fairgrounds, continue straight. At the curve, bear left. Look for a driving range on the right and a white building on the left. At the street with the white building, turn left. A mile or so later, turn right. The Hearst Willits Road sign is a good landmark. If you see it, keep going straight until you come to Tomki Creek. Cross the bridge over the creek, then turn left onto the first road, which parallels the creek. Note: it's mostly dirt, with intermittent pavement. You'll soon come to a spot where you can turn left or go uphill. Drive uphill until you arrive at Hearst. After Hearst, look for a steel bridge on your left. Before or at the bridge, on the left, check for a deeply rutted road. Turn left and follow car tracks to the river. Park and walk upstream or downstream to any of several skinny-dipping holes.
A series of swimming holes dotting both sides of the river for the length of a city block. The beaches are mainly gravely riverbanks, with some sand. "The best hole, which is deep, is next to a rock formation on the other side of the river," says Bill. "For some nice holes with faster water, walk upstream."
"Depending on when you visit and which spot you pick, you can be by yourself or, on a hot weekend, with 10 or 20 people," says Mary. A few visitors have bonfires on the beach. Almost everybody is nude, according to Mary.
Unknown legal status; nipping fish; rutted and dusty roads; gravel-strewn riverbank.