Indian Head Beach

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Rating: C

Nudists who have been trying to start a clothing-optional enclave on part of the old Fort Ord federal property for years are finally starting to see a trickle of regular use emerge. "Some locals are going there," says Harold Short, a naturist activist who's been chairman of Santa Cruz County's North Coast Beaches Advisory Committee for more than a decade. "A few walkers and fishermen come by," adds Tiburon lawyer Charles Harris II, who, with Short, has been supporting the project. There have also been a few visits by local naturist groups.

Fort Ord Dunes State Park, a four-mile-long state park, was last reported to be in the planning stages and not yet open to the public. But that didn't stop it from being one of 48 California state parks proposed for closure in January by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a deficit reduction program.

A "General Plan" and environmental impact report for the site was approved by the State Parks and Recreation Commission in 2004. In its sources for information, the Plan acknowledges it tapped input from the Bay Area Naturists, Naturist Society, American Association for Nude Recreation, Bare Buns Family Nudist Club, Sequoians Family Nudist Park, Bakersfield Sun Club, and Southern California Naturists Association.

In fact, more responses about opening the beach to nude use -- 109 -- were received than for any other public comment topic. According to the Plan, "most of the surveys returned by naturists indicated the availability of a clothing optional beach as their primary concern and did not mention other concerns about the park, such as habitat protection or other environmental issues."

"An officially designated clothing optional beach was the most suggested change mentioned by respondents," reported the Plan. "Some respondents also noted that appropriate signage should be used to designate the clothing optional area and 'warn' visitors who may want to avoid clothing optional areas."

Part of Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

How to find it:

From San Jose, take Highway 101 south to Prunedale, then Highway 156 west to join Highway 1 south at Castroville. Approaching Marina, exit at Reservation road, turning left (east). At the first signal, go right on Reservation, then follow it a half mile to Lake Drive. Turn right on Lake. Follow it half a mile until it goes under the freeway.

Or from Monterey, go north on Highway 1 to Marina. Exit at Del Monte Avenue. Proceed straight through the first signal, then turn left at the next signal on Palm Avenue. Follow it across the tracks, take the second left onto Lake Drive, and stay on it as it goes under the freeway.

Once under the freeway, park straight ahead on the right side of Lake. Look for the Marina Beach sign. "The obvious path uphill is your route," says Harris. "The climb really is as steep as it looks." Go up and over the sand dune, staying on the trail. At the beach, turn left and walk about half a mile south to the nude area.

The beach:

Normally narrow and steep, Indian Head can sometimes be a broad beach, bordered by rolling dunes of invitingly soft sand.

The crowd:

You may encounter a few other nudists, an entire group of naked people from a club or other group, or none at all.

Problems:

Steep trail; cold, hazardous water; often foggy or windy; some litter; sparse use, so it may feel a bit lonely; nudity not yet approved by state.

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