From Bonny Doon to Supermoons: our 39th annual survey of Northern California naked fun in the sun
Below you'll find our annual update on the state of nude beaches in Northern California, along with detailed guides and directions to some of our favorites. For details on dozens more, please see our complete Nude Beach Guide at www.sfbg.com/nudebeaches , which we are in the process of updating.
While researching clothing-optional beaches in Jamaica in November, my girlfriend and I noticed that native Jamaicans don't think anything of stripping down to their underwear to take a dip in a waterfall on a hot day — our driver did just that near one of the nation's biggest cities, Ocho Rios — while visiting tourists can go topless or nude with hardly a complaint on Negril's seven-mile long shoreline of shimmering white sand, at the west end of the country.
It made me wonder, what if the same tolerance existed here, where each beach has its own traditions and its own set of rules? Sometimes, it takes as little as a person moving some sand or staying after sunset to annoy our cops. In Jamaica and many other parts of the world, that would never happen.
For example, law enforcement actions recently hit two Bay Area nude beaches — Marin's Red Rock and Steep Ravine — while most access to a third site, fan favorite Muir, near Stinson Beach, has been closed by authorities until November.
The good news: visits by rangers to both skinny dipping coves mentioned above have died back, while anti-nudity patrols at Monterey's Garrapata Beach, which erupted in 2011, have been discontinued. And the Guardian is publishing three "secret" alternate ways that die-hard visitors can use to reach the nude section of gorgeous Muir Beach.
Red Rock was rocked by a ranger who reportedly used a crowbar to remove part of a sunbathing "terrace" that beach regulars had built by moving sand to create more "towel space." He also cited two male beachgoers for violating Title 14, Section 4307, of the California Code Of Regulations, which bans removal of "earth" or "sand" from state parks.
The men are appealing their penalties, while their friends at the beach are asking for donations to pay for their legal fees. "We're going to take up a collection," says Stinson Beach attorney-teacher Fred Jaggi.
The ranger's boss, Bill Lutton, a state parks superintendent for the Marin area who visited the beach after the busts, told us that "altering" and "changing the features" of the beach is a serious offense. "We consider ourselves the guardians of seven generations of users of California's park system," he says, "so we must protect the parks' cultural and natural resources."
Meanwhile, instead of being charged with destroying park property, several people at nearby Steep Ravine Beach, which is open from 7am until dusk, were cited last fall for soaking in its dangerous-to-reach nude hot springs after sunset by the same ranger who raided Red Rock. "A guy was handcuffed after mouthing off to the ranger, so he really deserved it," says former springs frequent visitor Michael Velkoff, of Lucas Valley. "He almost took a girl away too."
Citing "safety and lack of lighting" concerns, Lutton says the after-dark curfew at rock-strewn Steep Ravine, where numerous users have slipped and sustained cuts, bruises, and other injuries, "will be strictly enforced."
And at Muir Beach, which is used by nudists as a gateway to a nude beach that begins on its north end, visiting hours have been officially eliminated until November 15, while crews improve its parking, toilets, and watershed.
"Don't even think about visiting the beach," urges Golden Gate National Recreation Area public affairs specialist Alexandra Picavet, who points out that users won't have access to the beach, ocean, parking, restrooms, or garbage cans. "Find a new experience — the Bay Area has plenty — to try this summer and then you'll really appreciate Muir Beach when it reopens."
Because the main portion of Muir is blocked by fencing and being patrolled by rangers, anyone trying to reach Little Beach, as the nude area next to Muir is also known, will have to hike anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to reach the shore and then continue walking to the naked area. Picavet says that if you stop for any length of time in front of the non-nude part of Muir, even to stand and admire the view or take a dip in the water, you'll be cited.
While cops are tightening the use of beaches in Marin, they're relaxing their hold in Monterey County. In fact, nudists at Garrapata Beach, close to Carmel, have something to celebrate: "nudie" patrols by rangers have ended, in part because the state ran out of money to fund them and because not a single complaint has been received in 2013.
"We've been complaint free," says Sean James, who became acting state parks superintendent for the area in April and appears to be fairly tolerant of naturists. "I don't see how just being nude would be threatening."
Please be careful at our beaches. Two women in their 30s died June 30 after they were swept into the ocean by a wave near another popular nude beach, Bonny Doon. They were with two men when the wave swept the foursome into the water. The two men were rescued by a Coast guard helicopter after being stranded on some rocks and surrounded by a rising tide.
Of course, you don't have to go to the sea to be nude. Our listings include naked lakes, rivers, waterfalls, reservoirs, and at least one meadow. Or how about hiking while wearing only your birthday suit? Au naturel "Full Moon Hikes" have been happening for several years. But the world's first-ever "Supermoon Nude Hike" (named after a new or full moon which occurs with the moon within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth) took place right here in the Bay Area the night before the brightest moon of 2013.
"I'll never forget the hike," said Raj, one of the walkers, after making the trek in the East Bay Hills, near Castro Valley, June 22. "I will think of it every time I see a full moon."
Agrees Dave Smith, of San Leandro, who led it: "It was spectacular — one of the greatest hikes ever. Keep in mind we did it in moonlight, while even having to scramble on all fours down some rocks. I felt like Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit."
Want to join in the fun? More "Full Moon Hikes" will take place July 20 and August 18 (see our online listings below for Las Trampas in Contra Costa County).
Another idea to meet and socialize with fellow naturists: drop by Santa Cruz's Bonny Doon Beach on September 21 or Lake Tahoe's Secret Harbor Creek Beach on June 7, 2014, when visitors will be getting together to keep them clean by finding and removing trash.
Finally, you can help beachgoers and 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: "A" signifies a beach that is large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; "B" indicates places where fewer than half the visitors are nude; "C" means small or emerging nude areas; and "D" depicts spots that are in use, but not recommended.
NORTH BAKER BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
North Baker's neo-hippie revival is continuing for a third straight season, with more art work springing up on the USA's largest urban nude beach. Guitar- and drum-playing was added to the scene last year. This summer, a second so-called "art tree" made of driftwood and festooned with seaweed has appeared. "I call it the Sea Hag," says Santosh, an organizer of alternative activities at the beach who also produces San Francisco's annual How Weird Street Faire. "Anybody can add things to it. They bring mementos, flowers, anything you can think of. I tend it, but it attracts a life of its own. Several tourists per day usually drop by. One child looked up at the things dangling from it and asked, 'Is it some kind of voodoo?'" Baker's own "beach language" is also evolving. Last year, "duney," which describes the site's tent-like, shade-providing structures without walls, and "Baker Day" (when the sun's out and it's not too windy) came into usage. "Now, we've added 'rock block' and 'cosmic volleyball,'" adds Santosh, who describes the former as any stretch of three Baker Days in a row, while cosmic volleyball allows visitors "to keep playing, even if the ball bounces off one of our driftwood poles."
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. Parking at Lincoln's 100 or more nearby parking spaces was limited to two hours recently. But through June, there had been no reports of cops actually writing tickets for parking too long.
LAND'S END BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
One of the better locales in the Bay Area to enjoy a little naked sunning without many people present, a visit to the little cove off Geary Boulevard known as Land's End may make your worries melt away, at least during a quiet afternoon. Cops only occasionally visit it. But don't be shocked if you see more clothed visitors than nudists — many locals and tourists who wander down to the sand don't realize it's a clothing-optional beach. Tip: on hot days, arrive before noon or there may be no unoccupied sand left on the little, semi-rocky shoreline. If possible, try to use one of the rock-lined windbreaks left by previous sunbathers. Pack a warm covering 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, SAN FRANCISCO
Mostly a gay male cruising scene, "Nasty Boy Beach" is also visited by some straight men and women. Though fairly rocky and packed with people on hot days, everyone seems to enjoy the trio of coves you can find by walking along the shore. Oh, and did I mention the view? If you want to feel immersed in a picture postcard of the famous bridge, then this is the place to plop down. On warm days, some users even swim in the usually chilly, undertow-plagued water. "You can sometimes go out over 100 feet during low tide," says a woman.
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, SAN FRANCISCO
Known as Fort Fun by its fans, this Golden Gate National Recreation Area sun spot, located south of Ocean Beach, attracts hang gliders, dogs and their walkers, and even from time to time a few naturists, the latter of which sometimes tuck themselves between the dunes on the shore. But not all is fun on its magnetic sands and the cliffs above them. A few months ago, a tussle between two dogs ended when a canine was stabbed by the owner of one of the pets. Besides pugnacious pooch protectors, watch out too for sharp winds, especially in March and October. And to stave off hassles from rangers, disrobers should stay away on weekends or when families or rangers are near. If anyone seems upset or gripes about you being au naturel, be sure to suit up fast since the authorities will bust naturists if they see them or they receive complaints. The good news: usually, only a few citations a year are issued at Fort Funston, so if you are discreet and stay in the dunes, you may be rewarded with a suntan without lines.
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
Imagine tromping in the East Bay Hills naked at night, guided only by your flashlight and a representative of the Bay Area Naturists group, plus a few fellow travelers. And yes, mooning during America's only Full Moon Hikes is permitted. "Those who haven't experienced these incredibly beautiful, if slightly challenging hikes to the ridge at sunset really ought to put this on their calendar this year," says organizer Dave Smith, of San Leandro, who'll be leading trips starting at a Castro Valley nudist club on Saturday, July 20, leaving at 7pm (there will be a potluck earlier), and Sunday, August 18, departing around 6:30pm.
"It's one of the greatest hikes in the Bay Area, rivaling any I know of," tells Smith. "It's right up there with the Palomarin Trail (from the Bolinas area, passing Bass Lake and Pelican Lake, to Alamere Falls, on the coast), the Cascades, and others. The walk is not hard, but it is challenging. We take it slow so everyone can make it. So far, no one has ever been hurt."
"We usually leave an hour and a half before sunset and hike up to the top to catch the sunset and moonrise and then come back down in the moonlight," he adds.
"Whether you are clothed or not, participating in the Full Moon Hike is a big treat," says past hiker Jurek Zarzycki, who suggests walkers bring good hiking shoes, a flashlight ("Most of the time you won't need it, because of the moonlight"), and bug spray. "And don't forget to have some baby carrots with you to give to the horses that sometimes come out at night, so close that you may even feel their breath. Don't worry, though, they're very friendly."
Organized by 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.
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
Despite the opening of the Tom Lantos Tunnels on March 25, 2013, nearby Gray Whale Cove, also known as Devil's Slide, continues to function — and may, state officials think, soon attract even more visitors than in previous years. The reason: crowds soon will be coming not only to the beach, but also to a mile-long stretch of the old Highway 1 that was circumvented by the tunnels and is being turned into a walking and biking trail; it's expected to open soon. To handle the larger attendance, workers will build new parking lots on either side of the highway, giving Devil's Slide a parking area on the ocean side for the first time. The current parking lot on the east side of Highway 1 is still open. "We will also be improving the stairway (leading down to the beach)," says San Mateo coast state parks sector superintendent Paul Keel. Best of all, traditional use of the beach for clothing-optional sunbathing has been continuing, with few problems. "We're not having an increase in (complaint) calls there," says Keel.
Directions: Driving from San Francisco, take Highway 1 south through Pacifica. Three miles south of the Denny's restaurant in Linda Mar, at 500 Linda Mar Blvd., Pacifica, and just past and south of the Tom Lantos Tunnels, turn left (inland or east) on an unmarked road, which takes you to the beach's parking lot on the east side of the highway and to a 146-step staircase that leads to the sand. Another lot will "eventually" be opened on the ocean side (please see above). Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the old Chart House restaurant in Montara. Most naturists use the north end of the beach, which is separated by rocks from the rest of the shore. Wait until low tide to make the crossing to the nude area.
SAN GREGORIO NUDE BEACH, SAN GREGORIO
Now in its 47th year of operation, America's oldest nude beach even has its own website and live webcam at www.freewebs.com/sangregoriobeach . The privately-run site is located next to San Gregorio State Beach. The beach often draws a large gay crowd, along with some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. On your first visit, though, you may be a little shocked by the provocative behavior that is sometimes happening in the driftwood structures on the slope leading down to the beach. Their walls aren't completely closed. Some users even want passersby to observe them having sex inside the so-called "sex condos," including Kerry, from San Francisco, who told us about her October 2012 visit with her partner, Lisa: "It was an exciting time. We've been to the beach six times. We have had men wander by and try not to stare. Other times, we have had men that more or less sneak up and peek through the wood at us while we are having sex. One time, we had three men who stood 15 feet away and watched intently as we went at it. We have not met anybody that we consider creepy. In fact, there have never been any words exchanged at all."
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
Are you looking for a gorgeous place to have a picnic? If you're in the Bay Area, you won't have to travel far to find the Golden State's version of the Garden of Eden, a creekside skinny-dipping spot located in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, between Santa Cruz and Felton. Used even more by suited swimmers and sunbathers, many hikers are surprised when they come across naturists at the stream. Eden gets mixed reviews by visitors: some parts of the trail may be slippery, so watch your step and keep your eyes out for poison oak. To find Eden and two other clothing-optional swim holes on San Lorenzo River, check for vehicles pulled over on Highway 9, alongside the state park, which forbids nudity but only occasionally patrols the creek with rangers.
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
Were anti-nudity signs really recently posted at Bonny Doon Beach, whose north end has been used for clothing optional sunbathing for decades? Yes, but officials took the warnings, which were placed at two trailheads leading to the sand, down just two months later. "We're not planning to change anything," says Chet Bardo, superintendent of state beaches in the Santa Cruz district. "The truth is that we get complaints on all sides of this issue. It's not uncommon to get calls from people. This is California, after all, so what to local people might seem not that unusual sometimes turns out to shock people who are visiting from Iowa, who find it (nudity) a bit disconcerting."
"The way I see it, unless there's a problem (happening at the beach), it's not a problem to us," he adds. In fact, the only problem at Bonny Doon this year is that it has less sand than usual. 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 — one clothed for clothed visitors and the other for nudes — known as 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. "Ultimately it would be nice to see some level of improvement, maybe trail work or stair work," adds Lingenfelter. "But before we'd even do that, there would need to be a General Plan or an Interim Use Plan, which we don't have. And we also don't have any funding for it."
As for nudity, Lingenfelter says his rangers, who periodically patrol the beach, haven't issued a single warning or citation for nudity since the state approved the acquisition of the beach in 2006. "We'll respond to complaints we receive," he explains, "but I can't recall (receiving) a single complaint."
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
Aptly named 2222, a mini-nude beach that takes its title from the house across the street, is still beautiful, still hidden from most passersby, and still attracts a small crowd of regular visitors who are in good enough shape to handle its sketchy, foreboding-looking path.
One of America's smallest nude beaches, 2222 is so tiny it could probably fit in your yard. And that's what makes it such a special place. You won't see many people on the sand, which takes scrambling to reach and isn't recommended for children or anyone who isn't a good hiker. However, those who are able to make it down a sharp-angled cliff and past several concrete blocks on the way down may like the quiet and solitude that the beach offers. The most dependable trail begins on the southeast corner of the hillside overlooking the site. Even though there's a walking path just above it, the beach can't be seen from there. College students like to hangout here and, if they're lucky, get a glimpse of a local juggler who sometimes practices his routines on the sand. Tip: for great accommodations, check out the West Cliff Inn, 174 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, a bed and breakfast inn located a few blocks to the south; it's somewhat pricey, but truly enjoyable.
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 pullout with eight parking spaces next to the cliff, on the west side of the road. If it's full, continue straight and park along Chico Avenue. An overlook with two benches facing an interesting obelisk-style sculpture — where my girlfriend and I sat last year — is located between the parking area and the edge of the cliff. 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
Want to visit a beach with great sand and surf, plus a mix of suited and naked users? This year, the charge remains $100 — or $50 if you live nearby — for all the visits you want to make to Privates, which is one of the county's best beaches, until May 31. If you go daily for a year, that's about 27 cents a day. But there are also several ways people have used to circumvent the fee, which we explain below. Visitors include nudists, surfers, families, and local residents. "Everyone gets along," says Brittney Barrios, manager/buyer of Freeline Design Surf Shop, which sells up to 600 beach passes to Privates a year. "It's always very peaceful."
"There's a great swell happening here," says a surfer we interviewed this summer. Security guards plus a locked gate keep most troublemakers out. With almost no litter or loud noise, and less wind than most local beaches, the site almost always provides a pleasant atmosphere for users. Do you want to bring your dog? It's OK too.
To catch a game of Nude Frisbee or to start one, when you reach the bottom of the beach stairs, walk to the left until you see some people who aren't wearing part or all of their swimsuits.
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.
BASS LAKE, BOLINAS
"The lake was great," says regular user Dave Smith, of San Leandro, about his visit to Bass Lake, near Bolinas, this year. "It was during spring break, so there were a lot of people on the trail that day. But we weren't the only ones who were naked in the water. Several people were skinny dipping besides us." Others, who don't necessarily go nude, love Bass too, which, by the way, does not have any bass. San Rafael resident Marie described her November visit as "awe-inspiring" on a message board. She said the walk to get there "was worth every minute ... the water while cool was exhilarating. I can't wait to go back." And Cindi, of San Anselmo, found the setting to be "rejuvenating, awesome, stunning, orgasmic ... I would do it again and again." Bass doesn't attract as many nudists as it did 10 years ago. "When I first went, everybody was nude," says Smith. "Today, though, you have to feel pretty comfortable with your own nudity to swim that way at the lake."
Directions: Allow about an hour for the drive from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. 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 gravel road and ends at the Palomarin parking lot. On hot days the lot fills quickly, so come early. Says Smith: "We once saw hundreds of cars." A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail to the lake. For directions to incredibly beautiful Alamere Falls, 1.5 miles past Bass Lake, which empties onto a beach at the sea, please see "Elsewhere In Marin" in our online listings.
RED ROCK BEACH, STINSTON BEACH
The beach is in good shape this year. Warmer than usual weather in spring brought more people — 80 on one day — onto the sand earlier than usual, but, due to higher gas prices and a rough economy, crowd sizes remain down from a decade ago. "We've had fewer gawkers too," says veteran visitor Fred Jaggi. "The beach is the mellowest it's ever been." If gawking remains down, then it would bring welcome relief. A 2012 visitor estimated the site had "25 percent nasty creeper grossness." In another improvement, the trail is getting rave reviews. Foliage along the path has been pruned back since last year. "It's clean of poison oak," says Jaggi. "It's a really easy walk now," adds another visitor, Michael Velkoff. "You can't beat it. I wear my sandals down there (instead of hiking shoes) while carrying a chair and backpack. If I can walk back up the trail at the end of the day, anyone can do it." Rock climbing continues to be popular. Ultimate Frisbee, Double Disc Court (you throw two Frisbees at once), Befuddle (players toss the first disc softer and the second one harder), Nude Hearts, and Naked Scrabble are some of the other favorite pursuits on the sand. Tips: visit when the tide is low or early in the day; come before noon for the best parking. For the most sand space, drop by on a Monday, known as "Club Day" to the repeat visitors who like to gather then. And, if possible, bring a folding beach chair.
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.
MUIR NUDE BEACH, MUIR BEACH
Although the public part of Muir Beach has been closed since July 8, the small, quarter-moon shaped, clothing-optional beach just to the north of it is still technically open. This summer, the site was attracting 30-40 people a day, although it may get 100 on hot days. It's one of the only Bay Area nude beaches that receives nearly as many female visitors as males. A variety of people share the cove, which has a more serene and less social atmosphere than nearby Red Rock. Finding it is usually easy: you park at the main Muir lot, walk north on the sand, cross over some rocks, and you're there. Now, though, during improvement work lasting until November, visitors can't park near Muir or enter it by foot. To reach the naked beach, you'll need to hike up to several hours and not be able to use restrooms or garbage cans, which are ringed with fences. Once there, you must continue to the nude beach without stopping on the main beach, even to admire the view or swim in the water, or you will be cited.
Directions until 11/10: 1) Take the Coastal Trail to Muir Beach from the Tennessee Valley trailhead, then walk north until you come to a line of rocks marking the start of the nude area. Walk over the rocks. The roundtrip loop is just under 8 miles. See our web listings for details. 2) A hike of up to 30 minutes on the Coastal Trail begins at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, at 1601 Shoreline Highway, off Highway 1 just south of Muir Beach. But the Center's parking lot is tiny, costs single-occupant drivers $5 to use on Sundays (when participation in the Center's program is requested) and isn't open to the public on weekdays or Saturdays, so staff are strongly discouraging its use for Muir access during the beach's closure. Our online report has more info. 3) If you live on Cove Lane, near Pacific Way, you can still access the beach from Cove. Nonresidents can't park on Cove Lane, Pacific Way, or other nearby streets during the closure period. Starting 11/10: 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 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.
RCA BEACH, BOLINAS
In a 1998 movie, visiting Jamaica was How Stella Got Her Groove Back. But if you'd like to revitalize your life, all you may need to do is spend an afternoon at awe-inspiring RCA Beach. Even though the site is isolated, don't try to have sex on the sand; rangers ticketed at least one person for engaging in public sex here last fall. A single stopover at this relaxing oasis of tranquility will probably inspire you to keep coming back. "It hasn't changed in decades," says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. One problem: the cove is exposed to the wind. The good news is that there are lots of nooks that are sheltered from the wind. Some nooks, though, provide good shelter from the periodic breezes. Plus there's so much driftwood on the sand that many people build windbreaks or even whole forts. Suited and unsuited men and women and families visit the shoreline. The beach seems far bigger than its one mile length because everyone is usually spread out on the sand. Adds Velkoff: "We'll see six people on a Sunday. Everybody's 30 yards apart. It's amazing."
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
Would you like to walk a mile wearing nothing but your smile? At lovely Limantour, in Point Reyes National Seashore, you can do just that. Bring a pair of binoculars for watching birds, seals, and other wildlife. "I've been going there this year since the spring," says Lucas Valley's Michael Velkoff. "There are always whales and dolphins off shore, but recently we've been seeing porpoises too. It's so beautiful at Limantour. I just head away from any people and put my towel down in the dunes or against a wall. A friend went a few days ago. Even though it was windy, she was very comfortable in the dunes. The best thing is that 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." The long shoreline is one of America's most beautiful beaches, yet few visitors realize the narrow spit of sand, between Drakes Bay and an estuary, 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 (if you are lucky enough to see these endangered birds on the north end of the beach), gray whales (including mothers and their calves during spring), and playful harbor seals (offshore and at the north edge of the sand). Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end of the beach.
Directions: From San Francisco, take 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. "One Sunday we had 200 yards to ourselves," Velkoff says. But lately, the dunes have been more crowded.