Bare It All on the Best Nude Beaches in California
Here's everything you need to know before you go.
Whether you’re a part-time nudist, have an aversion to tan lines, or are just clothing-optional-curious, the California Coast is the place to go if you want to bare it all. But while we’re sure that half of America just thinks that all beaches in California have naked people with long hair running around on them, that’s sadly not the case. In fact, the beaches that do allow you to go au naturel are usually tucked away in some pretty hard-to-reach or obscure locations, so you’ll need to know where to look to find them. That’s where we come in with this list of the best beaches to both be a beach bum and bare your beach bum in California. From everything to how to get to them and other ways to entertain yourself while there, we’ve got you covered so you can go uncovered.
In 1975, the San Diego city council voted to allow nudity at this famous warm-weather beach, considered one of the best nude beaches in the United States, while prohibiting it at all other beaches. That era of freedom ended a few years later when the residents voted to make nudity illegal on all beaches. But don’t worry. While technically, nudity is a fineable offense, no police officers are willing to make the trek to actually hand out tickets. And, yes, it is a bit of a hike.
You’ll want to park at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and take the main trail hundreds of feet to the black sand beach below. At the trailhead, you can go left to where surfers by the hundreds enjoy some of California’s finest waves or venture to the north, where other nudists have set up their beach camps. While the whole beach is nude tolerant, north of the trailhead is where most people settle. On a hot sunny weekend, the nude end of the beach can get packed with hundreds of nudists enjoying the beautiful weather, so don’t expect much privacy. Weekdays are the move if you want a bit more breathing room.
Non-nude attractions: When you’re not naked, you may want to rent a paddleboard from Everyday California and explore the amazing sea caves off of the world-famous La Jolla Cove. For dinner, check out some of our favorite restaurants in La Jolla, ranging from Mexican to seafood to Italian cuisine and more.
Just a few miles north of the charming town of Carmel, you’ll find this very unusual beach, which has a giant depression in the dunes with some steep (and not-so-steep) sand rising above it so you can slide or jump down into the “crater” which has to be more fun if you’re naked, right? Because, yes, this beach is also clothing optional.
To get there, look for the gate next to the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and hop over it (there’s a private property sign, but no one’s enforcing it) or walk north from Sand City Beach.
Non-nude attractions: The Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is by far the coolest aquarium on the planet, is about 15 minutes away, as is Carmel, where you’ll find lots of wine, pristine beaches, dog-friendly everything, and luxurious hotels.
Half Moon Bay
This sliver of beach located underneath the towering bluffs of central California’s gorgeous coast is one that you have to check out, if only because it actually features parking and bathrooms. The spot is also known as “Devil’s Slide” because of the numerous landslides caused by erosion around the area, but it’s more officially known as Gray Whale Cove Beach because of the easy-to-spot whales that pass by in the spring. Lie out and enjoy the warm days when they are here, but avoid the ocean because it’s cold, and the area has no shortage of big, great white sharks. Note that State Park rules apply, meaning nudity is only expressly permitted to the north end of the beach.
Non-nude attractions: Half Moon Bay is home to the legendary big-wave spot Mavericks, so stop by Pillar Point to look out at the 25 to 60-foot waves surfed by only the best and bravest. After your beach day, grab some dinner on the deck of Sam’s Chowder House, or enjoy a meal of fresh and flavorful Peruvian food at La Costanera. There’s also plenty to do in nearby Pacifica, from live music at Winters Tavern to museum-made Jack cheese.
Only accessible via a small rock arch, this secluded beach surrounded by large sandstone cliffs is the perfect spot for people who want to bare it all. To get there, you need to go to Panther Beach and then walk south until you find the secret rock arch. It’s like Narnia, but for nudity! The sand beneath the rock arch does get slightly submerged during high tide, so it’s best to go during low or medium tides since the dangerous surf in the Pacific is a real thing, and we only want you to be swept away by the views, not the actual ocean.
Non-nude attractions: If you’re this close to Santa Cruz, you absolutely have to ride on the Giant Dipper, a classic wooden rollercoaster, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a surf lesson with Club Ed, an amazing surf school run by Ed Guzman, who has surfed some of the largest waves on Earth. Don’t worry: The instructors will take you out in friendly waves. And they have everything you need, including a wetsuit. And since you probably won’t want to go home after all that excitement, get a room at the retro-chic Dream Inn Santa Cruz, which sits right on the beach, has a pool with a bar, and electric bikes you can borrow for a seaside cruise. You can also just go to the hotel’s restaurant, Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge, which serves delicious food made with local ingredients and has some pretty stellar views to go along with it.
Santa Barbara is a tale of two cities. Half is the upper-crust senior citizen set; the other half is under 25 and occupies UCSB and the community college. In the cracks between are folks like you, who want a mellow afternoon of beachiness in the buff. Luckily, More Mesa is waiting. Located north of downtown Santa Barbara, between Hope Beach and the UCSB campus, this small nude beach lies beneath the lovely SB bluffs. You’ll see a gate with a private property notice; stay away from that and follow the pedestrian access to the left, heading for the grove of eucalyptus trees to follow the path to nudity. Keep your bare-cheeked reveries to the north of the trail, as the south is heavily trafficked by families. This is another beach you’ll want to go to at low tide because the sand quickly disappears as the tide comes in.
Non-nude attractions: Thanks to its competing demographics, there’s plenty to do in Santa Barbara, ranging from top-notch dining options, including Michelin-starred sushi and New England-style seafood. There are also museums, an urban wine trail, the Funk Zone, and plenty of activities to help you discover the area, plus an assortment of wineries and tasting rooms.
You likely won’t find a better beach view in the entire world than the north end of Baker’s Beach, where naked people rarely bask in the sunshine but always bask in stunning vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. The southern part of the beach (accessed by the main parking lot) is very popular and decidedly not clothing optional, so either park there and wait to disrobe until you reach the north end (you’ll know you’re there because of the steep bluffs, the end of the beach, and, well, the people not wearing clothes), or park on Lincoln Boulevard and use the “sand ladder” to descend to the shore.
Non-nude attractions: This is SF, so there’s no shortage of fun to be had, but since Baker Beach is close to the Outer Richmond, you might as well use that as an excuse to get the famous margaritas at Tommy’s, a killer burger at Violet’s, or some of SF’s best pizza at (the very hard to get into during prime time hours) Pizzetta 221.
Despite numerous rocky caves perfect for smuggling contraband, Pirate’s Cove doesn’t actually have much of a pirate connection. Rumors from the ’60s about a buried treasure from Sir Francis Drake gave the place its name, but no treasure was ever found. Booty, sure, but no treasure. That being said, its privacy did make it the perfect spot for bootleggers who transported booze during Prohibition, which is enough of an illicit legacy to impress us.
Park at the end of Cave Landing Road and look for the sign directing you to either the beach or the pirate cave. Go the cave route for the best views, but note that the trail is kind of sketchy, so be cautious when navigating your course. Once on the beach, you’ll notice it isn’t like the raucous Black’s Beach experience. It’s an older, mellow crowd known for its harmonious vibe. Plan your day around the low tide because sand is at a serious premium once the higher tides hit and all of the cool tidepools disappear.
Non-nude attractions: If you’ve reached Pismo Beach, try the world’s greatest cinnamon rolls at Old West Cinnamon Rolls. For overnight excursions, check into the quaint but uber-cool Avila Hot Springs just off the coast and unwind in their heated pools that flow from an underground artesian well. Or, if you prefer ocean views, book a room at the Vespera Resort, where you’ll also find exceptional Mexican food at the hotel restaurant Pequin Coastal Cantina. Lastly, check out the expansive off-road area of Oceano Sand Dunes located south of Avila Pier; you can camp, drive on the beach, and ride dune bikes all in the same area.
Red Rock Beach (known locally as Mickey’s Beach) is one of the Bay Area’s favorite local nude beaches. If you’re feeling a little shy, this is a great entry-point nude beach, as the crowds tend to be smaller since you have to hike down a steep trail to access it. The beach is just south of Stinson Beach and can be rocky, so don’t attempt this one barefoot. Take a short walk along the coast to Steep Ravine Beach, where a communal hot spring is revealed during shallow tides. Check the tides because the beach almost completely disappears when it’s at its highest. Word to the wise: Avoid the ocean if you’re not a strong swimmer, as riptides abound when the tide goes out, and there aren’t any lifeguards close to save your naked ass. Also, make sure you don’t take a wrong turn and end up on Stinson Beach, as nudity there will land you in the jail or at least get you some raised eyebrows and maybe a ticket.
Non-nude attractions: Red Rock Beach isn’t a great place to swim, but Stinson, about half a mile north, is one of the Bay’s rare beaches with water you can play in. Make sure you have pants on there and head to the Parkside Cafe for lunch in the garden or soft-serve ice cream from the snack bar before going to Mount Tamalpais State Park, just a short drive east in the Marin County mountains.
San Mateo County
Possibly the first nude beach in the US, San Gregorio boasts safety, acceptance, and amazing topography, but you’ll have to pay for parking. The vast shoreline offers many places to find some privacy among the warm sand and mysterious sea caves, but note that the adjacent State Park beach to the south is a no-go for nudity; keep yourself north of the beach access or even further north if you’re looking for more of a queer-friendly hangout. Also, just FYI, the driftwood structures built by fellow nudists are known for being used for privacy for acts that sometimes require privacy, so steer clear unless you’re looking for a private space of your own.
Non-nude attractions: There’s not a lot in the immediate vicinity, but Half Moon Bay is about a 15-minute drive north, and there you can stop by Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for beer and fish and chips on the patio Dad’s Luncheonette, a café with a genuinely excellent egg-topped burger, located inside an old train caboose off Main street. If you need a place to stay and don’t mind a splurge, the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is a stunning hotel on a cliff overlooking the ocean. You can also just stop by for sunset drinks.
It’s not every day you can post up on a sandy nude beach and be nowhere near the actual coast. Located in Lake Tahoe (technically less than one mile over on the Nevada side), this small stretch of sand is the area’s premiere nude hangout. Since real estate is at a premium here, if you haven’t claimed your space by 10 am, you may have to settle for sitting on the boulders instead of lying out on the sand. The shallow water stays relatively warm in the summer, so bring an inflatable to float on and enjoy the mountain air and relaxing beauty that abounds at this fun wildcard of a nude beach.
Non-nude attractions: This beach is pretty far from good food or other fun activities, so plan on bringing whatever you need to have a great day. If you’re headed back to the north shore after your day in the sun, pop into Jason’s Beachside Grille in King’s Beach for baby back ribs on the lakefront deck. If you’re headed to South Lake, Edgewood is a special occasion fine dining restaurant with gorgeous lake views and worth a splurge. If you’re looking for something healthy and casual, Sprouts Cafe is the place to go.