Lifestyle

The Best Nude Beaches in California

When going nude on California's beaches, there's often a wide chasm between expectation and reality -- but that's more of a "nude beach" thing than a California thing. You can't just drop trou and get an all-over tan at any old stretch of Golden State shoreline, and the select beaches where California does allow nude sunbathing are mostly (and not-so-coincidentally) in hard-to-reach and obscure locations. In other words, they're the kind of amenity-free beaches where you'd do well to bring your own food, drinks, chairs, and umbrellas.

Many of the state's most popular and underrated nude beaches are hidden mere minutes away from the popular shopping malls that line our coast, but you'd never know it unless you knew where to look. So, we're telling you where to look: here are all the best beaches to bare your ass in California, how to get to them, and everything you need to know once you're there. Just keep your clothes on until you're sure you're in the right place.

Editor's Note: Many of the nude beaches here lie within or close to California State Parks, and the rules that apply there are a little problematic. Section 4322 states that "No person shall appear nude while in any unit except in authorized areas set aside for that purpose by the Department." So, unless you're in a section that's explicitly nude-friendly -- and a lot aren't terribly explicit -- you might be facing a misdemeanor fine for baring your cheeks. So much for the freewheelin' West Coast.

Blacks Beach

La Jolla
Nude activities and natural beauty abound at CA's premier nude beach

San Diego’s famous warm weather makes Blacks one of the best nude beaches in the United States. 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 one of California’s finest waves, or venture to the north and join a vigorous game of nude volleyball. While the whole beach is nude tolerant, north of the trailhead is where the main action is. 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, I recommend local favorites Rimel’s Rotisserie for the best chicken bowl of your life or the legendary Verde El Ranchero for savory fish tacos and margaritas.
 

Pirate's Cove

Pismo Beach
A hidden, mellow beach with a questionable piracy connection

Despite its numerous rocky caves perfect for smuggling contraband (or, more likely these days, getting ass-naked), Pirate's Cove doesn't actually have much of a piracy 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.

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 Blacks Beach experience; it’s an older, mellower crowd. Plan your day around the low tide, because sand is at a premium once the higher tides hit.

Non-nude attractions: If you’ve made it to Pismo Beach, you have to try the world’s greatest cinnamon rolls at Old West Cinnamon Rolls. Need a place to stay? Check out 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. 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.

More Mesa Beach

Santa Barbara
Small, quiet strip of shoreline with a reputation for tar balls
Santa Barbara is a tale of two cities to say the least; one half is the picture of upper-crusty millionairedom, and the other is under 25 and occupies UCSB and the community college. In the cracks between are folks like you, who just want a mellow afternoon of beachiness in the buff -- and 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 and non-nude puritans.

Non-nude attractions: Depending on what kind of party you’re after, you may want to start at Joe’s Café; open since 1928, this place serves up some seriously strong drinks. State Street is always a fun adventure, but if you want to catch some live music, check out Velvet Jones for the best live acts in town. Lastly, if you’re young or just young at heart, you have to spend some time in the artsy-fartsy part of town known as the Funk Zone, where you'll find galleries, shops, and more than a few wineries.

Red Rock Beach

Marin County
Friendly beach with an active, social vibe
Red Rock beach ranks right up there as one of the Bay Area’s favorite local nude beaches, but not because it’s a quiet place with old folks. No, this beach is a naked fun zone; you’ve haven’t lived until you’ve climbed rocks or played frisbee games with all your bits swinging around like some '60s hippie. 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 nakedness. Also, make sure you don’t take a wrong turn and end up on Stinson Beach, as nudity there will land you in the pokey.

Non-nude attractions: Make sure you have pants on when you get some lunch at the historic Sand Dollar Restaurant and crush their insanely delicious Baked Bingo Oysters, then head up to Mount Tamalpais State Park located just a short drive east in the Marin County mountains.

 

Secret Cove Nude Beach

Lake Tahoe
Small, secluded nude beach hundreds of miles from the actual ocean
It’s not everyday 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 10am, you may have to settle for laying out on the boulders instead of 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 abound at this fun wildcard of a nude beach.

Non-nude attractions: This beach is far from good food or other fun activities, so plan on bringing whatever you need to have a great day. If you’re leaving to the north, Souledomain restaurant has been serving up healthy Tahoe’s nude adventurers for over 30 years, and is 11 miles down the road. This is the spot for healthy and delicious options. Heading south, you have to check out the Lucky Beaver because not only is the name fitting to this article, the food is damn good as well.
 

lands end
Lands End Beach | EQRoy/Shutterstock

Land’s End Beach

San Francisco
Low traffic on weekdays means a full private experience near the city
Land’s End is just that: the farthest tip of land located near Pyramid Rock in San Francisco. On a warm day, this place is a nudist paradise that’s both private and serene;  what keeps it so mellow, besides many days of cold and cloudy weather, is that it requires a sketchy walk on some high cliffs. Stay aware of your surroundings. As you walk down from from the parking area on El Camino del Mar, go down the steps to the left of the signs and turn right at the bottom. Don’t take any shortcuts, because these cliffs are unstable due to the constant moisture, and one wrong step off the main path could ruin your day. Once on the beach, you'll be greeted with a fantastic views and a fairly rocky stretch of beach -- find the most comfortable spot, pop those pants off, and try to remember you're somehow within city limits.

Non-nude attractions: Uh, you're squarely in San Francisco -- there's no shortage of things to do once you pop those pants back on. Do some window-shopping (or actual shopping) on Valencia, then head over to the Marina District and swing into The Buena Vista for their world famous Irish coffee. Lastly, get dinner at Bourbon & Branch, arguably SF’s coolest speakeasy.
 

Hearst Beach

San Simeon
Small-town beach tucked beneath a legit American castle

Located in the shadows of Hearst Castle (California’s own royal palace), this secluded little beach technically falls into the California State Parks, but features a kick-ass small cove with the level of privacy needed to sun your buns. The views are fantastic, whether you're looking out to sea or up into the hills at the legendary castle once owned by media overlord William Randolph Hearst.

Non-nude attractions: As mentioned, this beach lies beneath one of California’s premiere tourist attractions, the Hearst Castle. The Hearst family first purchased over 40,000 acres of this pristine coast in 1865 and William Randolph Hearst later inherited the estate, eventually owning 255,000 featuring a zoo and the huge castle with 165 rooms that spans 123 acres. If you're a wine lover, make sure you visit one of the dozens of nearby wineries, including the likes of Jada Vinyard, Cambria Wines, and Hearst Ranch Winery.

Devil's Slide Beach

Half Moon Bay
Tiny beach with beautiful views and gawking tourists
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 called “Devil’s Slide” because of the numerous landslides caused by erosion around the area, but it’s also known as Gray Whale Beach because of the easy-to-spot whales that pass by in the spring. Lay 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 on the gladiator pit that has claimed the lives of more than a few brave surfers. After your beach day, grab some dinner at Sam’s Chowder House, or local favorite Flying Fish Bar and Grill; both have some of the area’s finest seafood.
 

San Gregorio

San Mateo County
Privately owned, no-hassle nude beach with a noted gay scene

After the legendary Blacks Beach in San Diego, San Gregorio is the beach with the greatest safety, acceptance, and amazing topography -- but since it's privately owned, you'll have to pay for parking. The huge 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 the gay end. Also, beware of the various driftwood structures built by fellow nudists. Some folks have been known to use these as a love shacks, so maybe avoid that scene unless you want to get weird.

Non-nude attractions: You're not far from the other food joints listed at Devil’s Slide, as well as Dad's Luncheonette: a Half Moon Bay café with a truly excellent egg-topped burger, located inside an old train caboose off Main street.

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Ken Lewis was born and raised in the Southern California beach town of San Diego. When not surfing, chasing kids or planning camping trips, he’s a full time marketing director and freelance content creator.