Great American Nude Beaches

The truth is, for a growing number of Americans, visiting a nude beach is an experience of freedom, community, and oneness with nature. A 2000 Roper Poll commissioned by the Naturist Education Foundation shows that 25 percent of American adults have enjoyed skinny-dipping or nude sunbathing with members of the opposite sex. Not only is this an astounding percentage, it also represents a significant increase. A similar poll in 1983 showed only 15 percent of respondents answering in the affirmative. Skinny-dipping thus remains an integral and growing part of our rich American heritage.

It is that spirit that The Naturist Society offers N readers the following roundup of "Great American Nude Beaches."

Selected by Michael Cooney, the dean of American naturist videographers, the Great American Nude Beaches reviewed here will be the subject of a Cooney video of the same name, due for release in October. Herewith, a preview of some of Cooney’s—and N’s—favorite American nude beaches.

Haulover Beach

Haulover Beach County Park

Miami, Fla.

JUST NORTH OF world-renowned Bal Harbour in Miami Beach is a model clothing-optional urban beach. Attracting visitors worldwide, Haulover County Park offers over a half-mile of pure white sand and seashore, with parking, trash cans, concessions, restrooms, lifeguards, and signage for the clothing-optional section. This may be the most beautiful clothing-optional beach in the U.S., and the most heavily used.

While Haulover is known worldwide, local users are responsible for its success. "We’re proud of this beach," says Richard Mason of the user group South Florida Free Beaches. "It shows to anyone who is not familiar with naturism what naturism can accomplish, and what naturism is about."

Since being established in the early 1990s, nude beach use has gone from a few hundred to several thousand people a day. The economic impact on South Florida has been tremendous. The parking lot has become a welcome source of revenue for Miami-Dade County. Nearby hotels enjoy an 85 percent occupancy rate year-round; the entire community has benefited. Haulover Beach is a prime example of what is possible when a dedicated group of naturists work together to create a beach resource for its community.

"It’s becoming, I think, the premier nude beach in the United States," says beachgoer Larry Fleischmann. "It’s got beautiful water and beautiful sand; the people here are great, and it has good energy. It’s clean, it’s quiet, you aren’t going to find anything better than this anywhere you go."

Beach Brief: Haulover

Season: April–October

Parking: Parking lot with fee; recommended arrival by 11:00 a.m.

User Group: South Florida Free Beaches/Florida Naturist Association, 954-782-7400, www.sffb.com.

Directions: From I-95, exit at Golden Glades Interchange on to State Rd., 826 east or go east on 125th St. Find Haulover County Park at about 150th St. on Collins Ave. (Route A1A) and park in the northernmost lot. Walk to the beach through the tunnel underpass.

Black’s Beach

Torrey Pines State Park

La Jolla, Calif.

STEEP CLIFFS, a long sandy beach, and the relentless Pacific Ocean make this the quintessential Southern California shoreline. Black’s is perhaps the most famous nude beach in America, and one of the finest in the world.

Urban yet remote, Black’s is located at the base of a 300-foot cliff north of the University of California-San Diego campus at La Jolla. Over the years the shifting legal status and demographics of Black’s Beach and its intermittent conflicts with the city of San Diego reflect the advances and setbacks of nude recreation in California.

"Nudity at Black’s Beach is still tolerated," says Lloyd Johnson, coordinator of the user group Black’s Beach Bares. "The clothing-optional part of the beach north of the city boundary is a state beach. This means that you would have to have a complaint against your nudity and you would have to refuse to dress before you would be arrested and convicted for indecent exposure here."

Attendance at Black’s grew dramatically in the mid-‘70s. But in 1977 intense pressure from certain religious groups proved effective, when an anti-nudity resolution was narrowly approved by referendum in the city of San Diego. For a time, Black’s Beach lost many of its visitors. Today, nudity on the beach is tolerated north of the city boundary on the state portion of the beach and is staging a healthy comeback among singles, couples, and families.

"We know people from all over the world, people who will come here on their vacation, and they come just to this beach to visit us," says David Cole of Black’s Beach Bares. "It’s just wonderful meeting new people all the time and just having fun. We think it is the best beach in San Diego and the world, and we want other people to know that."

Beach Brief: Black’s

Season: April–October

Parking: Free lot; recommended arrival by 11:00 a.m.

User Group: Black’s Beach Bares, www.blacksbeach.org.

Directions: Driving from San Diego, exit at La Jolla Village Drive. Go west a half mile and turn right on Torrey Pines Road North. At the Salk Institute, turn left at the sign to the gliderport. Park in the lot and descend the steep stairway path on the left to the beach.

Gunnison Beach (Sandy Hook)

Gateway National

Recreation Area

Sandy Hook, N.J.

LOCATED ON THE edge of New York Harbor, Gunnison Beach is part of the Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Sandy Hook is a six-mile long peninsula known for exceptional beaches, wildlife, fishing and historic sites.

For more than 200 years the peninsula has served as a defensive outpost for New York City. Beginning at the time of the American Revolution and continuing through the Cold War, Fort Hancock is rich in history. This is the place to explore old gun emplacements and get a feel for the drama of the past.

"I understand that nude use of the beach dates back to the days when the Army was here; that people from up at Fort Hancock started to use this area for nude recreation," says Friends of Gunnison head Art Green. "At that time a good day on a Sunday there would be 50 people on the beach. Now, on a busy weekend there are thousands of people."

Gunnison is overlooked by the historic Sandy Hook lighthouse, which offers dramatic views of lower Manhattan and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Gunnison’s long, beautiful beach is recognized as clothing-optional, with official signs and full lifeguard and police protection.

One of the largest clothing-optional beaches on the Atlantic Coast, the beach draws more than 5,000 visitors per day on most sunny summer weekends.

Unlike many nude beaches, it offers changing areas, bathrooms, a snack bar and showers at the entrance to the beach. There is also a snack trailer on the beach. The nearby New Jersey beach towns offer great restaurants and a wide variety of accommodations. All of this helps makes Gunnison Beach on Sandy Hook a great naturist destination.

Beach Brief: Gunnison (Sandy Hook)

Season: May–September

Parking: There is a fee for parking. Lots fill up early; recommended arrival by 9:00 a.m.

User Group: Friends of Gunnison, members.aol.com /FoGHornNJ/myhomepage

Directions: From the north, take the Garden State Parkway to Exit 117. Follow the signs to Sandy Hook. From the south, take the Garden State Parkway and watch for signs to Route 36E (Exit 105). Follow this to the ocean and continue on Route 36 to Sandy Hook. When you arrive at the fee station, ask the ranger for directions to Gunnison Beach, Parking Lot G. Walk down the boardwalk and onto the beach; the clothing-optional area is marked by signs. Rangers will direct you to the clothing-optional section if asked.

Lighthouse Beach

Fire Island National Seashore

Long Island, N.Y.

FRAGILE, ISOLATED and beautiful, Fire Island offers a place of excitement and solitude. Located just an hour from New York City off the southern shore of Long Island, Fire Island is pristine and protected; many areas are accessible only by boat, and there are no roads in the Fire Island National Seashore. For New York naturists, this is a place of retreat, community and relationships.

"It is a very accepting, quiet, mellow beach," says Michael Bradbury of Friends of Lighthouse Beach. "A lot of family and kids enjoy it, so you don’t have to worry if you have a family with kids—there are plenty here. It’s not a party beach; it’s a beach where you can come and be alone, where you can come and meet people or where you can come and walk up and down and see who is here."

Clothing-optional use of Lighthouse Beach is recognized by the National Park Service with signs, ranger patrols and an understanding that naturists are an important and vital user group.

Beach Brief: Lighthouse

Season: May–September

Parking: Parking for a fee at neighboring Robert Moses State Park. Recommended arrival by 9:00 a.m.

User Group: Friends of Lighthouse Beach, P.O. Box 571, Babylon, NY 11702.

Directions: Take the Long Island Expressway (I-495) to Sagtikos State Parkway south or the Southern State Parkway, to find the Robert Moses Causeway south. Continue about 7 miles, going over two bridges, and watch for the sign "Robert Moses State Park" at the second bridge, where it ends at a traffic circle around a large water tower. Round the circle to a straight road and follow it to Parking Field 5. Park and walk toward the lighthouse to a boardwalk that leads to the beach. Stay about 200 yards from the lighthouse to be out of sight of casual tourists at the restored landmark.

Bonny Doon Beach

Santa Cruz, Calif.

LOCATED ON THE ruggedly beautiful Pacific coast north of Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon Beach is a showplace of California naturism. The community spirit of the beach users, combined with easy access and natural beauty, should put Bonny Doon on any northern California itinerary.

The sea meets the shore in spectacular waves, and a wind-protected cove and broad expanse of sandy beach offer plenty of room for sunbathing, Frisbee tossing, or wading in the surf. Here you can explore and experience nature fully with a diverse crowd of like-minded skinny-dippers.

Frequented by traveling naturists and local visitors alike, you can expect to find a few dozen people here on weekdays and perhaps a hundred on weekends. It may be cool when coastal fog blocks the sun, especially in the summer.

"A cliff completely blocks the wind, so no mater how windy the day is it can be calm on the beach," says Rich Pasco of Bay Area Naturists, the group responsible for regular volunteer clean-ups at the beach. "The best time to visit is in the spring or fall, April, September and October. The Bay Area Naturists come down here on January 1 to celebrate New Year’s Day, and if there is any sun at all it is warm enough to go nude."

For visitors, overnight lodging at Lupin Naturist Club is recommended. The resort is about 30 minutes from the beach and offers all the services a traveler could want.

Bonny Doon is a primitive beach; there are no facilities of any kind. Be prepared with everything you’ll need for a day on the sand, including water and decent footwear for the steep walk from the parking area.

Beach Brief: Bonny Doon

Season: May–September

Parking: Roadside parking; recommended arrival by 11:00 a.m.

User Group: Bay Area Naturists, www.bayareanaturists.org

Directions: Take Highway 1 to its intersection with Bonny Doon Road. If coming from the north, it is 2 miles south of Davenport, just past mile marker 27.6; if coming from the south, go 11 miles north of Bonny Doon and look for the intersection with Bonny Doon Road to the right. The parking area is on the left (beach) side of Highway 1. Park in the lot (not on Bonny Doon Rd. nor on the Hwy. 1 shoulder). Walk up behind the highway and over the railroad tracks, then down one of the trails to the beach. Head north to the cove at the end of the beach.

Hippie Hollow

McGregor Park

Austin, Texas

LOCATED DEEP IN THE Texas hill country, Austin is considered one of the best places in America to live. Home of the state government, the University of Texas, and some of the finest musicians anywhere, Austin is a laid-back, outdoors-oriented community with a rich tradition of tolerance and diversity.

Hippie Hollow at Lake Travis is where generations of locals have come to enjoy the warm waters and flat rocks that make this park the most popular in Travis County. A place where clothing-optional recreation is legally accepted, Hippie Hollow draws people from around the country. Sadly now closed to children, it remains a delight for Texans wanting to swim, float, or sunbathe au naturel.

"I drive 200 miles because I love to skinny-dip and this is the place to do it," says Hill Country Nudists’ Steve Price. "It’s the swimming; it’s the rocks, it’s the sun. It’s a treasure here to have all this acreage just to scamper around in."

Beach Brief: Hippie Hollow

Season: April–October

Parking: Fee parking lot; recommended arrival by 11:00 a.m.

Restrictions: No visitors under 18 years permitted

User Group: Hill County Nudists, 512-244-2543, www.hillcountrynudists.com

Directions: From routes 2222 and 620 northwest of Austin, go west (left) on 620. Turn right at the Comanche Trail/McGregor Park Hippie Hollow signs. Go 2.2 miles to the parking lot. Walk down the paved trail in the southwest corner of the parking lot to any of the several cliffside paths that lead down to the beach.

San Onofre Beach

San Onofre State Park

San Clemente, Calif.

SAN ONOFRE BEACH offers the visitor a visually stunning beach and dramatic contrast. Just off Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Diego, the location is marked to the north by the unique structures of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. These twin containment towers, known locally as "Les Boobs," are hard to miss from the interstate.

The nude use area is on the south end of the state beach and just north of the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton. Access is via Trail 6 from the southernmost state park parking lot. The proximity to the Marine base at times produces unique scenes of heavily armored leathernecks and naturists casually observing each other.

Clothing-optional use of the beach has been the result of the dedicated efforts of the Friends of San Onofre Beach, under the leadership of naturist activist Marianna Handler, commonly known around these parts as the "beach mom" of San Onofre.

"In 1995 the park department announced that they would eliminate nudity. That was the time I stepped in and felt that we needed to communicate with them," Handler recalls. "In the beginning they kept saying that we had problems [along a trail]. I told them to go after the problems. I’m always saying that if something happens on a regular beach, they will arrest that specific person. When something happens on a nude beach they want to shut down the place. My suggestion is go after the offender and don’t close the whole beach. It doesn’t make sense, and I think they finally got that idea."

The clothing-optional section of San Onofre is approximately a half-mile long with clean sand for long, sun-kissed strolls. The California water can be chilly except for late summer months, but visitors will enjoy playing and bodysurfing in the water nonetheless.

Beach Brief: San Onofre

Season: April–October

Parking: Park entrance fee at San Onofre State Park. Limited parking at Trail 6; recommended arrival by 10:00 a.m.

User Group: Friends of San Onofre Beach, 949-443-0891, fosobeach@hotmail.com

Directions: On Interstate 5 less than an hour north of San Diego, take the San Onofre/Basilone exit. Go south several miles along what looks to be a frontage road to San Onofre State Park. Go 3.5 miles to the southern end of the campground and park in the last parking lot. Take trail six to the beach, and walk south for about half a mile just past the last lifeguard station. Stay north of the Camp Pendleton fence.

Little Makena Beach

Makena State Park

Maui, Hawaii

AN ENCHANTED ISLAND, Maui may be the best naturist destination anywhere, offering great beaches, tropical waterfalls and pools, rugged volcanic coastlines and welcoming naturist accommodations. This is an island where tropical dreams can come true.

Relax, swim, snorkel, body-or boogie-board, surf, and sunbathe in paradise at Maui’s world famous "Little Beach."

"[My wife and I] come to the nude beach the same week every year, and we just enjoy the freedom," says Kirk, a visitor from Chicago. "Everyone leaves their inhibitions at home, and that’s how it should be on vacation. Nobody’s out here showing off. People are here to enjoy nature and be one with nature."

Located on the sunny and dry south side of the island just north of Big Makena Beach, Little Beach is reached by heading to the right to the lava-flow berm that separates it from Big Beach. Here good shoes are a must for the climb over "Red Hill" to this wonderful cove and its friendly, protective community.

Tom Collins, Makena’s "beach mayor," says the difficult terrain has worked to the advantage of naturists.

"We evolved [as a nude beach] because we were inaccessible. I guess the religious right and the people who would be uptight about nudity didn’t come over the hill. As far back as the early ‘70s the beach was clothing optional."

Beach Brief: Little Makena

Season: Year-round

Parking: Free parking. Lot size limited; recommended arrival by 10:00 a.m.

User Group: Friends of Little Beach/Maui SunSeekers, 808-875-6394, www.littlebeachmaui.com.

Directions: Take Route 31 past the Wailea golf resort complex. At the end of the road, turn right on Waikea Iki drive. Take a left on Wailea Alanui Drive, which becomes Makena Drive. Go one mile beyond the Maui Prince hotel, and watch for the cone hill on the right. Turn on a gravel road marked "Makena La Perouse State Park." Take this to the first of the two parking lots. Little Beach is found by walking north on Big Beach (to the right as you face the water), and climbing over the lava rock barrier to Little Beach.

Playalinda Beach

Canaveral National Seashore

Titusville, Fla.

"SIMPLY THE MOST beautiful natural beach in Florida" is how some visitors describe Playalinda Beach, a part of the Canaveral National Seashore. After several legal challenges in the 1990s, continued nude use of the beach has been made possible thanks to the continuing efforts of the Central Florida Naturists group.

"Playlinda Beach means ‘pretty beach’; that is what it is named for, its beauty," says Frank Cervasio, head of the user group Central Florida Naturists. "It is a pristine beach, one of the very few pristine beaches on the east coast of Florida and one of the only areas that has a traditional nude beach."

The traditional clothing-optional use area is located on the far north end of the beach and is served by parking lot 13. Early morning arrival is vital to avoid walking from one of the other parking areas. With its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, visitors can expect to have their vehicles fully inspected and may have restricted access prior to a shuttle launch or landing. Visitors should check on shuttle activity to avoid disappointment.

Beach Brief: Playalinda

Season: April–October

Parking: Entrance fee required to national seashore. Parking lot size limited; recommended arrival by 8:00 a.m.

User Group: Central Florida Naturists, 407-381-0637, www.central-fla-naturists.org.

Directions: From Highway 1 or 95, take Route 406 east through Titusville. Cut onto Route 402 past the National Seashore headquarters and continue on toward the beach. Turn left (north) through the gates and for 5 miles follow the paved road behind Playalinda. Get as close to the dead end as possible and park. Continue north on foot until you reach the clothing-optional section; other nude users should be a sure sign you’re there. Stay out of the dunes at all times.

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