What You Need to Know Before Visiting Nude Beaches in California

How to Visit a California Nude Beach

Central California beach with sign demarcating the end of the naturalist area

Paul L Dineen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If you're looking for a nude beach to visit in California, you can find at least one nude beach or topless beach in almost every county along the California coast. In fact, there are close to 50 places along the coast where nudity or topless sunbathing is allowed or tolerated.

California's most famous nude beaches include Blacks' Beach, the most-visited nude beach in the country and the nation's oldest nude beach (San Gregorio, where people have been going topless since 1966).

If you're new to the clothing optional lifestyle and want to visit one of these beaches, the individual beach guides in the resources below include reviews and visitor comments about what they're like. You don't have to be embarrassed or feel uncomfortable about how to act, either. You'll know just what to do when you check the Topless Beach Etiquette guidelines before you go.

California Topless Beaches by County

You can find clothing optional beaches in nine of California's 15 coastal counties. Del Norte, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Ventura Counties don't have any well-known nude beaches. Orange County's only nude beach, San Onofre State Beach closed to clothing optional visitors a few years ago.

Many people are surprised to find that LA County has no nude beachesFind out why - and where to go instead. That doesn't mean a few hardy naturists aren't taking off their clothes at beaches in those counties, but it's likely to be illegal. 

Counties with nude beaches are listed below in order from north to south. Each county link leads you to a map, a list of nude beaches in the county and local nudity laws. Dig further in, and you can get details on every beach that include detailed driving directions.

  • Humboldt County is one of California's northernmost counties and often too cold to be taking your clothes off at the beach, but you can find a couple of clothing optional beaches to visit on those rare warm days.
  • Marin County has more nude beaches than any other county in California - and it's close to San Francisco, too.
  • San Francisco CountyMost of San Francisco's topless beaches have views of the Golden Gate Bridge. And they're on federal land where nudity is not prohibited, so there's less chance of law enforcement hassles. The most famous of them is Baker Beach, which is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • San Mateo County: You'll only find a couple of topless beaches in San Mateo County, but one of them is San Gregorio Beach, which became the first clothing optional beach in the United States in the 1960s.
  • Santa Cruz County: Santa Cruz County has several nude beaches and a laid-back attitude. The most famous nude beach near Santa Cruz is Bonny Doon, which gets consistently high ratings, but some of the other beaches in the area have gorgeous views.
  • Monterey County: Monterey's spectacular coastline doesn't have many places for clothing-optional recreation, but it does have a couple of lovely beaches with lots of soft sand where you can sunbathe in the nude.
  • San Luis Obispo County: Pirate's Cove at Avila near Pismo Beach is one of the state's best-rated nude beaches. You'll find a few others in the county, too.
  • Santa Barbara County: Santa Barbara is rated tops for its nude beaches by our readers, but beware: Some of them are subject to zealous law enforcement
  • San Diego County: You'll only find one clothing optional beach in San Diego. When you have the country's most popular nude beach, you don't need another (I guess).

California Nude Beaches and the Law

Nudity laws are complicated in California and depend on who owns and runs the beach. There are no Federal laws against public nudity in national parks, recreation areas or seashores. Cities and town have nudity laws. California state parks operate under internal guidelines which are enforced more zealously in some places than in others. The state has nudity laws that cover unincorporated, state-owned land. You can get a summary of all those laws in this guide.

No matter what the statutes say, enforcement varies. Fines for going topless (or all the way) are stiff in some places. In fact, you can even be arrested for being unclothed at a topless beach and end up with a conviction that puts you on a sex offender watch list for life.

I have made every effort to provide accurate information about topless beach locations and local nudity laws where I can find them, but the responsibility for knowing the law at the topless beach is yours. 

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