Gaviota Beach in Santa Barbara County, California

Legality of Nude Sun Bathing in Santa Barbara County

Gaviota Nude Beach Parking Area

TripSavvy / Betsy Malloy 

Gaviota State Park Beach is a solitary, long stretch of beach protected by high cliffs. The beach is considered part of Gaviota State Park in Santa Barbara County in California. It is known to have a clothing-option section; most nude sunbathers hike a couple of miles down a hillside from the main park.

The beach does not have any facilities, but it is a good spot for whale watching year-round, though sightings are more likely from January to June.

Oil slicks and tar balls sometimes appear on the beach, so wear shoes. This stretch of coast can also be very windy, making a warm coat a necessity, no matter what you intended to wear (or not) when you left home.

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Nude Sunbathing at Gaviota

View of Garrapata Beach
Don Barrett/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Technically Santa Barbara laws prohibit nudity. And, in 2012, there was a push to enforce the laws against nude sunbathing there. In most cases, the park rangers do look the other way, but not always. Nude or naturist beach neophytes, please be respectful of others and be aware of nude and topless sunbathing etiquette.

The Nude Beach Alliance recommends that if you are getting hassled by a park ranger at Gaviota Beach, do not argue, go along.

"...please comply without argument. The matter cannot be resolved on the beach, but will be handled in appropriate and productive meetings with state personnel. The more we argue and fuss on the beach, the more difficulty we cause for ourselves."

Citations Have Been Issued

Complaints of nudity at Gaviota Beach have resulted at minimum a citation of violating California Code Regulation 4322 (Nudity in a State Park), and at most to arrests for California Penal Code 314 (Indecent Exposure). PC 314 is listed as a sex crime in California and carries with it upon conviction lifetime registration in their community as a sex offender. Although, in this case, the arrest made was not for nudity as much as it was for engaging in sexual activity.

Another Nude Beach

The only other known nude sunbathing location in Santa Barbara County is at More Mesa, which is approximately 20 miles east. You can get there by traveling south on U.S. Highway 101.

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Getting to Gaviota Beach

Santa Barbara County Nude Beach Map
Adapted from Google Maps

Gaviota State Park Beach is 30 miles west of Santa Barbara on U.S. Highway 101.  Near Santa Barbara, the California coastline runs east to west. It's one of the reasons for Santa Barbara's "banana belt" climate, but it can make giving directions confusing. According to the compass, Gaviota Beach is about 30 miles west of Santa Barbara, but according to the signs along the highway, you take US Hwy 101 north from Santa Barbara to get there.

There are two ways of getting to the clothing-optional beach either take a two-mile hike from the State Park Beach parking lot or go the mile marker 44 route.

Mile Marker 44 Route

If you're going north on U.S. Highway 101, it is a divided highway with no left turn to the parking area. You will have to drive a few miles past it and make a U-turn. Exit at Mariposa Reina (exit No. 128) which is at the old refinery, follow the frontage road past the plant entrance, then turn left at the stop sign and left again to get back onto U.S. Highway 101 going south.

About 3/4 mile after you get back on the highway, look for an informal, gravel-paved parking area. It is very shortly after you pass emergency call box 101 443 and mile marker 44. The parking area is on the ocean side of the highway, next to the railroad tracks. Park. Walk across the railroad and down one of the beach paths. This is an active railroad, so it is a good idea to keep an eye out for trains.

State Park Beach Route

Exit U.S. Highway 101 when you see signs for Gaviota State Park, which is between the highway and the ocean. You will see a paved parking lot for which you have to pay to get into. From there, go under the railroad trestle and walk east a little more than two miles to find the beach.

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