If you've never been to a nudist beach before, you may be worried about what's acceptable behavior and what isn't. These are a few nude beach etiquette guidelines that may help you feel more at ease:
Social Interaction At a Nude Beach
Gawking is impolite. In fact, it's considered rude in the U.S., no matter where you are — and no matter how the other person is dressed (or isn't). Nudism is a lifestyle that embraces the human body in all its forms.
For people at a nude beach, it isn't a peep show. If you're looking for a thrill, go somewhere else.
Ask for people's consent before taking their photograph. This is true no matter where you are, but especially if they're nude.
Be friendly, but respect others' rights to privacy. Many people simply like to enjoy being nude in nature and don't want to be disturbed. Unwelcome or unwanted advances are not acceptable anywhere, and especially at a nudist beach.
What to Do When You Get to the Beach
Be prepared for the beach. Nude beaches seldom have amenities. Unless you know otherwise, bring water, food, towel, sunscreen and everything else you need. Sunscreen is especially important for those parts of the body that normally don't get much sunshine — and you might be glad you brought insect repellent to keep those biting bugs off your sensitive parts. A towel can come in handy for lots of reasons — as any reader of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe already knows — but mostly to keep the sand from getting into places you don't want it to.
If you're sunbathing nude in a secluded area, leave a bathing suit on a nearby rock. That's a sign to let others know they are approaching an unclothed person. If you're uncomfortable having your suit too far out of reach, bring a spare.
On a wide open beach, position yourself in the open. You can see people coming and put something on before they get there if you need to.
If it's your first time going nude in public, look for the regulars. An easy way to spot them is that they don't have any tan lines. Nudists are a friendly bunch of people in general and they’ll not only give you space, but answer your questions and loan you a bottle opener if you need it.
On a windy day, take something to block the wind. Whether you're clothed or not, you don't want to get sandblasted. Coolers and umbrellas work well for that and some of the California nude beaches have spots between the dunes or in little coves that block the wind.
Avoiding Awkward Encounters
Awkward social encounters are uncomfortable anywhere, but at a clothing optional beach, they might end up contributing to a beach closure.
Expect to see a lot of body types. They could be tall, short, fat, skinny, young or old, tight or sagging, shaved or shaggy, white as a seagull or any shade of brown. If you think people have a lot of tattoos and piercings with their clothes on, you should see what they have without them. Again, don't gawk.
It happens far less often than you might think, but if you start getting physically excited, the best advice I've seen is to roll over onto your stomach and wait until it subsides.
Avoid sexual activity. It's illegal in public even where nude sunbathing is allowed. It can offend people who live near the beach and clothed beach visitors — and it also leads to nude beaches getting closed, which hurts everyone who enjoys the clothing optional lifestyle.
Help keep the beaches open for everyone. Don't offend the neighbors. Get dressed before you leave.
Keep the nudist beach clean. This one's also a good idea on any beach, but especially important to those who enjoy being in natural surroundings. If you carried it in, you can carry it back out. Be especially careful with plastic, which can be a hazard for marine animals if it gets into the ocean.
Legal Issues and Encounters With Law Enforcement
California's nude beaches are in state parks, county parks, national parks and on private land.
Every one of them is subject to its own set of laws and law enforcement. Before you go, read this guide so you know what the nudity law is at the beach you're going to — and obey it.
If a law enforcement officer or park ranger approaches you and asks you to get dressed or to leave, don't argue. Just be polite and do it at once. Otherwise, you could end up with an expensive citation — or worse, in jail.
Going to a Nude Beach in California
The guidelines above apply to nude beaches anywhere, but if you want to visit a California nude beach, this guide includes every single one of them. You can also find a map-based index of California nude beaches on this Google map.
A good way to ease into the nudist lifestyle is to start at a private clothing optional resort, where you'll be safe from gawkers. You can use this guide to find all of them in California.
To learn more about the nudist lifestyle and places to go outside of California, check the AANR website.