Santa Cruz Nude Beaches: Clothing Optional Recreation

Bonny Dune Beach, Santa Cruz
Jason Cartwright/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In Santa Cruz County, nude beaches are numerous. Judging from the number of cars parked at their access points, it looks like a lot of people like to go to them. 

Around Santa Cruz, the land often meets the shore abruptly, with rocky cliffs overlooking the water. Those cliffs occasionally give way to sandy coves, perfect for sunbathing and playing on the beach. In fact, most of the Santa Cruz County nude beaches are in the coves, often protected from the wind (and from view) by the surrounding cliffs.

The Law

Santa Cruz County nudity laws prohibit nudity on beaches in the "urban" part of the county. By their definition, that means the section of beach bounded on the northwest by the city of Santa Cruz's southeasterly border of the city and bounded on the south by the Pajaro River. Everywhere else, you don't have to worry about being cited - as long as you stay out of the state parks, which have their own public nudity rules.

Nude Beaches

  • Bonny Doon is by far the most popular nude beach in the Santa Cruz area, with a large, paved parking area along the highway. 
  • Laguna Creek is one of the quieter, less-visited beaches in the area. It has nice sand is good for bird-watching. The State of California bought this land in 2009 and its future for nude recreation is uncertain.
  • Scott Creek is an easily accessible beach where you can park and walk right out onto the sand—the beach is only a half-mile long. The area nearest the parking lot is used by families and clothed visitors, but the nude area is only a short walk away. It has lots of sand and lovely views. At the north end is a great surfing spot from October to May, but swimming is not advised. Scott Creek is about 2 miles north of Davenport on CA Hwy 1 at about milepost 31.3, between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, but closer to Santa Cruz. 
  • Panther and Hole in the Wall are twin beaches separated by a rock wall. These are the most scenic nude beaches in Santa Cruz County. If you go at low tide, you can walk through the remains of the arch-covered hole in the rock that gave the beach its name.
  • Red, White, and Blue Beach, a long-time favorite of Santa Cruz area nudists, closed in May 2007, and there are no plans to re-open it.

Some local nudists and surfers love a beach that's locally called Privates Beach. That's because the access is private. You can get an entrance key, but it comes with a high price tag which keeps us from recommending it. The address for access is 4524 Opal Cliff Drive. Keys are available at the Freeline Design Surf Shop nearby at 801 41st Ave.

A few nude sunbathers frequent the Santa Cruz County nude beaches in town (Four Mile, Natural Bridges, 222, It's) or south of Santa Cruz (Cowell, La Selva, Rio del Mar, Manresa) but use is light and sporadic.

Rating the Beaches

When we asked more than 7,000 of readers what their favorite Santa Cruz County nude beach was and 54% voted for Bonny Doon, 18% liked Laguna Creek, 17% voted for Panther/Hole in the Wall, and 8% for Scott Creek.