Santa Cruz Nude Beaches: Clothing Optional Recreation

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

Around Santa Cruz, the land often meets the shore abruptly, with rocky cliffs overlooking the water. Those cliffs occasionally give way to sheltered bays, 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. Check out this map to see where they are located.

Nude Beaches in Santa Cruz County.

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. 

The links to each beach take you to pages that include everything you need to know before you go, including easy-to-follow driving and walking directions, cautions about trail hazards and what to expect.

Bonny Doon Nude Beach is by far the most popular nude beach in the Santa Cruz area. It has been a nude beach for decades, and many people have been going there since the '70s. The location is so beautiful that some people call it a little slice of heaven. It has a large, paved parking area along the highway. 

Laguna Creek Nude Beach is one of the quieter, less-visited beaches in the area. It has nice sand and is good for bird-watching. In fact, it can be so uncrowded that you might conclude it's popular with birds than with people. The State of California bought this land in 2009 and its future for nude recreation is uncertain.

Scott Creel Nude Beach 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 Highway 1 at about milepost 31.3, between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, but closer to Santa Cruz.

 

Panther and Hole in the Wall Nude Beaches are twin beaches separated by a rock wall. As pretty as the other nude beaches in the area are, many people say these two beaches are the most scenic places for nude sunbathing 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.

Some local nudists and surfers love a beach that's locally called Privates Beach. For many years, you could only access it by paying a high price tag to get an entrance key. A long legal dispute over limiting public access to the beach ended in late 2018. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported in November 2018 that the fence’s magnetized gate is now open, but it will still be locked at night. Someone has to pay for upkeep, and a new donation box is expected to be installed. The address for access is 4524 Opal Cliff Drive.

A few nude sunbathers also frequent the Santa Cruz County nude beaches in town including Four Mile Beach, Natural Bridges, 222 Beach, and It's Beach. South of Santa Cruz, they go to Cowell, La Selva, Rio del Mar, and Manresa but use at all of those is light and sporadic. For beaches within the city limits, that may be partly because public nudity is illegal. See the laws below for more information.

It has been a long time since legendary Red White and Blue Beach closed permanently, but many people still talk about it fondly. Read about their experiences.

Santa Cruz County Nudity Laws

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.

Learn more about Santa Cruz County nudity laws here. 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.