Topless sunbathing and nude beaches are popular in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. In the U.S., however, nude beaches can, well, raise a few eyebrows. But “clothing optional” beaches aren’t what you may think—they’re not lewd or indecent places. In fact, they tend to be more relaxed and the beachgoers respectful because everyone’s in the buff.
And this anti-nude attitude wasn’t always the case here. In fact, before 1860, when Queen Victoria of England outlawed nude swimming, the only thing people were wearing in the water was their birthday suits. Soon after the law was passed, swimsuits were invented and people became more “clothes-minded.” The rest is history.
But there is something freeing about taking it all off and letting the sun beat down on your back(side). For those who want to strip so there’s nothing between yourself and the sand, here’s everything you need to know about the top nude beaches in America.
San Gregorio, California
This two-mile-long sandy strip is the oldest nude beach in the United States, dating back to 1967. Besides the soft sand, it also features a lagoon, tide pools, and a lava tube. It is particularly popular with the Bay Area gay community, who tend to flock to the northern side while other visitors tend to head south. Try to stay late enough to watch the sunset. It’s glorious from these shores.
Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey
A former U.S. Army outpost, Sandy Hook is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and home to the only legal nude beach in New Jersey. Considered the best nude beach on the East Coast, it’s clean, supersafe, and community-supported. Just one caveat: Some of the crowd can be a little Jersey Shore-ish, so if you go, it helps to know the “GTL” lingo. (Hint: gym, tan, laundry.) There is a park fee in summer.
Collins Beach, Sauvie Island, Oregon
Located along Oregon‘s Columbia River, Sauvie Island is one of the only noncoastal nude beaches in the U.S. The calm river reflects the “relaxed and unwind” vibe here. While the beach next door is family-friendly, the two respectfully coexist. About 75 percent of visitors to Collins feel free to show off what their mamas gave them. And with Portland not that far away, Sauvie is one place to see hipsters without their flannels.
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Kehene Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Located on the far eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, along Highway 137, is one the best clothing-optional beaches in the state. It’s quite a hike to get down to the black-sand beach from the main trail, which helps keep tourists and gawkers at bay and provides the privacy one might want. Bonus: It’s like a party on Sundays—music, dancing, and a fun time had by all.
The best thing about this beach, set below the Presidio and shielded by rocky crags, is that you don’t have to worry about creepy gawkers because everyone’s too busy checking out the awe-inspiring views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Be aware before heading here: This is mostly a layabout beach—the Pacific surf is too dangerous and cold for swimming.
Black’s Beach, San Diego
Nestled below the 300-foot, mansion-topped bluffs of Torrey Pines is this secluded gem. While nude beaches are illegal in San Diego, authorities tend to turn a blind eye to Black’s because it’s so difficult to access. Enthusiastic sunbathers have to hike down a rugged, steep path to reach the sand or take a 20-minute walk along the beach from La Jolla Shore (an almost impossible fete during high tide). But it’s worth the trek. There’s nothing quite like seeing the naked surfers.
While this is not officially a clothing-optional beach, that hasn’t stopped sunbathers from going native here on the reg. Getting there requires a short trek from Makena State Park’s Big Beach to quiet, secluded Little Beach. This spot is a favorite among famous naturalists, including nude recreation expert and artist Dr. Leisure, who has been painting this landscape for more than a decade. Sunday nights are the time to go. Right before sunset, bathers form a drum circle and break into song and dance.
Haulover Beach, Miami
Just north of Miami is one of the few government-run nudist beaches in America. Located a stone’s throw from the tony town of Bal Harbour, this secluded beach is just as luxurious. White sand, sky-blue water, and no looky-loos make it “one of the greatest success stories in North American nudism,” according to the American Association of Nude Recreation. With certified lifeguards and organized group activities such as swimming and volleyball, it’s no wonder the place attracts more than 1.4 million visitors a year.
Moshup Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Off the coast of Massachusetts lies the island of Martha’s Vineyard—a vacation spot to presidents and old-moneyed aristocrats. While MV tends to be a conservative, preppy type of town, there is one place that is a bit more, well, liberal. Moshup Beach, located on the island’s southwestern tip, has been a naturalist hot spot since the 1960s. It’s a 10-minute walk from the parking lot on a clear trail. There is a $15 fee in summer.
Hippie Hollow, Austin, Texas
The lake scene is where it’s at in Austin. So it makes perfect sense that there would be at least one lakefront beach dedicated to birthday-suit bathers. Lake Travis, a 109-acre recreation park located 30 minutes from downtown, is that spot. For those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life—and their clothes—this is the best beach to do just that.
—Caitlin M. Kiernan
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This article was originally published by Yahoo Travel! under the headline Naked Truth: What You Need to Know About the Top U.S. Nude Beaches. It is reprinted here with permission.