SAN DIEGO — Although still taboo in many places, casting aside your clothes at the shore has become a customary practice around the world in recent times.
From rocky coastlines to talcum powder fine sands, and big city bays to secluded shores, there are now hundreds of beaches where it’s perfectly legal (or at least de facto legal) to sunbathe, swim and otherwise frolic beside the sea in nothing more than your birthday suit.
“Soft, smooth sand, warm ocean breeze, gentle ocean waves and lots of other naturists makes for a great clothing-optional beach,” says Nicky Hoffman of The Naturist Society, who’s also the managing editor of Nude & Natural magazine and co-author of “The World’s Best Nude Beaches & Resorts.”
While clothing-optional beach destinations may seem like a modern invention, it’s actually quite an old idea, a product of the otherwise prudish Victorian era.
During the 1880s, American poet Walt Whitman extolled the virtues of the “Adamic air bath” — his nude walkabouts and swims along Timber Creek in New Jersey, writing of “The free exhilarating ecstasy of nakedness in Nature.”
Channeling that same vibe, the naturist movement took off in Europe and North America during the first half of the 20th century, with city parks, camp grounds and eventually beaches established for those who wanted to experience nature nude in their most natural state.
One of the spin-offs of the socially and sexually liberal 1960s was a “free beach” movement that saw a proliferation of nude beaches around the world.
And their popularity continues today, with more and more popping up each year. Here are 15 of the best nude beaches around the world:
1. Black’s Beach, La Jolla, California
Set beneath the 100-meter-high cliffs of Torrey Pines, Blacks has been the Golden State’s favorite place for all-over tans for more than 50 years and was once the only legal nude beach in the entire United States.
Long, wide and blessed with great surf, the beach is reached via the zig-zag Ho Chi Minh Trail from the cliff-top Torrey Pines Gliderport near the University of California, San Diego.
Black’s Beach, Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, San Diego, CA 92037
2. Lady Bay Beach, Sydney, Australia
Although it sometimes seems like just about any beach in Australia is clothing optional, there are a number of official nude beaches here such as Lady Bay. (also known as Lady Jane Beach.)
Perched just inside the South Head of Sydney Harbour, it’s small and narrow, but incredibly secluded for such a big city location.
The rocky ledges around South Head are also used for nude sunbathing.
Lady Bay Beach, Watson’s Bay, Sydney, Australia
3. Buhne 16, Sylt, Germany
“Grin and bare it” might well be the motto for nudists on this North Sea island, where the average water temperature in summer is a chilly 17°C (63°F).
Technically all of the beaches on Sylt are clothing optional, but Buhne 16 was the first and is still the foremost location for nude sunbathing along the German shore.
It’s a place where beachgoers can chill in the famous blue and white striped wicker beach chairs or let it all hang out at summer beach parties.
Buhne 16, Listlandstr 133b, 25980 Kampen (Sylt), Germany; +49 4651 4996
4. Wreck Beach, Vancouver, Canada
Billed as one of the world’s longest nude beaches at 7.8 kilometers long, Wreck Beach is actually a series of sandy strands, pebble flats and rocky outcrops wrapped around the end of Point Grey.
With the University of British Columbia just across the street, a steady stream of students and teachers have shed their clothes on this beach since the early 1970s, when it first became popular.
Evergreen trees along the shore and snowcapped peaks across the water complement the Canadian ambiance.
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia; Canada + 604 224 5739
5. Red Beach, Crete, Greece
This secluded shore on the south side of Crete is a hotspot for nude sunbathing in Greece.
Named after its ocher-colored sand and cliffs, Red Beach (or Kokkini Ammos) is reached via a 20-minute hike from Matala or a very short boat ride from the village waterfront.
Pioneered by Euro hippies during the 1960s, the beach offers chair and umbrella rentals and is home to a funky little bar called Yiannis that’s renowned for its mojitos.
Note: the mysterious rock carvings at the end of the beach are a modern creation and definitely not ancient Minoan relics.
Red Beach, Matala, Crete 702 00, Greece
6. Anse de Grande Saline, St. Barts
While the Caribbean may be full of wonderful, chilled out beaches, this wild, white sand strand on the rear side of St. Barts is one of the few places on the islands where public nudity is tolerated (although sunbathing naked is technically prohibited in St. Barts.)
Anse de Grande Saline (or Saline Beach) is another self-catering beach. Visitors will need to bring along everything they need for a day at the shore, especially sunscreen, as there is no shade to speak of.
L’Esprit, an excellent French restaurant, is within walking distance of Grand Saline and well worth a visit. Just make sure to put your clothes back on before heading over.
Anse de Grande Saline, St. Barthélemy
7. Platja des Cavallet, Ibiza, Spain
Set between the deep blue Mediterranean and multi-colored salt pans near Ibiza’s southernmost point, official nudist beach Es Cavallet is separated into various different sections, including a beach club party section, a gay scene and a more secluded, middle section where the clothing-free crowd hang out.
However nude sunbathers aren’t the only beings who frequent this area. Those bright pink things you’ll see pacing in the background aren’t sunburned tourists, but rather flamingos that like to gather in the shallow salines.
Platja des Cavallet, 07818, Balearic Islands, Spain
8. Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Flanked by ancient lava flows and backed by a volcanic cinder cone, Little Beach would be super-cool even if you couldn’t take your clothes off.
Part of Makena State Park on the island’s southeast coast, it overlooks a national marine sanctuary renowned for its sea turtles, dolphins, whales and tropical fish.
Gnarled trees behind the sand provide a modicum of shade and the cove is well protected for swimming.
Additionally, a drum circle and fire dancers entertain the crowd during Sunday sunsets.
Little Beach, Makena State Park, Makena Rd, Kihei, HI 96753, USA
9. Cap d’Agde beach, France
Sometimes called the “Naked City,” Cap d’Agde Naturist Village is the world’s largest clothing-optional beach resort, attracting as many as 40,000 guests on any given day during high season.
Visitors are free to be naked wherever they want — restaurants and stores, post offices or banks, sailing their boat or lounging on the long public beach (where nudity is obligatory, even for those not staying at the resort).
Non residents can stay overnight at the naturist hotel, camp ground or rental units.
Cap d’Agde Naturist Village, Rond-Point du Bagnas, 34300 Agde, France; +33 4 67 26 00 26
10. Mpenjati Beach, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
South Africa’s only official nude beach — and perhaps the only legal clothing-not-obligatory strand on the entire African continent — is located in the Mpenjati Nature Reserve south of Durban.
Its legal status was achieved in 2014, but this came with a list of prohibitions including no staring, no photography, no suggestive behavior, etc.
Local clergy and others continue to mount protests (legal and otherwise) against the naked designation.
Mpenjati Nature Reserve, Palm Beach, Port Edward, South Africa
11. Playa Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico
Live your “Y Tu Mamá También” fantasies at the beach where so many of the scenes from the sensuous 2001 Mexican movie starring Gael García Bernal were shot on location.
Pioneered by Mexican and American hippies during the 1960s, the strand stretches about two kilometers with rocky bluffs at either end, and is famed as a clothing-optional beach (although it isn’t legal here.)
While the main beach here is backed by budget hotels and cafes, a tiny sliver of sand at the eastern end called Playa del Amor offers far more privacy.
Playa Zipolite, San Pedro Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico
12. Neve Midbar, North Dead Sea, Israel
Set at the northern end of the Dead Sea, Neve Midbar is a small, private resort with a section of the shoreline set aside for bare beachgoers.
In addition to being the only place where you can get your photo snapped while floating nude in the ultra-buoyant lake and smear the Dead Sea’s soothing black mud over your entire body, this may be the only place in the Middle East where any kind of public nudity is lawful.
Neve Midbar, North Dead Sea, Israel
13. Praia Massarandupió, Bahia, Brazil
The string bikinis on Copacabana may expose an awful lot of Brazilian flesh, but not nearly as much as this naturist beach along the Bahia coast.
A two-hour drive north of Salvador, the nude beach is about a one-kilometer walk from the parking lot along the shoreline flanked by coconut palms, rolling dunes and very surfable waves.
Praia Massarandupió, Bahia, Brazil
14. Spiaggia di Guvano, Vernazza, Italy
Located on the gorgeous Cinque Terre, this primo Italian nude beach looks like something out of a movie (think “Swept Away ” — the 1974 version directed by Lina Wertmüller.)
Adding to the beach’s mystique is the fact that it can only be reached via an old, abandoned railway tunnel (bring a flashlight) on a path from Corniglia village.
Guvano is totally primitive, with no facilities of any kind, so bear this in mind when planning your visit.
The beach is also pebble rather than sand, but the water is clear, clean and gorgeous.
Spiaggia di Guvano, 19018 Vernazza, SP, Italy
15. Haulover Beach Park, Miami, Florida
The most popular public nude beach in the United States, Haulover attracts more than 1.3 million bare bottomed people to its white sands and warm water each year.
The clothing-optional portion, marked at either end by picket fences, offers rental beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as lifeguards.
Given the stellar weather in south Florida, there’s usually someone in the buff on any given day.
But the biggest crowds gather during National Nude Recreation Week in July and whenever Haulover is trying to set a new Guinness World Record for skinny dipping.
Haulover Beach Park, 10800 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33154; + (305) 944-3040