How Nude Beaches Work

Legislating Beach Nudity

Black's Beach, California
Black's Beach near San Diego, California, was the first nude beach in the U.S.
Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images

People have been stripping and jumping into the water since prehistory. Gotta get that grime off somehow, right? Specifically designated nude beaches are a newer concept.

Nude beaches arose in France following World War II. One of the first was the Centre Helio-Marin, near Bordeaux, which became nudist-friendly in the 1950s. It's now a popular resort area filled with bungalows, surf school, crafts, movie nights and you —guessed it — a nude beach and swimming pool [source: Nudist Living Now].


America has numerous nude beaches, too. The first public nude beach in the U.S. was Black's Beach, near San Diego. The hard-to-reach location is on a beach near steep cliffs, and its inaccessibility is a big part of its appeal. Nude surfing is OK though there are strong currents. You can also try nude snorkeling or nude bird watching [source: Gentile].

The northern section of Haulover Park in Miami is the largest nude beach in America and one of the most popular in the world. The county recreation department operates the beach, which has everything from organized sports leagues to concessions to lifeguards. The park is frequented by naturists and gawkers alike, although the latter is obviously discouraged.

But nude beaches don't always have an easy time in the U.S. For example, the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts became the site of headline-making confrontations in the 1970s when the National Park Service (NPS) outlawed public nudity (following a rash of naked vacationers), and the matter escalated to lawsuits. In the end, the nude ban was upheld [source: Milton]. This seashore is the only national park with a specific ban on nudity. There is no federal law against public nudity in federal parks but if "unacceptable visitor conflicts occur because of public nudity" (as the NPS put it in a memo), park employees will attempt to resolve the situation informally. If the conduct becomes disorderly, there is a regulation to address that.

Laws regarding nudity and nude beaches vary from state to state and region to region — in America and throughout the world. Certain cultures are more likely to embrace nude beaches. One 2016 report says 28 percent of Austrians have stripped on the sand — the highest percentage — while only 18 percent of Americans and 2 percent of Malaysians and Koreans have done so. Further, a clear majority of U.S. residents (62 percent) really don't like the concept. Europeans in general are more accepting of nudity in public places.