I don’t really have a bucket list to speak of, but there are a few things that I have never done that I still want to do, such as travel south of the Equator. I suppose I had better put that list in some sort of order, so I can start checking them off, but at least today I took care of one item that had been on my list of things to do for quite a while. I visited Black’s Beach, the largest clothing-optional beach in North America.
I’ve always been comfortable with nudity in the company of others, although I had never experienced it in a social setting beyond the hot tub at a backyard Halloween party. When I went to high school, back in the early 80s, showering after gym class was not only mandatory, but it was normal. Our older siblings had to do the same, so it was no big deal. When I belonged to a gym in the early 90s, the men’s locker room had a large “wet” area with a sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi, and no one thought anything of it if you walked around naked, and we shared those amenities without it being uncomfortable. It was a locker room, so of course we were naked.
Yeah, I’m probably that guy in the locker room who’s a little too comfortable, if you know what I mean, but I remember a time when I didn’t get stink-eye if I took too long to put on my shorts after dropping my towel. Today’s locker room culture seems puritanical and uptight by comparison.
I had never been nude in a mixed outdoor public setting like a beach however, and I decided somewhat spontaneously that Saturday would be the day.
Let me be honest and say that, as of today, I am not in the best shape of my life, with a wee bit of a gut, but I’m doing better than I have been in the recent past. This didn’t make a difference. At Black’s Beach, no one cares.
One of the more unfortunate attitudes I hear from others is that there are people going naked at a place like Black’s beach who they don’t want to see naked. One, people don’t go to nude beaches for your benefit, and, two, if you don’t want to see that, there is a very easy way to avoid it.
Anyone who goes nude in an environment like Black’s Beach is sufficiently comfortable with their own body not to care if other people see that body with all of its imperfections. Yesterday there were men and women of all ages and all different body types. At Black’s Beach, people do tend to be more fit than on average. They need to be to reach this place.
The first thing to know about Black’s Beach is that it is easily the least accessible beach I’ve ever encountered, although my experience is hardly exhaustive. There are two primary means to reach the sand, and neither of them are easy. The most direct route is a trail down from the La Jolla glider port. For someone not comfortable with heights, this trail looked somewhere between terrifying and suicidal, and this is only the safest, most established trail. There are others, but people are warned away from them for good reasons. People have lost their lives or been badly injured trying to blaze new trails down to Black’s Beach.
The alternative route is a private access road open to pedestrians. It begins in a very, very expensive residential district and winds down toward the beach. It’s safe, but it’s also long and deposits you a healthy distance, at least a half a mile, from the clothing-optional part of the beach.
No matter which route you choose, the walk back up is a real workout. Bring lots of drinking water and save some for the hike back up the hill. You’ll need it.
Only the northern part of Black’s Beach is clothing optional, so upon reaching the sand, I began walking. The easiest walking is down closer to the water, where the sand is more compacted. The “non-textile” end of the beach is marked by a series of red stakes in the sand. It’s not shielded from the “regular” beach, but when you pass those stakes, the lifeguards stop enforcing the laws against public nudity.
That’s right. You are technically breaking the law by taking off your clothes on the northern end of Black’s Beach, but those laws are effectively suspended by collective agreement so long as you behave yourself, by which I mean don’t act like a goddamn pervert (Google “nude beach etiquette” if you need specifics).
Long before you reach the edge of the nude section, you can already see people on the other side taking advantage of their freedom from clothes. As you pass the stakes, you start encountering nude sunbathers, men and women, all over the sand. You will also encounter clothed sunbathers too, since clothing is still an option on a clothing-optional beach.
It seemed utterly normal to me to see a lot of unclothed people on the beach. First, I knew this was a clothing-optional beach, so it was not a surprise. Even more than that, it doesn’t seem like it should be a surprise. Public nudity in other contexts is a problem when it’s out of place. On a beach, it doesn’t seem out of place that some people prefer to enjoy a beach without getting a lot of wet sand inside a swimsuit. This is a preference, not “deviant” behavior.
I also found that I didn’t have to force myself not to stare. It’s not necessary when you are literally surrounded by people without clothes. When that is commonplace and not surprising, that urge goes away. Rather than focusing on the nudity around me, I was simply relieved I was in the right place, relieved to have finally reached my destination, and looking forward to shedding my clothes.
Among those who do opt out of their clothes, the crowd on Black’s Beach is predominantly male, maybe 80%, so if you’re going down there thinking you’re going to see a lot of bodacious college coeds from UCSD in their birthday suits, you can save yourself the trip. I have no statistics, but it seems like a disproportionately high number of the men at the beach at any time are gay, at least when compared to the outside world. The northern end may be known as the “gay” part of Black’s Beach, but gay beachgoers hardly confine themselves to that area. Maybe the thought might bother some guys, but if a gay man discreetly checks you out on a nude beach (don’t flatter yourself, because they probably won’t), take it for what it is: a compliment.
Because of the difficulty in reaching Black’s Beach, it is never very crowded, even on a summer weekend. Nude or otherwise, sunbathers are not cheek-to-cheek on the sand, if you’ll pardon the expression. It was easy to find a spot where I wasn’t crowding anyone else. People are very conscious of their personal space in a place like this, so it’s just polite to keep a reasonable distance, especially when the other sunbathers are women.
I spread out my towel, laid down my belongings, and, pausing to look out at the ocean, I was surprised by how little apprehension I felt. The trail down from the glider port looked a lot scarier than the thought of stripping down in front of a beach full of total strangers. I undressed down to my underwear in short order. After making sure that my clothes were stowed in as sand-free a way as possible, I did not hesitate before removing my underwear.
For the first time in my fifty-plus years, I was completely nude in a very public setting. Guess what? Nobody cared. You don’t have to worry that people are going to stare at you. You’re just another naked person in a crowd of them. Not even the clothed people passing by will give you a second look. Rather than feeling the eyes of strangers on me, the primary sensation was a cool ocean breeze on parts of my body that rarely felt the breeze at all. The uniformity of that feeling over my whole body, the cool breeze and the warm sun, is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. This single factor was probably the “gateway drug” to further nude recreation on my part.
I walked to the water’s edge, leaving my towel behind, and then began heading further north along the edge of the somewhat chilly water, occasionally dipping my toes in. For a moment, I was acutely aware of the increasing distance between me and my clothing and the security it used to represent. That passed very quickly.
I was still very aware that I had nothing on. One doesn’t forget that one is nude, not with a steady onshore breeze as a constant reminder. At least, you don’t forget during the first time you go naked in a place like Black’s Beach. I hope one never quite loses that awareness, no matter how many times they do this. I believe part of the real pleasure of nude recreation is the simple awareness that you are not wearing clothes in surroundings and company where it is treated as completely normal.
I found it interesting that there were at least two couples, one male and female, the other two males, where one partner was fully clothed and the other was nude. Compromise, that’s how you make a relationship work. Another thing I saw really brightened my mood. A man in his seventies plunged like a kid into the surf while his wife cheered him on. I hope I have that kind of energy in 20 years.
To answer the obvious question, I never even got close to having an erection, nor did I see anyone trying to hide one, although I obviously wasn’t looking that hard, um, closely, oh, never mind. Neither the visual nor the physical stimulation had that kind of effect on me. If there was a “thrill” to the experience, it came from stepping outside social norms in broad daylight. There was an almost conspicuous lack of sexuality in the air, much less than on a clothed beach, where openly hitting on the gender of your preference is far less discouraged than it would be here.
The closest thing to an awkward moment, and it was more funny than awkward, happened as I walked south back toward my spot on the beach. On the initial walk down the access road to the beach, I had struck up a conversation with a couple, a man and his wife or girlfriend, both about my age. I ran into them again on the beach. I don’t know why but encountering someone I had just met a few minutes ago, with me now in the nude and them still fully clothed, reminded me that there was a clothed world out there and I was stepping outside the bounds of what was normally acceptable. It didn’t bother me, but I was aware of it.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, although it’s not a thing I can do casually. The traffic on the drive down to La Jolla on a weekend can be a bear. The residential neighborhood where the access road begins allows street parking, but it’s restricted to two hours (and I hear they enforce it). Given how long it takes to get to the clothing-optional end, this doesn’t allow as much time as you might like to enjoy the beach in your natural state.
On a future visit, I might park at the glider port, where there is plenty of space, especially on weekdays, then take a while to watch the paragliders before catching an Uber from there to the top of that road.
Another option would be to take Metrolink and the Coaster train down to La Jolla, and use Uber from there, but lining up those train schedules looks to be challenging.
Or, I could just conquer my fears, stop being such a pussy, and take the trail down from the glider port.
I can’t automatically recommend that everyone try this, because only you know if it’s something for you. Some of us are never going to be comfortable shedding our clothes in a public place, in the full view of strangers, no matter how nice those strangers are.
If you’re undecided, keep reminding yourself that nobody is judging you. Any such feelings are coming from the inside, your insecurities and social conditioning given voice, and they will most likely go away after your clothes come off, admittedly more quickly for some people than others.
If you think a visit to a nude beach is for you, remember to bring lots of sunscreen, of course, as well as water to keep hydrated. Make sure you have enough water for the return hike up the hill. You should also bring, well, anything you think you might need. Like many such beaches, Black’s has little in the way of facilities, and by “little,” I mean “none.”
It’s good to have a backpack to not only carry things, but to provide you with a non-sandy place to store your clothes.
If you’re going to a different clothing-optional beach, the same basic advice applies. By and large, nude beaches are rarely the easiest beaches to find or get to, and often very primitive when it comes to amenities.
You might want to bring a beach umbrella or shelter. Not only do they provide shade, but they can also block the view of someone paying too much attention to you. Sadly, this does happen, which is probably one reason why there are fewer women than men on beaches like this. Don’t be afraid to speak up. I assure you that others around you will feel your outrage and help you stand up for yourself.
I can say one thing with confidence. Your first time going nude at a clothing optional beach is not as scary as you imagine. Everything you’re worried about beforehand isn’t that big a deal once you’re there.
And the benefits of shedding your clothes are amazing. You have the feeling of freedom, the sensation of standing on the edge of the ocean with nothing between the sun, the breeze, and your skin. There’s a primordial feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be, that this should be the real normal, and that may be the most liberating part of it all.