Nude beaches have become a fixture across Europe and the Americas in the past century, as travelers seek out spots where they can enjoy nature and the water clothes-free. For supporters, the beaches are safe and supportive places to feel closer to nature and a part of community. For visitors, they offer an experience that encourages participants to feel comfortable with their bodies and unbound by material culture. But how did nude beaches get popular in the first place? And where are the best to go?
An Olympic Past
While approved nude beaches are a relatively new development since Victorian Era mores, fans trace similar comfort with the naked body and clothes-free activities back to ancient times. Greek athletes at the earliest Olympics famously competed nude to honor Zeus and show off their honed bodies, sometimes even using olive oil to accentuate the look. Nude beach goers have swapped in sunscreen for oil, but the mentality of being comfortable with one’s body in public lives on.
That comfort for nudity among athletes has seen a revival in recent years, from the “Nude Olympics” held at Baker Beach outside San Francisco to ESPN’s recent Body Issue in which top athletes bared all. At the turn of the 20th century, however, it was a pair of German writers, Richard Ungewitter and Heinrich Pudor, who helped popularize nudism for the average person in the early 19th century.
A Healthy Alternative
Advocates of naturism, a lifestyle centered around nudity, point to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as an unhealthy influence—both bodily and spiritually—against which people were eager to find some relief. They looked to a renewed emphasis on the outdoors as a solution, from more time outdoors to swimming and spending time in more sunlight. It was a natural extension of that philosophy to see even more benefit doing so without more fabricated clothes.
In France and Germany at the turn of the century and then in America starting in the Roaring Twenties, nudists worked to make people feel comfortable with their naked bodies and what they believed was a healthier lifestyle. Kurt Barthel helped organize what would become the first nudist club in America, the Sky Farm community in New York City and then New Jersey, in 1929. Like Ungewitter, Barthel and his allies advocated fresh-air bathing as a key activity.
Hitting the Beaches
France led the way on establishing official nude beaches across its shores in the 1950s, leading to famous beaches like those at CHM Montalivet outside Bordeaux. Popular with tourists from Germany and worldwide, the complex houses about 1,000 bungalows and has campgrounds for hundreds more. Guests of nearby hotels like the Hotel Les Vieux Acacias can enjoy sports like tennis and archery and walk a 2 mile white sand beach. Camp d’Agde, down the coast from Montpellier on the Mediterranean, is another popular destination.
Scandinavia embraced nude beaches early on as well, and now nearly 20 clothes-optional beaches stretch across Norway and almost 70 across the more populous Sweden. Nudity in Finland is also widely accepted, from saunas to steam baths and beaches.
It took a while for nude beaches to take off in the United States, where religious and societal pressures were tougher to overcome. Truro in Cape Cod, Massachusetts became a flashpoint in 1974 as the town looked to rein in what had become a large nudist population at the beach. While attending the beach nude gained in popularity, The Cape Cod National Seashore created regulations to ban the activity, helping to prompt the “Free the Beaches” movement in 1976 that helped unit nude beach goers across the United States and bring national attention to their cause.
A National Nude Weekend would launch that year, and several publications for nude beach-goers and supporters emerged. Today, the American Association for Nude Recreation charters well more than of 200 resorts and campgrounds across the U.S.
Also more recently, England has added to its list of official nude beaches in the past several decades, while Poland’s Chalupy beach become famous in part due to a 1985 hit song, “Chalupy – welcome to,” which immortalized the clothes-optional beach on the Baltic Sea.
Famous Nude Hotspots
Hundreds of nude beaches are available today, but several have stood out over the years as some of the most accessible, beautiful, and sunny.
Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Little Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui isn’t an official nude beach but is famous as such, separate from Big Beach’s north end by a cliff. On Sundays, the crowd forms a drum circle for a fire dance.
Where to stay: The Lumeria Maui has beautiful park grounds a short drive away.
Red Beach, Crete, Greece
Named after its volcanic sand, Red Beach is beloved for being less crowded than other nearby beaches given its remote location on the southern shores of the island of Crete. Most visit by boat or long hike, but once at the clothes-optional location, visitors can enjoy pristine beach and caves under the cliffs.
Where to stay: Sleep in 5-star luxury at the Vergis Epavlis in nearby Heraklion.
Samurai Beach, Port Stephens, Australia
Like others on the list, Samurai Beach is a bit remote to get to, outside Port Stephens north of Sydney. Bare bones when it comes to facilities, footwear is a must to cross the dunes to the beach, where periodic nude carnivals and other activities make the spot a mecca once travelers get there.
Where to stay: Anchorage Port Stephens for its gorgeous private balconies.
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada’s first clothing-optional beach is massive, spanning 5 miles of coastline just 15 minutes’ drive from Vancouver. Monthly live music events and beach volleyball keep visitors busy, while others get even more comfortable with their bodies through massages and body painting.
Where to stay: The Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver is famous for its sleek and modern style.
Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown, Massachusetts
While nudity is technically banned across Cape Cod and the LGBQT hotspot of Provincetown, visitors to Herring Cove know that what was the state’s only active nude beach still functions as such, unofficially, on the left side of the beach. Herring Cove isn’t just beautiful; it’s an ideal place for an open mind.
Where to stay: Carpe Diem Guesthouse for its clothing-optional spa.
Black’s Beach, San Diego, California
Perhaps Southern California’s most famous clothing optional beach, Black’s is a two-mile strip popular with surfers and nudists alike. An easy drive from downtown San Diego just north of La Jolla Shores, Black’s rests at the base of 300-foot cliffs that offer some quiet from gawking eyes as nude volleyball players show off their moves. Black’s doesn’t have any frills or shops, but makes up for it with its crowd.
Where to stay: Empress Hotel of La Jolla, just five blocks from La Jolla Cove.