Social nudity in San Francisco

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A couple prepares to take part in the 2011 San Francisco edition of the World Naked Bike Ride. This is prior to the 2012 passage of SF Police Code § 154.

San Francisco for over a century, allowed unrestricted public nudity. The city opted to regulate it in a 2012 decision by requiring a police-issued parade permit for such displays of public nudity. Indeed, repeat offenders were criminalized. This decision received some national press coverage.


The California Supreme Court, in of In Re Smith (1972), held that sunbathing on an isolated beach was not lewd.[1] In subsequent cases that principle has been upheld and extended. There is a rarely enforced anti-nudity civil ordinance in the parks of San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park. This was put in place in 1970 in response to hippies dancing nude in a circle every Sunday in Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park.[2]

In 1969, Carol Doda began go-go dancing bottomless at the Condor Club on Broadway and Columbus in North Beach (she had been dancing topless at the Condor since 1964).[3] Soon nude dancers began dancing at various clubs in North Beach. Three gay bars featured nude go-go dancing between 1969 and 1972. However, because of complaints, in the summer of 1972, California banned nudity in places that serve alcohol.

In September 2011, nudists gathered to protest a proposed ordinance that would put some restrictions on public nudity in San Francisco.[4] This ordinance was superseded in December 2012 by a ban on public nudity in San Francisco, proposed by Scott Wiener.[5] The ordinance passed on November 20, 2012 by a 6-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors was Ordinance 234-12.[6]

The passage of the ordinance received some national press coverage.[7][8]

A suit to block the ordinance was rejected by a federal judge.[9][10][11]

As of 2013, public nudity without a parade permit is illegal in San Francisco according to SF Police Code § 154 (under Article 2: Disorderly Conduct).[12][13]

Specifically, subsection e of the ordinance, which criminalizes nudity and makes it a possible misdemeanor, reads:

e. Upon the third or subsequent conviction under this Section 154 with in twelve months of the first violation, such person shall be guilty of an infraction or a misdemeanor. The complaint charging such violation shall specify whether, in the discretion of the District Attorney, the violation is an infraction or a misdemeanor. If charged as an infraction, upon conviction, the violator shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500. If charged as a misdemeanor, upon conviction, the violator shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500 or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period not to exceed one year or by both such fine and imprisonment.

However, female toplessness was not affected by the ordinance and is still allowed throughout the city.[14]


San Gregorio Beach, 20 miles south of San Francisco, was the first official nude beach in America in 1967.[citation needed] The San Francisco Bay Guardian published a clothing optional beach guide to California annually.[15]

Within San Francisco city limits are three clothing optional beaches:[citation needed]

  • The north end of Baker Beach in the Presidio is the largest and most accessible.
  • Marshall Beach aka "Naughty Boys Beach" is accessible by a trail north of Bakers Beach.
  • Lands End is near the Cliff House and Sutro Bath ruins.

Urban commons[edit]

In 2010, Rebar, which creates parks out of public spaces, created a park/plaza in the Castro District at 17th/Market/Castro. It was named "Jane Warner Plaza", after the policewoman who used to patrol the Castro. Activists for social nudity began congregating there, resulting in complaints to the police.


There are many long-time established clothing optional events in San Francisco including:


  • Bay to Breakers Race in mid-May. Between 50,000-80,000 people participate, depending on the weather. About half wear costumes and there are always at least a few naked people to be seen, their numbers depending on the weather and their presence not without controversy.


  • World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR). San Francisco participates with about 75 other world cities on the second Saturday in June. Also, in 2010 and 2011, San Francisco had a second WNBR to coordinate with the Southern Hemisphere rides in February.
  • The Critical Mass biking event, with frequently over 1000 riders, congregates on the last Friday of every month at Justin Herman Plaza at 6pm; clothing is optional.


  • Saint Stupid's Day Parade on April 1 is a satirical/absurdist costumed parade through the San Francisco Financial District. The organizers do not consider nude to be a costume, but nude-themed costumes are welcome. For example, one person wore a tie and carried a briefcase. A sign on the case stated, "My Briefs are in this Case."
  • Halloween Nude or nude-themed costumes are ok anywhere in San Francisco.

Gay pride and fetish[edit]

  • Gay Pride Weekend in June is clothing optional.
    • Pink Saturday, the evening before the parade, is a party on Castro and Market Streets that is clothing optional.
    • San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, after the Rose Bowl Parade, is the largest outdoor event in California with about 500 000 people.
    • The festivities, entertainment, and dancing near the Civic Center that afternoon are clothing optional.
  • Dore Alley aka "Up Your Alley" – late July – a fair with about 20,000 people
  • Folsom Street Fair – the largest fetish fair in the world, third largest outdoor event in California, with about 400,000 attendees – takes place on the last Sunday in September.[16] In 2012 Folsom Street Fair raised $300,000 for charity.[17]


Some of the activists for social nudity in San Francisco were Lloyd Fishback, Rusty Mills, Rocky Angel, George Davis, "Nude Woody", Tortuga, Gypsy Taub, "Naked Marvin", Rich & Julie Pasco, Erik, SaraKay, "Bare", Mickey, Mikal, WNBR San Francisco organizers, Gerry West, C.J., Ross, and many others. In newspaper reports, these people are generally referred to as the "Castro nudists".[18]

Nudewoody walks Castro Street

Nudists were active in some neighborhoods in San Francisco besides the Castro, including the Haight-Ashbury, Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf as well as the Mission.[19] Some nudists who live in San Francisco will go about their daily activities nude no matter where these activities take them. These nudists maintain that the push for body acceptance and body freedom is in no way sexual or prurient. Nudists believe that shame, fear, and the view that the human body is always sexual or obscene are ideas which are socially constructed and learned, just like any other prejudice or bigotry.[20] Nudists assert that simple, healthy, social nudity harms no one. A recent Zogby poll showed the 60% of Californians stated that they were not personally offended by the non-sexual nudity of others.[21]

Nudity ban protests[edit]

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, some of the Castro nudists gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall to protest the proposed ban on nudity. The ordinance was passed on November 20, 2012, and went into effect on February 1, 2013, after a federal judge heard and rejected an appeal to suspend the ordinance. A protest held on February 1, 2013, on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall ended with four nude protesters being detained, taken to Northern Police Station, cited for public nudity, then released. The police did not take the four protesters (Gypsy Taub, Trey Allen, George Davis, Dany Devero) into the station building but instead kept them in the police van parked inside the police open air garage. The four protesters were released from the vehicle, cited, and then given blue blankets to cover their body as they were taken from the scene of City Hall without their belongings. The Castro nudists were suing because they asserted that the ordinance violates what they call their constitutional right to be nude in public.[22][23]

Depiction in culture[edit]

On September 21, 2012, a short play entitled The Buck Naked Church of Truth, produced by the Left Coast Theatre Company, premiered in San Francisco. The comedy, by James A. Martin, addresses the public nudity debate in the city by depicting a father who discovers his son naked in the Castro.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In re Smith [7 Cal. 3d 362] [Crim. No. 15986. Supreme Court of California. June 13, 1972.]". Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ See issues of the Berkeley Barb from 1969 (complete set of issues of the Berkeley Barb is available at the Berkeley Public Library) to see pictures of hippies dancing in the nude in a circle in Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Wollan, Malia. "Protesters Bare All Over a Proposed San Francisco Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Cohen, Ronnie. "San Francisco tells nudists to get dressed". Reuters. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  6. ^ "Police Code - Prohibiting Public Nudity" (PDF). November 20, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  7. ^ "San Francisco outlaws nudity". RT (TV network). November 21, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2016. 
  8. ^ Wollan, Malia (November 20, 2012). "San Francisco Officials Approve a Ban on Public Nudity". The New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2016. 
  9. ^ Ax, Joseph. "Nudists lose bid to block San Francisco ban on baring all". Reuters. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  10. ^ Hightower v. City and County of San Francisco, 12-cv-05841 (N.D. California)
  11. ^ Hightower v. City and County of San Francisco hearing video
  12. ^ "§ 154. Prohibiting public nudity". Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  13. ^ "§ 154. Prohibiting public nudity". Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  14. ^ "San Francisco Officials Approve a Ban on Public Nudity". The New York Times. November 20, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2017. 
  15. ^ Hanauer, Gary (January 4, 2010). "Nude Beaches 2012". The San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Folsom Street Fair 2012". Lyon-Martin Health Services. 23 September 2012. 
  17. ^ "FOLSOM STREET EVENTS® DONATES IMPRESSIVE CHECK TO LOCAL AND NATIONAL CHARITIES". November 13, 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. 
  18. ^ Lybarger, Jeremy (December 2, 2015). "SF's Most Notorious Nudist Stakes Her Claim to History". SF Weekly. Retrieved July 20, 2016. 
  19. ^ Barmann, Jay. "S.F. Nudist Becomes Tourist Attraction". SFist. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  20. ^ Barcan, Rurh. Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy. Oxford, London: Berg. 2004., 179.
  21. ^ "NEF California Poll 2009". Naturist Education Foundation. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  22. ^ Matthew S. Bajko (22 November 2012). "Federal judge to review nudity ban". The Bay Area Reporter. 
  23. ^ "Bay Area Reporter Weblogs » SF supervisors adopt public nudity ban". Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  24. ^ Fowler, Geoffrey. "Proposed Ban on Public Nudity Offends Some in San Francisco". 3 October 2012. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 October 2012.