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.

For over a century, the city of San Francisco, California allowed unrestricted public nudity. In 2012, the city changed the law to require a police-issued parade permit for such displays of public nudity.


The California Supreme Court, in 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.[citation needed] 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][better source needed]

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][better source needed] 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.[4][better source needed]

In September 2011, nudists gathered to protest a proposed ordinance that would put some restrictions on public nudity in San Francisco.[5] This ordinance was superseded in December 2012 by a ban on public nudity in San Francisco, proposed by Scott Wiener.[6][clarification needed] The ordinance passed on November 20, 2012 by a 6-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors was Ordinance 234-12.[7][better source needed] The passage of the ordinance received some national press coverage.[8][9][10] A suit to block the ordinance was rejected by a federal judge.[11][12][13]

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).[14][15][better source needed] 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.

Female toplessness was not affected by the ordinance and is still allowed throughout the city.[16]


San Gregorio Beach, 20 miles south of San Francisco, was the first official nude beach in America in 1967.[17] The San Francisco Bay Guardian published a clothing optional beach guide to California annually.[18]

Within San Francisco, there are three clothing-optional beaches:[19][better source needed]

  • The north end of Baker Beach is San Francisco's busiest, largest, and most accessible.
  • Golden Gate Bridge Beach, sometimes called Marshall's Beach or Nasty Boy Beach is accessible by a trail north of Baker Beach.
  • Lands End Beach is secluded at the end of a steep trail near the Cliff House and Sutro Baths 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.[citation needed]


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.[citation needed]


  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]


  • 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."[citation needed]
  • Halloween Nude or nude-themed costumes are ok anywhere in San Francisco.[20][21][22][23][24]

Gay pride and fetish[edit]


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".[28]

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.[29] Some nudists who live in San Francisco 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32][33]

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.[34]

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. ^ "Results for: 1964". Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  4. ^ "FindLaw's United States Supreme Court case and opinions". Findlaw.
  5. ^ Wollan, Malia. "Protesters Bare All Over a Proposed San Francisco Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  6. ^ Cohen, Ronnie. "San Francisco tells nudists to get dressed". Reuters. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Police Code - Prohibiting Public Nudity" (PDF). November 20, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  8. ^ "San Francisco outlaws nudity". RT (TV network). November 21, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  9. ^ Wollan, Malia (November 20, 2012). "San Francisco Officials Approve a Ban on Public Nudity". The New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  10. ^ "SF's Most Notorious Nudist Stakes Her Claim to History - By - December 2, 2015 - SF Weekly". 2 December 2015.
  11. ^ Ax, Joseph. "Nudists lose bid to block San Francisco ban on baring all". Reuters. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  12. ^ Hightower et al v. City and County of San Francisco et al, Justia case number 12-cv-05841 (N.D. California 22 June 2015).
  13. ^ Hightower v. City and County of San Francisco, United States Courts case number 12-cv-05841 hearing video (N.D. California 22 June 2015).
  14. ^ "§ 154. Prohibiting public nudity". Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  15. ^ "§ 154. Prohibiting public nudity". Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  16. ^ "San Francisco Officials Approve a Ban on Public Nudity". The New York Times. November 20, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  17. ^ Mulhall, Tom (6 August 2012). "I Left My Clothes In San Francisco". HuffPost. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  18. ^ Hanauer, Gary (January 4, 2010). "Nude Beaches 2012". The San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  19. ^ Malloy, Betsy (23 August 2017). "San Francisco County Nude Beaches". TripSavvy. Dotdash. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  20. ^ Jay Barmann (25 September 2015). "[Updated] Nudists Having Another Nude-In Saturday, Contemplating Another Lawsuit". sfist. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Night of the Naked - Nude Halloween Party". Photo Naturals.
  22. ^ Taub, Gypsy (23 November 2012). "The naked truth about San Francisco's nudity ban". The Guardian. United Kingdom.
  23. ^ Michelle Robertson (23 February 2017). "Where to get naked in the Bay Area – and not feel weird about it". SFGate.
  24. ^ Dan Nazarian (13 July 2015). "Where to Get Naked In San Francisco". Broke-Ass Stuart.
  25. ^ Fagan, Kevin; Thadani, Trisha; Bravo, Tony; Sernoffsky, Evan (25 June 2017). "Pride Parade takes over SF with celebration, protest". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  26. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions – Folsom Street Events". Folsom Street Events. 26 May 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  27. ^ "Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair Guide". SFTravel. San Francisco Travel Association. 6 September 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  28. ^ Lybarger, Jeremy (December 2, 2015). "SF's Most Notorious Nudist Stakes Her Claim to History". SF Weekly. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  29. ^ Barmann, Jay. "S.F. Nudist Becomes Tourist Attraction". SFist. Archived from the original on 16 May 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  30. ^ Barcan, Rurh. Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy. Oxford, London: Berg. 2004., 179.
  31. ^ "NEF California Poll 2009". Naturist Education Foundation. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  32. ^ Matthew S. Bajko (22 November 2012). "Federal judge to review nudity ban". The Bay Area Reporter.
  33. ^ "Bay Area Reporter Weblogs » SF supervisors adopt public nudity ban". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  34. ^ Fowler, Geoffrey. "Proposed Ban on Public Nudity Offends Some in San Francisco". 3 October 2012. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 October 2012.