While New York might not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of nude or clothing-optional beaches, there are indeed a few spots frequented by those looking to escape the constraint of swimwear.
Nude beaches in New York offer a distinct experience that combines the state’s diverse natural beauty with a culture of liberty, acceptance, and the human body’s unadornment. While New York might be more internationally renowned for its bustling city life, it also provides sanctuaries of relaxation and freedom of expression away from the skyscrapers’ shadows. These havens, though fewer and sometimes off the beaten path, are a part of the broader cultural mosaic that makes New York a microcosm of the world.
However, the experience of nude beaches in New York isn’t without its boundaries and etiquette. While some beaches are officially recognized and designated as clothing-optional, others operate under “unofficial” status, sustained by local traditions and the authorities’ tacit understanding. First-time visitors are encouraged to understand the respective norms and rules, ensuring a respectful, safe, and comfortable environment for everyone. Here are a few known spots in New York where nudity or toplessness is generally accepted:
1. Jacob Riis Park
Nestled within the Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens, Jacob Riis Park Beach holds a unique place among New York’s beach destinations, embodying a blend of urban convenience, natural coastal beauty, and a liberal social atmosphere. While it’s not officially designated as a nude beach, it has areas where this is generally accepted. The specific spot known for this more open-minded approach is typically the far eastern end of the beach.
This area, often informally referred to as the “gay beach,” has a history of being more permissive, and beachgoers in this section often feel comfortable sunbathing topless or even nude, although full nudity is less common. It’s known for being LGBTQ+ friendly and has a strong sense of community, attracting a diverse crowd of locals and tourists alike.
One of Jacob Riis Park Beach’s hallmarks is its amenities, designed to enhance the comfort and experience of all who visit. The beach boasts food stands offering a variety of culinary delights reflecting New York’s multicultural tapestry, restrooms and changing facilities for convenience, and lifeguard services ensuring swimmer safety during the official bathing season. The boardwalk, though not as extensive as others in the region, provides a scenic route for walking and soaking in the ocean views.
- Watching sunset
How to get there
Jacob Riis Park Beach is a popular destination, especially during the summer months, due to its proximity to New York City and its array of amenities. Paid parking is located right across the street. Here’s how you can get there:
- Jacob Riis Park Beach is accessible by car, and it’s a straightforward drive from most areas of New York City. You’ll want to head south towards the Rockaway Peninsula. If you’re using a GPS device or app, simply enter “Jacob Riis Park Beach” as your destination.
- From Brooklyn: You can take the Belt Parkway to the Flatbush Avenue south exit, continue over the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, and see signs for Jacob Riis Park as you approach the Rockaways.
- From Manhattan or other boroughs: The most direct route typically involves taking the I-278 and Belt Parkway or I-495 (Long Island Expressway) and Cross Bay Blvd.
By Public Transportation:
- Bus: The Q22 and Q35 buses run to Jacob Riis Park. The Q35 bus route offers a direct route from the Brooklyn College Subway Station (served by the 2 and 5 subway lines) to the beach.
- Subway and Bus Combination: You can take the A train (Far Rockaway-bound) to the Broad Channel station, then switch to the S shuttle train heading towards Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street. You can catch the Q22 or Q35 bus to Jacob Riis Park from there.
- It’s essential to check the MTA website or contact them directly for any service changes, especially during weekends or public holidays.
- The NYC Ferry provides a route to the Rockaways from Wall Street’s Pier 11 in Manhattan or the Brooklyn Army Terminal. After disembarking at the Rockaway ferry terminal, you can take a shuttle bus, the Q22 bus, or even a bike (the ferry allows bicycles) to reach Jacob Riis Park. The ferry ride offers beautiful views and a relaxing journey, particularly appealing during the summer months.
2. Tilden Beach
Fort Tilden Beach is a lesser-known treasure among New York’s seaside getaways, offering a serene and more natural beach experience compared to its busier neighboring beaches. Located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, Fort Tilden’s unspoiled landscapes, and relative seclusion attract those seeking tranquility or an escape from the bustling city life. It is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and, as such, is maintained by the National Park Service.
While not officially designated as a nude beach, Fort Tilden has been known for its unofficial clothing-optional status in some areas. The secluded nature of the beach contributes to this atmosphere. Typically, the unofficial nude sections are located at the beach’s farthest ends, away from the primary entrance and most frequented areas.
Fort Tilden’s amenities are sparse compared to other local beaches, which is part of its untouched charm. There are basic facilities like restrooms, but there are no food stands or equipment rental facilities on the beach itself. Visitors are encouraged to bring their snacks, water, and beach gear. The park does not have lifeguards on duty, which is essential to keep in mind for those wishing to swim.
- Bird watching
How to get there
Fort Tilden Beach, renowned for its serene ambiance, is a bit more secluded than other New York City beaches, making it a peaceful escape but also a bit more challenging to access, especially for those relying on public transportation.
- Driving is perhaps the most convenient way to reach Fort Tilden. If you’re using GPS navigation, you can input “Fort Tilden, New York, NY” for directions.
- From Brooklyn, you can take the Belt Parkway to Exit 11S and then follow Flatbush Avenue south across the Marine Parkway Bridge (toll bridge). After the bridge, take the first right into Breezy Point, and follow the road to Fort Tilden.
By Public Transportation:
- Take the subway (A train) to the Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street station. From there, you can transfer to the Q22 or Q35 bus, which stops near Fort Tilden. You’ll need to walk a bit from the bus stop to the beach.
- Another option is to take the 2 train to the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College station, then take the Q35 bus, which has a route ending relatively close to Fort Tilden. There will be a walk from the bus stop to the beach entrance.
- The NYC Ferry service offers a route to Rockaway. You’ll want to board the ferry at Wall Street’s Pier 11 or Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal. After disembarking at the Rockaway ferry terminal, you can transfer to a complimentary shuttle bus that brings passengers closer to the beach, or use a ride-share service or local taxi to reach Fort Tilden. Biking from the ferry terminal to Fort Tilden is also an option and a great way to explore the scenery.
3. Lighthouse Beach
Lighthouse Beach, once part of the Fire Island National Seashore in Long Island, New York, had a storied past and a significant following among the naturist community. This picturesque stretch of coast, known for its iconic lighthouse, was not only a haven for those seeking to connect with nature but also stood as a symbol of freedom for the nudist beachgoers.
For many years, Lighthouse Beach was famous for its clothing-optional section. Naturists and those preferring a tan without lines had made this serene location a sanctuary. However, in 2013, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a ban on nudity at Lighthouse Beach, altering a decades-long tradition. This decision was enforced due to various concerns, including public safety. Since then, compliance with the rule has been expected, and park rangers have been known to issue citations for violations. As such, visitors are advised to adhere to current local laws and regulations.
Despite the official stance, you may still encounter individuals pushing the boundaries of these regulations, choosing to sunbathe nude or topless in more secluded areas of the beach. For those who might consider sunbathing in a less than fully clothed state, it’s significantly more discreet to avoid crowded spots and to be continually aware of one’s surroundings, particularly the presence of park rangers. The emphasis on discretion cannot be overstated, as non-compliance with the regulations can lead to uncomfortable situations or legal repercussions.
While amenities are somewhat limited compared to more urban beaches, there are basic facilities for visitors’ convenience, including restrooms and pathways for easy access. One of the significant features is the Fire Island Lighthouse, a historical beacon that dates back to the 1850s. The lighthouse is open for tours, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding area.
- Visiting the Lighthouse
How to get there
Lighthouse Beach, situated near the historic Fire Island Lighthouse, is a popular destination thanks to its natural beauty and serene atmosphere. Getting there is a bit of an adventure compared to more accessible New York beaches, but the journey is part of the experience.
By Car and On Foot:
- If you’re driving, head towards Robert Moses State Park located on Fire Island. The nearest parking area to Lighthouse Beach is Field 5 of the park.
- After parking, you’ll embark on a scenic walk. Follow the boardwalk that leads towards the Fire Island Lighthouse. This walk is an experience in itself, offering views of diverse habitats, including dunes, forests, and the ocean.
- Lighthouse Beach is adjacent to the area around the base of the Fire Island Lighthouse. Since there’s no direct car access to Lighthouse Beach itself, walking is a necessary part of the journey.
By Public Transportation:
- Public transportation can also be used to reach Robert Moses State Park. You can take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Babylon. From the Babylon station, you can board a Suffolk County Transit bus that will take you to Robert Moses State Park.
- Once you’re at Field 5 in the park, you’ll make the same walk towards the Fire Island Lighthouse and nearby Lighthouse Beach.
- Another route to Fire Island is by ferry. These ferries don’t take you directly to Lighthouse Beach, but they do provide access to various communities on Fire Island.
- You’ll need to take a ferry from Bay Shore, Sayville, or Patchogue, depending on which part of Fire Island you wish to visit first. If you’re aiming to be closest to the lighthouse, the Bay Shore ferry to Kismet is a reasonable option.
- Once you arrive on Fire Island, it’s possible to walk to the lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach, but prepare for a long stroll along the shore or through the communities. Biking is also an option on Fire Island and can make longer treks more manageable.
4. Gunnison Beach
Gunnison Beach, located in New Jersey, stands out as one of the most popular clothing-optional beaches in the northeastern United States. While not in New York itself, it’s conveniently close, offering New Yorkers and visitors an accessible getaway to experience beachgoing in its most natural form. It’s situated on the Sandy Hook peninsula, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service.
Gunnison Beach is noteworthy for its officially designated clothing-optional area. It’s the largest nude beach on the East Coast and one of the few places where you can legally sunbathe nude in the region. The clothing-optional section is clearly marked, ensuring comfort and security for both nude sunbathers and regular beachgoers alike. This beach is known for its friendly, inclusive atmosphere, welcoming a diverse crowd.
The beach is well-maintained with amenities that ensure a comfortable experience for all visitors. There are restrooms, outdoor rinse-off showers, and changing rooms in proximity to the beach area. Lifeguards are on duty during the peak season, ensuring swimmer safety. Additionally, there’s a beach pavilion with a snack bar, though many visitors bring their coolers with food and beverages.
- Bird Watching
How to get there
While it’s in New Jersey, the commute is relatively simple. There’s a spacious parking lot available to Gunnison Beach visitors, but make sure to arrive early, as the lot fills up quickly on summer weekends. Here are detailed directions on how to get there from New York City:
- The most straightforward way to Gunnison Beach is by car. From New York City, you’ll want to start by getting on the I-95 S or the Holland Tunnel, depending on your location in the city.
- You’ll continue on I-95 S to NJ-36 S in New Jersey. Take exit 117 from the Garden State Parkway.
- You will continue on NJ-36 S until you reach Hartshorne Drive. There will be clear signs directing you to Sandy Hook and Gunnison Beach. Follow the signs to the parking area close to the beach. The drive typically takes about 1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic.
- For a more scenic route, consider the Seastreak ferry. This service offers trips from Manhattan (East 35th Street) and from Wall Street/Pier 11 directly to Sandy Hook, including a shuttle service from the Sandy Hook dock to Gunnison Beach.
- The ferry ride itself is approximately 30-40 minutes, and it’s a comfortable trip with great views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Keep in mind that the ferry runs on a seasonal schedule, primarily during the summer months, and it’s advisable to check the ferry schedule ahead of time and make reservations, especially on weekends when it’s popular.
By Public Transit and Ride-Share or Taxi:
- If you prefer public transportation, you can take the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line train from Penn Station to Red Bank Station. The train ride is about an hour-long.
- From Red Bank, it’s roughly a 20-minute taxi or ride-share trip to Gunnison Beach. This option is a bit longer but might be preferred if you don’t want to drive or take the ferry.