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Curious San Diego: How Did Black’s Beach Become A Nude Beach?

Photo by Sarah Lee

A beautiful spring day shines upon on Black's Beach, March 2017.

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Black’s Beach is a more 2-mile-long stretch of sand up against steep 350-foot cliffs. The Torrey Pines Gliderport is above the cliffs and hang-gliders can be seen soaring above, while ... Read more →

Aired: December 23, 2019 | Transcript

Black's Beach is one of San Diego’s most popular surfing spots. It’s also a favorite among nudists.

But, how did Black's become a nude beach? San Diego resident Liam Bates asked us that question through our Curious San Diego web page.

Black’s Beach is an over two-mile long stretch of sand up against steep 350-foot cliffs. The Torrey Pines Gliderport is above the cliffs and hang gliders can be seen soaring above. The official name of Black's Beach is Torrey Pines beach, but locals still call it Black's Beach, after William Black who owned a home above the beach.

We visited longtime La Jolla resident Carol Olten, who has been the historian at the La Jolla Historical Society for the past 16 years, to get an answer to Bates' question.

She said Black’s Beach becoming a nude beach was a sign of the times. The neighboring UC San Diego campus was relatively new and there was a lot of liberal thought on the campus. It was also the end of the counterculture movement.

"People had a desire to be very free so to speak and a nude beach was an expression of freedom," Olten said.

In 1974, the issue of nudity at Black’s Beach came before the San Diego City Council. According to newspaper archives, a representative for the La Jolla Farms Homeowners Association told the council that area residents were concerned that making Black’s Beach a nude beach would change the character of the wealthy neighborhood. Following hours of testimony, the council voted 5 to 2 to make Black's Beach a clothing-optional beach while prohibiting nudity at all other city beaches.

That vote made Black’s Beach the only legal nude beach at the time in the country.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society

Body painting at Black's Beach, 1978.

Olten said the neighboring community was not happy with Black’s Beach being a nude beach.

"It was very controversial because not so much the fact that it was a nude beach. It was that it was a nude beach that was very, very difficult to get to. And you had to go down a very severe cliff to get there. There was no really good public access. So people parked in this wealthy neighborhood around La Jolla Farms Road. And of course when thousands and thousands were turning up on a single day, it became a nuisance with trash and people parking cars and being noisy," Olten said.

In September of 1977, San Diegans went to the ballot box to weigh in on Proposition D, which asked if it should be illegal to be nude at all public beaches in the city. The majority of voters said yes and nudity was banned on city beaches.

"It became illegal to be nude at the beach, but of course ... enforcement was very difficult for lifeguards and police officers. So even today I mean people go down there and it's a nude beach," Olten said.

Half of Black's Beach is owned by the city, while the other half is owned by the state. On the city-run portion, which is the most southern part, city lifeguards enforce the clothing requirement, but that’s not the case for the northern part run by the state.

In a statement a state parks spokesperson said, "Even though nudity is prohibited, California State Parks is aware that nude recreational activities occur at Torrey Pines State Beach in the Black’s Beach area. We understand the historical use of this remote area. Due to limited resources, state park peace officers patrol the beach on an as-needed basis. Our officers use their discretion and respond to the highest priority calls – public safety and health issues."

So, its not actually legal to be nude on the state run portion of Black’s, but you probably won’t get ticketed for it either.

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