The material in this "Law" section examines the legal statutues concerning nudity at the federal, state (California) and local (specific counties and cities) levels. Over time, these laws have been interpretated by the courts through several landmark cases. The laws are also enforced unevenly depending on the personal whims of whoever is in charge of enforcement at the time. We will try to include as much helpful information as possible, but be advised we are not lawyers and the interpretation and enforcement of everything discussed here can change rapidly.
There is no federal law against nudity but neither is it a guaranteed right. (This means that state, county and local laws can take precedence, in that order, if they choose to do so.)
Limitations on nudity on federal land is up to the discretion of the Superintendent in charge of each individual National Park, Monument, and Forest. A good example is what happened at Saline Valley a few years ago when the "clothing Optional" sign was removed from the Hot Springs area when a new Park Superintendent was appointed. The Golden Rule seems to be whoever is in charge makes the rules so check out your destination with the locals before assuming anything.
California State Law
California Codes Sections 314-318.6 (as of 6/2000):
Every person who willfully and lewdly, either:
1. Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby; or,
2. Procures, counsels, or assists any person so to expose himself or take part in any model artist exhibition, or to make any other exhibition of himself to public view, or the view of any number of persons, such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to or thoughts or acts, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Every person who violates subdivision 1 of this section after having entered, without consent, an inhabited dwelling house, or trailer coach as defined in Section 635 of the Vehicle , or the inhabited portion of any other building, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or in the county jail not exceeding one year.
Upon the second and each subsequent conviction under subdivision 1 of this section, or upon a first conviction under subdivision 1 of this section after a previous conviction under Section 288, every person so convicted is guilty of a felony, and is punishable by imprisonment in state prison.
California State Parks
Section 4322 of Title 14 of the California Administrative Code regarding nudity in the state parks: 1. No person shall appear nude while in any unit except in authorized areas set aside for that purpose by the Department. The word nude as used herein means unclothed or in such a state of undress as to expose any part of portion of the pubic or anal region or genitalia of any person or any portion of the breast at or below the areola thereof of any female person. 2. All sections are misdemeanors which carry a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine.Return to top
Note: While this regulation allows for setting aside specific clothing optional areas, the parks department hasn't taken advantage of the provision. State Park rangers have operated for many years under a policy known as the "Cahill-Harrison policy (see below)."
Santa Barbara County Nudity Ordinance (1977)
It is the intent of the board of supervisors to prohibit nudity in public places, places open to the public, and places open to public view whether such places are publicly or privately owned, even when such nudity is not sexually motivated or otherwise lewd. (Ord. No. 2507, S 1; Ord. No. 2564, S 1)Return to top
Sec. 24-15. Nudity --Offenses numerated; penalties.
(a) It is hereby declared a public nuisance and unlawful for any person to appear on any beach, park, street or in any other public place or place open to the public or exposed to public view, including specifically a view from any private residence or any portion of the real property in the immediate vicinity of such private residence, whether such place is publicly or privately owned, unclothed or in such a state of undress as to expose, in the case of a female, any portion of her breasts below the areolas thereof or in the case of any male or female, any part of his or her pubic or anal region or genitalia.
(b) The provisions of this section shall not apply to any acts which take place wholly within a fully enclosed building or any portion thereof; and nothing contained herein shall be construed to prohibit any act or acts which are expressly authorized or prohibited by the Penal Code of the state.
(c) Violations of this section shall be an infraction punishable by a fine in the sum of fifty dollars for a first violation; a fine in the sum of one hundred dollars for a second violation of this section within one year after the first violation; and a fine in the sum of two hundred fifty dollars for each additional violation within one year after a second violation and within one year after any subsequent violation of this section thereafter. (Ord. No. 2507, S 1; Ord. No. 2564, S 1; Ord. No. 2931, S 1)
Los Angeles County Nudity Ordinance (1976)
Los Angeles County Ordinance 17.12.360, "Nudity and Disrobing":Return to top
A) No person shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk, change clothes, disrobe or |be on any beach in such manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttocks, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view, except in those portions of a comfort station, if| any, expressly set aside for such purpose.
B) This section shall not apply to persons under the age of 10 years, provided such children are sufficiently clothed to conform to accepted community standards.
C) This section shall not apply to persons engaged in a live theatrical performance in a theater, concert hall, or similar establishment which is primarily devoted to theatrical performances.
Local Ventura County Ordinances
Click below to see the ordinances for Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, California. There is no county-wide ordinance and each city is allowed to write its own ordinance to supplement the California State law (see above). The state law is vigorously enforced in this county in the absence of any local city ordinance.Return to top
San Diego County Nudity Ordinance
TITLE 3 PUBLIC SAFETY, MORALS AND WELFARE*Return to top
DIVISION 2. POLICE REGULATIONS AND OFFENSES AGAINST PUBLIC
CHAPTER 10. PUBLIC NUDITY*
*Note--Added by Ord. No. 4574 (N.S.), effective 10-24-75.
SEC. 32.1001. PURPOSE AND INTENT.
The presence of persons who are nude and exposed to public view in or on public rights of way, public parks, public beaches or any other public land, or in or on any private property open to public view from any public right of way, public beach, public park, or other public land, is offensive to members of the general public unwillingly exposed to such persons. Nudity, if it is to be permitted to be exposed to public view, should be confined to a defined area. The provisions of this chapter are enacted for the purpose of securing and promoting the public health, morals and general welfare of all persons in the County of San Diego.
Cross reference(s)--Parks and recreation, § 41.101 et seq.
SEC. 32.1002. NUDITY DEFINED.
Whenever in this chapter the word "nude" is used, it shall mean devoid of an opaque covering which covers the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttocks, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any person or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person.
SEC. 32.1003. PUBLIC PLACE DEFINED.
Whenever in this chapter the words "public place" are used, they shall mean any public beach, park, street or waters adjacent thereto, or any place open to the public or exposed to public view, including specifically a view from any private residence or any portion of the real property in the immediate vicinity of such private residence, whether such place is publicly or privately owned.
SEC. 32.1004. PUBLIC NUDITY PROHIBITED.
It is hereby declared a public nuisance and unlawful for any person to appear, sunbathe, bathe, walk, disrobe, or otherwise be nude in any public place except in an area expressly set aside for such purpose or in those portions of a comfort location, if expressly set aside for such purpose. Any person who shall violate any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment in the County Jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.
SEC. 32.1005. [PERSONS TO WHOM CHAPTER SHALL NOT APPLY.]
This chapter shall not apply to persons under the age of 10 years.
SEC. 32.1006. [CHAPTER NOT APPLICABLE TO THEATRICAL PERFORMANCES, ETC.]
This chapter shall not apply to persons engaged in a live theatrical performance, in a theater, concert hall or similar establishment which is predominantly devoted to theatrical performances.
SEC. 32.1007. [CHAPTER NOT APPLICABLE TO ACTS AUTHORIZED OR PROHIBITED BY STATE LAW.]
Nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit any act or acts which are expressly authorized or prohibited by the Penal Code of the State of California.
In practice state and local nudity laws are unevenly enforced, often based on what is practical for everyone concerned. State and local officials have negotiated and compromised to give the nudists some avenues of expression. Some examples of places/events where public nudity is accepted (not a complete list):
- Gaviota State Beach, Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo County border
- More Mesa Beach, Santa Barbara (near Hope Ranch, by agreement with the homeowners)
- Avila County Beach (a.k.a. “Pirate’s Cove”), San Luis Obispo
- Los Padres National Forest (Pine Valley), and Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County
- Sespe Creek and Wheeler Hot Springs, Ventura County
- Bare to Breakers Run (San Francisco)
- World Nude Bike Ride Day (San Francisco, San Diego)
- Auburn Dam Recreation Area, northern California
- Black’s Beach San Diego
- San Onofre Beach, San Diego
- Saline Valley, near Death Valley
- Anza Borrego State Park, Imperial County
- Numerous hot springs and secluded beaches throughout the state
- Numerous county beaches around San Francisco and Marin Counties
Enforcement of the law usually involves someone shouting, “hey you, knock it off,” and the problem is solved as the last thing they want is to be discovered. Deputies are never called, and the system works.
Warning: If you "cross the line" from simple nudity to sexual activity, you can (and probably will) be prosecuted under California Penal Code Section 314, and upon conviction will carry a lifetime registration as a sex offender!. You will also put at risk the clothing-optional status of that beach or hot spring so please don't cross that line. Nudists will also aggressively enforce against misbehavior!
The system breaks down when an aggressive deputy is ignorant of the Smith, Pryor, and Bost court cases (see below), or of the Cahill-Harrison regulation in state parks. He/she just assumes nudity is automatically lewd behavior and writes a ticket without knowing the beachgoer has rights and protections under the law.
So the first step is to train the sheriff deputies in the law and to teach them how to separate simple nudity from lewd behavior. We can help.
Jury Instructions - Evidence Needed to Convict
If you are arrested for indecent exposure or lewd conduct, here are the required instructions a judge must give to a jury in order for you to be convicted.Return to top
Except as otherwise provided by statute, any otherwise admissible evidence (including evidence in the form of an opinion, evidence of reputation, and evidence of specific instances of such person's conduct) is admissible to prove a person's character or a trait of his character.
(a) In a criminal action in which the defendant is accused of a sexual offense, evidence of the defendant's commission of another sexual offense or offenses is not made inadmissible by Section 1101, if the evidence is not inadmissible pursuant to Section 352.
(b) In an action in which evidence is to be offered under this section, the people shall disclose the evidence to the defendant, including statements of witnesses or a summary of the substance of any testimony that is expected to be offered, at least 30 days before the scheduled date of trial or at such later time as the court may allow for good cause.
(c) This section shall not be construed to limit the admission or consideration of evidence under any other section of this code.
(d) As used in this section, the following definitions shall apply:(1) "Sexual offense" means a crime under the law of a state or of the United States that involved any of the following:(A) Any conduct proscribed by Section 243.4, 261, 261.5, 262, 264.1, 266c, 269, 286, 288, 288a, 288.2, 288.5, or 289, or subdivision (b), (c), or (d) of Section 311.2 or Section 311.3, 311.4, 311.10, 311.11, 314, or 647.6, of the Penal Code.(2) "Consent" shall have the same meaning as provided in Section 261.6 of the Penal Code, except that it does not include consent which is legally ineffective because of the age, mental disorder, or developmental or physical disability of the victim.
(B) Contact, without consent, between any part of the defendant's body or an object and the genitals or anus of another person.
(C) Contact, without consent, between the genitals or anus of the defendant and any part of another person's body.
(D) Deriving sexual pleasure or gratification from the infliction of death, bodily injury, or physical pain on another person.
(E) An attempt or conspiracy to engage in conduct described in this paragraph.
The Court Documents Linked Below Are Important:
These legal documents are in PDF format. After reading, use the BACK arrow to return to this menu.
“Mere nudity does not constitute a form of sexual activity.”Pryor v. Municipal Court (1979) PDF File
The CA State Supreme Court ruled: “We construe the phrase "lewd or dissolute conduct" [section 647] to prohibit only the solicitation or commission of conduct in a public place or one open to the public or exposed to public view, which involves the touching of the genitals, buttocks, or female breast, for purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, annoyance or offense, by a person who knows or should know of the presence of persons who may be offended by the conduct.”State Park System: Cahill Policy (1979) PDF File
“…So long as the [nude] activity takes place in a traditionally recognized area it is legal unless and until a complaint from a member of the public is received. Further activities of a person so warned are prohibited for the balance of the day, but activities on later days are proscribed only if preceded by a new public complaint and renewed warning.”California vs. Eric John Bost (1988) PDF File
“[In a State Park]...Simple...nudity is not indecent exposure…Fair notice must be given before a citation is issued.”Cahill re-affirmed by Jack V. Harrison (1988) PDF File
The Deputy Director for Operations for the California’s State Parks Department wrote: “The ‘Cahill Policy’ has remained the enforcement policy of the State Park System throughout the State of California. The policy has been widely disseminated and is well known within the public, and particularly among those who enjoy nude sunbathing at the state parks.”National Forests: LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Letter (2006) PDF file
“..Some of our deputies may be misinterpreting the law as it pertains to section 314.1 of the California Penal Code…Simply being nude in the Angeles National Forest is not prohibited by law. Therefore your client appears to be within his legal rights to hike in the forest in the nude.”
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