Mar 01

SLO Uncovered – Pirate’s Cove, the naked truth about the origin of a nude beach

Originally all the beaches in the county were clothing optional. According to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, traditional Chumash garb was a two-piece skirt for women and perhaps a belt for men.
Then along came the Spanish friars and beach attire became more modest.
When did Pirate’s Cove become the Mecca for nude sunbathers?
Almost 200 years after the founding of Mission San Luis Obispo.
The earliest article I have found on the topic comes from July 26, 1973 Telegram-Tribune by Mark Gladstone:

Pirate's Cove has been a secluded beach destination for many years.

Pirate’s Cove has been a secluded beach destination for many years. ©The Tribune/Thom Halls 6-24-1976

Nude beach catches official eyes

A gentle stretch of county beach has come under the scrutiny of law enforcement officials because of the increasing numbers of people taking advantage of its “privacy” for nude sunbathing.
Wednesday afternoon approximately 20 people could be seen lying naked or partially naked along the beach at Pirate’s Cove south of Avila Beach. At least 50 other sunbathers in swimming suits were also on the beach.
Viewing the entire scene from high on a bluff were District Attorney Robert Tait, Undersheriff, John H. Pierce and Supervisor Kurt Kupper.
“At the present time the facts do not indicate that action is warranted,” said Tait.
A 1972 State Supreme Court decision may complicate the situation for Tait.
In the case of People vs. Smith the court unanimously ruled in effect that unless lewd intent is proved, nudity on isolated beaches is not illegal.
On the beach most of the sunbathers, clothed and unclothed were surprised by the presence of county officials peering at them through cameras.
“It’s a violation of our own life if we couldn’t come down and use this beach,” said Kathleen, a 23-year-old San Luis Obispo housewife.
As she sat discussing the beach, her four-year-old daughter played nearby. The daughter was clothed, the mother naked.
“It’s the best thing you can do for your body,” said Kathleen as she lit a Turkish cigarette.
She heard about the “free vibes” on the beach several months ago from a friend.
Her bronzed breasts and sun bleached blond hair testified to her regular visits to the beach.
Other sunbathers agreed with her about the tranquility of the beach, especially compared with nearby Avila.
At least one young man said he had been coming to the beach for several years to escape crowded Avila; others only recently discovered the cove and several surrounding “nude” beaches.
Although most were young people in their 20s, several middle-aged couples had shed their clothes.
And the clothed sunbathers seemed to take little notice of the naked sun worshipers.
“Sex is no big deal…it’s not like Avila Beach where a lot of guys try to score on chicks,” said Kathleen.
Several of the sunbathers pointed to the inaccessibility of the beach.
“You have to get down here to see it,” Ken, a senior in engineering at Cal Poly. Only his face was covered — with a thick black beard and mustache.
He thought the authorities should question people who have thrown rocks and yelled insults at nude bathers. He said this has occurred several times since he began coming to the beach two months ago.
To get to the cove a steep dirt path must be traversed. Most of the nude sunbathers congregate at the southern end of the beach.
For the past two days, the authorities have been “assessing” the situation about 200 feet above the southern end of the beach.
Tait stressed “at the present time” no violations of the law have been seen.
Officials suggested that publicity about the beach would only bring “attention to onlookers” and possible law enforcement problems.
The 1972 State Supreme Court decision resulted from the 1970 arrest of Chad Smith for sleeping naked on a beach.
In his opinion Justice Stanley Mosk said, “…we cannot attribute to the legislature a belief that persons found to be sunbathing in the nude on an isolated beach ‘require constant police surveillance’ to prevent them from committing such ‘crime against society.’”
The court held “that in absence of additional conduct intentionally directing attention to his genitals for sexual purposes, petitioner (Smith) who simply sunbathed in the nude on an isolated beach did not ‘lewdly’ expose his private parts, within meaning of statute proscribing indecent exposure, and was thus entitled to the relief.”
Pierce indicated his feeling that the beach was not isolated because of cars traveling above on Avila Cave Landing Road.
Tait said one option would be to pass an emergency ordinance prohibiting nudity on county beaches.
Last year in Santa Barbara hundreds of nude bathers were arrested but many of the cases were thrown out of court, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press. A reporter for that newspaper said nude sunbathers can be found on many of the county’s beaches.
As the county officials took their pictures, several of the naked sunbathers said they might draw up a petition to save their “mellow beach.”
Others said if nudity was prevented at Pirate’s Cove they would go to several other sites in the county where nudity is not uncommon.
When asked where these other spots are, one young woman said, “I can’t tell you that.”

The property became a part of the County Parks system this week. County officials did not make a field trip to the bluffs before The Board of Supervisors accepted title to the 27-acre parcel.

Pirate's Cove became known as a nude beach in the early 1970s.

Pirate’s Cove became known as a nude beach in the early 1970s. ©The Tribune/Thom Halls 6-24-1976

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