Federal and State Park Lands
There is no federal law against nudity. Congress has left that decision to the states, who all have addressed the issue differently. Therefore, local county laws will take precedence when the question of nudity relates to federal lands, such as federal parks, beaches, and other facilities. New York, Colorado, Maine, Ohio, and Texas are unique in that they each have laws expressly allowing women to go topless in any location where men can do so legally.
Naturists encounter rangers and deputies all the time on state beaches, federal land, hiking trails and at remote hot springs. Some are friendly and seek to prevent user conflict by making sure we are respectful of those who do not wish to see our nudity, while others will call the local police to issue a citation. It varies from state to state, forest to forest, and trail to trail. Sometimes a person will receive contradictory advice depending on to whom you are speaking.
Example: In 2006, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca determined that since there was no law prohibiting nudity in the Angeles National Forest, he would direct his deputies not to enforce the county nudity law there unless there was lewd behavior. To this day, all nude hikers in that forest area are recommended to carry a copy of Baca’s letter in case another forest ranger or sheriff’s deputy is unaware of his finding.
The California Code Section 314-318.6 states “Every person who willfully and lewdly 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 is guilty of a felony.”
Each County and city may also have passed its own nudity law. These laws supersede state law when it comes time for enforcement.
In reality. the degree of enforcement of state and local nudity laws are unevenly based on manpower considerations, and with what is practical for everyone concerned at the moment. Many deputies and rangers simply issue warnings, or tell the nudist to get dressed, or else they direct the nude person to a different less-populated location. Always carry proper ID as law enforcement always has permission to request it. Our best advice is to always cooperate and do what the deputy in front of you asks you to do.
Applicable Court Cases
How nudity laws are enforced also depends on how the federal, state, and local courts have interpreted the law. Some examples of important cases in California and elsewhere: RH
1972, In re Smith: “Mere nudity does not constitute a form of sexual activity.” (Nude is not lewd.)
1979, Pryor v. Municipal Court: 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… by a person who knows or should know of the presence of persons who may be offended by the conduct.”
1989 California vs. Eric John Bost: “…Simple beach nudity is not indecent exposure… Fair notice must be given before a citation is issued.”
2010, Nunez v Holder: “…a sunbather who removes all his clothes to tan on an unoccupied public beach and wakes to find himself surrounded by offended beachgoers has done nothing either lewd or depraved and thus is neither in violation… nor guilty of a morally turpitudinous act. — 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.
1991, Barnes v. Glen Theatre: A plurality of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have the right to ban public nudity and doing so does not violate the First Amendment’s freedom of expression clause. Justice Anton Scalia reasoned "that moral opposition to nudity supplies a rational basis for its prohibition."
1992, New York vs. Santorelli: The NY State Court of Appeals ruled, “Apart from entrenched cultural expectations, there is really no objective reason why the exposure of female breasts should be considered any more offensive than the exposure of the male counterparts…There is no evidence to indicate that the non-lewd exposure of the female breast is in any way harmful to the public's health or well-being. Accordingly, the gender-based classification established by Penal Law § 245.01 violates appellants' equal protection rights.”
2019, Free the Nipple vs. City of Fort Collins: The United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the city ordinance prohibiting the “public exposure of a female’s breast “likely violated the Equal Protection Clause, of the US Constitution” and therefore the city may not enforce its ordinance.”
Local County and City Nudity Ordinances
Here is a rundown of the nudity ordinances passed by several prominent counties in California. This is not a complete list. Some counties and cities do not have their own ordinances, in which case the state law applies. Most of these county laws were passed before many of the applicable court cases (above) were ruled, which is why application of the law varies so widely despite the wording of the ordinance:
Santa Barbara County (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, § 1; Ord. No. 2564, § 1)
Sec. 24-15. Nudity.
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.
Los Angeles County Nudity Ordinance (1976)
Ordinance 17.12.360, "Nudity and Disrobing": 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.
San Diego County Nudity Ordinance (1980)
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.
San Francisco Nudity Ordinance (2012)
…A person may not expose his or her genitals, perineum, or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet, Gf-plaza, or public right-of-way as defined in Section 2.4.4(t) of the Public Works Code. or in any transit vehicle, station, platform, or government operated transit system in the City and County of San Francisco.
(c) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to (l) any person underage of five years or (2) any permitted parade, fair, or festival held under a City or other government issued parade permit. Notwithstanding this exemption. all persons participating in or attending permitted parades or festivals shall comply with Section 1071.1(b) (2) of the San Francisco Police Code.