Long before the invention of the swimming costume, men and women stripped to bathe, without a second thought. Many continue to do so today. Nothing could be more natural than facing the elements while naked, and there are plenty of wonderful beaches open to anyone ready to throw caution – and everything else – to the wind.
Apart from the lack of swimsuits, genuine nude beaches are no different from ordinary beaches in terms of what happens there. The experience hinges on the idea of being unencumbered by the trappings of the everyday, rather than on anything so tawdry as peeping at other bathers. In fact, the whole thing begins to feel normal extremely quickly – 15 minutes is adequate to adjust – leaving first-time nude bathers to wonder what the big deal was all along. The big deal, it turns out, is the joy of being comfortable with your humanity in the face of public exposure. That universal appeal is probably why publicly accessible nude beaches are common throughout the world, with the exception of Asia, where laws forbidding public nudity have kept beach naturism largely at bay (though plenty of private resort beaches in Thailand allow it and a new initiative in South Korea, for example, is showing local officials' naked ambitions). Still, it may be a while until the East has a strand worthy of this list.
Whether you prefer the solitude of the wild and rugged California coastline or the camaraderie of a busy European resort beach, you only need your birthday suit to go to Mother Nature's party. Here are 18 beaches that stand out in the naked crowd.
Playa Migjorn, Spanish Balearic Islands
Swimwear is optional on most of the beaches that fringe the Spanish island that takes its hippy credentials seriously. A laid-back combination of clad and unclad sunbathers happily share the sweeping five miles of sand bay at Playa Migjorn. A short ferry ride from its bustling neighbor, Ibiza, the beaches of Formentera are legendary among nude beach connoisseurs and Migjorn is the grandfather of them all. Pick your own spot on this stretch of undeveloped shore, or head to the far eastern end to find the Calo des Mort, a picturesque rocky cove, and go skinny-dipping and snorkeling in a crystal sea.
Credit: Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images