Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, NJ
While there are beaches scattered all over the country where nude sunbathers are common, there are surprisingly few officially authorized clothing-optional beaches in the United States. Gunnison Beach on Sandy Hook is one of those few! Located on a long peninsula that juts out into the New York harbor, you can actually see the Manhattan Skyline on a really clear day. We’ve visited perhaps a half-dozen times over the years, reaching the conclusion that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to find there. What is certain is that it will be a colorful and eclectic crowd where the distraction of people-watching makes it difficult to get through more than even a few pages of the most gripping novel. Having visited numerous nude beaches in Europe, as well as several in California, I can say with confidence this is nothing like any of those. Be it the loud guy with his blaring radio, the reveling Boomers partying in the surf, or the ever-changing parade of people with elaborate body art or genital piercings, I don’t think we’ve ever come home from Gunnison without a good story to tell. Since it’s the only legal nude beach in the greater NYC metropolitan area, (Is there anything left of Fire Island?) it has to be all things to all people. And that it is!
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GET THERE? You really need a car to get to Gunnison. Despite the view of the Manhattan skyline, there’s no direct route from the city to the shore that doesn’t involve a tunnel under the Hudson River, the New Jersey Turnpike, The Garden State Parkway, then a series of local roads that will take you to the entrance of Gateway National Recreation Area. There are many beaches on Sandy Hook, but Gunnison is the only one authorized for nude use. Once you get there, the clothing-optional area stretches for nearly a mile. On a nice summer day, the closest parking lot will often be full by 9:00 or 10:00 am, extending what is already a long walk from the restrooms to the waterfront. A good friend found out the hard way that if there’s any kind of security patrol in the parking lots, it missed the mark in keeping his car from being broken into. Don’t leave valuables in your car!
WHAT’S THE FAMILY VIBE? This is a tough call, keeping in mind that this is a public beach, not a private resort. I’ve read that Gunnison Beach regulars have worked to “keep an eye on things” to make sure people don’t behave in a manner that will threaten the future nude status, but even still, we never took our own kids. We’ve only see a few children there over the years, which might actually say more about Americans’ perception of nude recreation as an adult activity than the actual decorum at the beach itself. If you belong to Friends of Gunnison Beach, or you can offer more information on that point, please do so in the comment section below.
HOW ARE THE ACCOMMODATIONS? What accommodations? Even once you enter the National Park, you still have several miles to drive until you reach Gunnison. We’ve known people to stay in a hotel a bit farther down the shore, though we hear that tends to be pricey for accommodations that are just… okay. There are nice restrooms and showers near the entrance to the beach, though again, it’s a long, hot walk from there until you reach the sign indicating that nudity is permitted. (It’s most definitely not permitted in the parking lot or in the restroom area.) As you might find at most beaches on the Jersey shore, it’s not unusual to see a few entrepreneurs selling ice-cream and snacks from rolling carts, though you’ll pay a premium for the seaside service. Most people carry-in, carry out.
ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW? While I’m personally not a huge fan of Gunnison Beach, or for that matter, most any beach on the Jersey Shore, it is the beach we have, and I’m actually amazed that it even exists right in the middle of a sprawling national park. I think that, by itself, does quite a lot to legitimize the very concept of social nudity. At this writing, I have yet to visit Haulover Beach in Florida or Wreck Beach in Vancouver, so I can only compare it to Black’s Beach near San Diego or some of the smaller beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area, most of which are not official, but simply allow nude users to mix in among the textiles. Gunnison Beach feels noisy and crowded by comparison, once again noting that when it’s practically the only option for the entire Northeast, it’s going to draw a wide array of humans with all sorts of different ideas about what a nude beach should be. But even if you decide it’s not the beach you’re looking for, every naturist should visit at least once, if only to check it off the bucket list. Life is short – go run naked in the surf!
Images are from a Google search for Gunnison Beach and assumed to be in the Public Domain. If you find one that’s not, let me know and I will remove it.