Indian Head Beach, Fort Ord Dunes, Monterey County

Why enjoy Fort Ord Dunes in the nude?

Since reverting to civilian use, the beaches of Fort Ord have developed a clothing-optional tradition. Now coming under control of the California State Park System, they are subject to the 1979 "Cahill Policy," named after former director Russell Cahill. Although the law says that "No person shall appear nude while in any unit [of the California State Park system] except in authorized areas set aside for that purpose by the Department," the Cahill Policy says that, in a traditionally nude area, no one will be cited for nudity unless a complaint has been registered that day and the person is asked to dress and refuses. This policy was re-affirmed in a 1988 appellate court ruling which held that a tradition of nude use without interference by the Department constitutes de facto authorization. To the best of our knowledge, no one has ever filed a complaint about nudity at Indian Head Beach, in the Fort Ord Dunes, south of the southern boundary of the pre-existing Marina State Beach.

So by enjoying Indian Head Beach in the nude, not only do you have a pleasant day at the beach, you also establish and preserve a tradition of nude use which will ensure that the beach remains clothing-optional for future visitors.

How to get there?

From San Jose, take U.S. 101 South to Prunedale, then take CA 156 west to join CA 1 southbound at Castroville. Approaching Marina, exit at "Reservation Rd.", turning left (east, away from the ocean). At the second signal turn right (south) onto Reservation Rd. (do not go straight onto Beach), then in ½ mile turn right again onto Lake Dr. which you follow another ½ mile until it crosses under the freeway.

From Monterey, go north on CA 1 to Marina and exit at Del Monte Avenue. Go through the first traffic signal, and turn left (west) at the next signal, which is Palm Avenue. Go across the tracks and take the second left onto Lake Dr.; follow it under the freeway.

On Lake Dr., once under the freeway, park straight ahead on the right side of the road. You'll see the sign announcing Marina Beach State Park. The obvious path uphill is your route. Take heart, and a deep breath--the climb is as steep as it looks, up and over the sand dune, staying on the trail. On the beach, turn left and walk about ½ mile south to get to the nude area. It extends south beyond the former site of Fort Ord's Stillwell Hall (named for "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell of WWII fame) which was dismantled and removed about 2003 as cliff erosion undermined the building.

The other reference is the cliff face. Most are compressed sand, and bare. Approximately one half-mile south, you'll see one portion of the cliff face covered with iceplant. When you get that far, feel free to go nude. From car to site is about a 20-minute walk, longer if one is not used to extremely soft sand.


Two printed maps available from the California State Automobile Association (CSAA) show everything you need to follow the directions listed above:

What to expect?

There are no facilities, even at the parking area. (Okay, there's one trash can.) Sensible camp rules apply. Additionally, each person should have at least one quart of water. (The climate is coastal desert: it might be cool and foggy or hot and dry.) The beach itself has not seen any significant human activity since the 1920's. It's a living beach habitat, what beaches looked like before mankind tried to "manage" them. (Those of you who are naturalists as well as naturists might want to see this before the State gets the idea to manage this one, as well.) Pack out what you pack in; consider bringing a trash bag or a plastic grocery bag, and packing out a little extra man-made stuff (most of which drifted in from that minority of boaters who haven't figured out that plastic floats.)

Because of the size and proximity of the cliffs, the earliest the sun will hit the beach is around three hours after local sunrise. The park is open from 8:00 AM until sunset, and free (so far). Surf fishermen tend to show up after 4:00 PM and on weekends, but usually don't go more than a mile from the entrance. The park Rangers run a patrol vehicle down the beach (tide permitting) around 4:30 PM or so, and will happily take any litter that you have picked up. Windy days bring out hang-gliders and para-gliders, but they're more interested in staying aloft than gawking or complaining!

The former Stillwell Hall was removed in 2003, along with the concrete blocks and boulders that were acting protecting it from beach erosion. Now, with the boulders gone, there is a really long stretch of beach, about 1.5 miles, on which you can walk, run, or just find a spot and be a lizard. A State Park parking lot occupies the former building site.

Wading and swimming are definitely not recommended for anyone but a strong ocean swimmer or a damned fool. Besides the odd rogue wave, the beach slope is very steep, about a 30% grade. The surf line hides a steeper drop-off and a very strong undertow. (Even 200 pounders have been knocked over.) Additionally, the water temperature hovers between 55 and 58° Fahrenheit. Without a wet-suit, you won't be swimming for very long, anyway.

While the beach is a hike to reach, you'll be glad you did. Sea lion and sea otter sightings are a daily affair, as are a wide variety of sea and shore birds. The park's rangers are completely tolerant; and rarely come by other than around 4:30 PM. During the week, you'll most likely be the only one there.


The name "Indian Head Beach" appears on a topographic map of Monterey, California, BLM Edition 1996, 1:100,000 scale metric, prepared by the U.S> Geologic Survey.

Listing courtesy of Bay Area Naturists
P.O. Box 23781
San Jose CA 95153-3781