Where to Get Naked In San Francisco
It’s a funny thing—the places in the world with the hottest weather are also the most intolerant of nudity. Try flashing a nipple in Latin America and look around for some nods (nods of “you’re about to die”). Show some cheek in the Arab world and see how many friends you make (friends with a penchant for public stoning). Even in Los Angeles there isn’t a single nude beach, although Venice Beach is trying its best to change that (Venice Topless).
Munich Germany, conversely, is filled with clothing-optional parks. Alaskan culture is synonymous with streaking. There’s not much to do in Iceland other than eat pickled herring and skinny dip in the Blue Lagoon.
Here we are in fog-riddled San Francisco. At the beach, at a parade, or on the corner of Castro & 17th, naked bodies are almost as common as Giants caps—and slightly less orange.
There are exceptions. I got cited a couple of years ago for doing naked Acro Yoga in Golden Gate Park. Up came RoboCop, showering my friends and me with shame and disapproval, citing her three daughters at home in the suburbs as relevant to the situation in some way, and totally reeking of sexual repression and utter rage. Then she called for backup, which came in the form of another cop car then two park rangers on horses, making for a very tacky debacle. I’ll forever keep the citation as a souvenir. The offense was written on the ticket as “EXPOSED GENITALS.”
If you don’t want to see other people naked, stay at home. Also avoid locker rooms, TV, and contact with other people in general. Perhaps explore time travel to Victorian-era England, or just move to Salt Lake City.
If you’re ready to get nekkid and join the party, look for me out there. There are only two rules: Don’t be a creep, and don’t do Downward Dog until you put your pants back on. Here are the best spots.
In sharp contrast to beaches on the East Coast (pancake flat with tepid water and Cape Cod windows peering at you from every angle) and Southern California (jam-packed with seemingly every single human being on the planet, LAPD helicopters above and red-faced lifeguards screaming at people through bullhorns, the highway roaring in the background the whole while), Baker Beach is an immersion into the wild, a jaw-dropping retreat from city life. In your left eye is the sun, and in your right is in the only man-made thing visible at all: The Golden Gate Bridge. The mile-long beach is something of a Kinsey Scale, with screaming children on the south end and naked people smoking pot and playing volleyball on the north end. It’s all flanked by gorgeous eroding sandstone covered in native plants, completely obscuring the road above. Beware of: shirt-cockers.
The Western Addition neighborhood used to be a wonderland of Victorian architecture. In the 1970s. a phenomenon called Urban Renewal swept through and demolished it all, replacing the triangular, ornamented homes with brutalist concrete structures recalling the glory of Soviet Russia. Duck into one non-descript door in the Japantown complex and you’ve arrived at San Francisco’s most famous Japanese-style spa. Get naked, get a massage, get relaxing in the dark, elegant space replete with sauna, steam room, hot pool, cold plunge pool, buckets of salt you can rub all over yourself, and abundant slices of cucumber. This is a no-talking space: if someone is harshing your mellow with obnoxious conversation, you can bang the giant shut-the-fuck-up gong. Once you’re in there, you can stay inside until you’re ready to go get some sushi out on Fillmore Street. There are men days and women days, so check the website before you go. Beware of: cruising.
Does Kabuki have a two-hour wait list to get in? Or are you sick of getting cruised? Directly across the street is this Korean-style spa. Its location in a strip mall next to Kentucky Fried Chicken foreshadows its interior aesthetic: bright and utilitarian with a shitty TV set in the locker room. But compared to Kabuki, the hots are hotter, the cold pool is colder, and you’ll rarely be there with more than a few other people. They’re also famous for brutal massage sessions and a particular treatment that will have dead skin cells coming off your body in alarming, thick folds. Beware of: could-give-a-flying-fuck staff members.
Where better to get naked than in Hunter’s Point?! This extremely odd place was built just a few years ago, and yes, it’s on the outskirts of the infamous Bayview district. Somehow it works: a Russian-style water wonderland in a modern 5-story building complete with every conceivable spa amenity, a movie room, a restaurant, a full bar, and two roof decks overlooking the most unexpectedly serene view of the Bay you’ll ever see. What this place has that the Asian spas don’t: the tradition of the venik, which are certain tree branches that are used to whack your body into submission—I mean, increase circulation. Also, very funny hats. And did I mention it’s totally co-ed? Beware of: how you get there. Also beware of: absurdly sexy Russians who look like they might have you murdered if they catch you gawking at them in the locker room.
These are pictures from the Archimedes Banya website…so they have a sense of humor
Harbin Hot Springs
This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Harbin, even though it’s two hours away. In a valley on the far side of Mount Saint Helena (the giant mountain looming over Napa Valley), this institution is a mecca of naked people and water—the hottest pools you’ll ever barely be able to dip your foot into, the coldest plunge pools that will ever squeeze your blood vessels to arctic near-death, beautiful people who can explain everything about the chakra system, and something like 7,000 acres of hiking space. There’s an excellent restaurant, an amazing market, a huge communal kitchen, movies, a hidden tea hut, and frequent yoga in the Temple that looks like the architectural lovechild of Medieval Scotland and Frank Lloyd Wright on LSD. This is also the birthplace of Watsu, which is shiatsu massage in water. Harbin is not for the faint of heart, so be ready when you get here. Entry available for 6-hours, 24-hours, or multi days—camping is free when you’re inside, and there’s a stupefying array of lodging options as well. Beware of: enlightened high-vibration love-people admiring your tits.
Editor’s Note: Harbin Hot Springs burnt down in 2015 but is being rebuilt. Here’s an ode to Harbin.