Skin in the Game: Jersey’s Only Nude Beach

At Sandy Hook’s Gunnison Beach, nudity comes naturally (even for a pair of novices).

Illustration by Greg Clarke

As you sit in your clothes reading this magazine on a humid summer day, I’d like to bring your attention to the surprising fact that public nudity is legal in New Jersey. Even über-liberal New York only allows toplessness.

Though prudish local ordinances override our state’s otherwise lax approach to public nudity, there’s one special place where you can let it all hang out: Gunnison Beach at Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area. The peninsula’s naturalist tradition goes back to its days as a military base, when soldiers would strip off their uniforms and skinny dip behind Battery Gunnison.

Here’s my checklist for a successful day at Gunnison Beach: generous sunscreen (apply the first layer stark naked in your bathroom at home); comfortable walking shoes; and a cooler on wheels packed with water and a picnic lunch. Let me repeat the part about the comfortable walking shoes: It’s a long, hot walk from the parking lot to the beach—too long for bare feet or flip-flops.

Plan the trip with your closest friends, your partner, or, for a truly Zen experience, by yourself. For my first time, I went with my best friend. As we trekked from our car to the beach (still clothed), a man who had parked nearby followed along at a similar pace. Inevitably, we started chatting.

“You can see New York pretty well from here,” said our new friend. Indeed, the Manhattan skyline loomed in the distance, towering over Brooklyn’s warehouses. “I come here for the other view,” he added. “There’s some pretty good male specimens here.”

“Oh, really?” I replied, unsure how to proceed. “Good to know.”

After a long stretch of sand and silence, we neared our destination. A wooden sign read, “Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers.” Our new friend halted in his tracks, dropped his shorts and stepped delicately out, one foot at a time. Oddly, he kept his T-shirt on as he headed, bottomless, for the beach.

We followed—still in our bathing suits. We found a spot on the crowded beach, spread our towels and settled in, discreetly surveying our surroundings. Other than the lifeguards, it appeared we were the only beachgoers still clothed. Most of our neighbors were mature men, many intent on tanning their every nook and cranny. But we also noticed groups of young friends, couples and even some naked babies.

If you need a little liquid courage to strip off your clothes among strangers, take note: BYO alcohol is allowed at Gunnison Beach (no glass, obviously). We came prepared with a homemade cocktail of muddled mint, ginger ale, clear Puerto Rican rum and plenty of ice, plus neon straws for sipping.

First, we took off our tops. We glanced around. No one seemed to notice. The naked crowd was laughing, drinking and dancing to reggae music. Embracing the moment, we removed our bottoms.

Nakedness felt perfectly normal. We stood up, giggling, and waved to our naked neighbors. Several offered an encouraging thumbs up.

The sparkling ocean beckoned. Blending with the crowd, we strolled to the water’s edge, exhilarated.

Joanna Buffum is a former associate editor of New Jersey Monthly. A native of Morristown, she lives in Western Maine.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Gunnison Beach

    Great Article. Have questions about the beach has a forum where you can get them answered.

  2. Scott Alexander

    Naturists use nudity as a tool in living a life of respect for self, for others, and for the environment. Naturalists just study nature or philosophies built around concepts of “natural order”.

  3. Yvonne Stecky

    hey joanna…great last name to reinforce your deep, thought provoking article…also, what gender / species is your best friend…

  4. Rick Mc

    Joanna, I came across your article on Gunnison Nude Beach. I myself have been going there since 1990 when I was still in my teens. Over the years I have developed many nudist friends. Think of it this way. If your on a clothed beach it is more difficult to approach others and strike up a conversation than it is to approach people at a nudist beach believe it or not. There is a weird standoffish vibe at a clothed beach verses the very open n friendly attitude of nudists. I guess you can compare it to a open n friendly hippish outlook. I have found that true nudist aren’t there to stare at other nudists. When you are with true nudists you don’t even realize your nude after a while. Don’t get me wrong your first time is quite a stimulating overload ofj all senses. Over the years it becomes a lifestyle just like skiing in the winter months. I hope you enjoyed your experience and go to Gunnison again next time your in New Jersey. And don’t forget to turn on some friends to the nudist experience. Last, I’m also from Morristown. RMc