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.