Guide to Laws About Beaches in California

Beachgoer

What is legal and illegal to do at the beach in California?

Each beach has its own rules regarding such things as whether you can bring dogs, or food, or alcohol, etc.

Many beaches are managed by the California Department of Parks & Recreation, so be sure to check the website for the rules. Others are managed by the adjacent city, so check the city’s website for what you should know.

To see rules for beaches in the Los Angeles area, see here.

Is nudity allowed at California beaches?

In general, nudity is not allowed at California beaches. It is considered public indecency, which is a misdemeanor offense under California Penal Code Section 314. However, at a few beaches, nudity is tolerated, but it is not officially allowed.

In particular, Black’s Beach in San Diego is understood to be a clothing-optional nude beach. It is governed by the “Cahill Policy,” which states that, unless a private citizen makes a complaint regarding a lewd act or lewd conduct, beachgoers are allowed to be nude in certain designated areas. But, if a complaint is filed, a park authority or ranger may then ask all nudists to clothe for 24 hours.

See more laws about nudity and sex in California.

Am I allowed to go any beach I want?

Throughout California, the public has the right to be on any wet sand beach, generally up to the edge of the wet sand (there may be a few exceptions for national security, like near military bases, etc.). Also many dry sand beaches (though not all) are designated for public access.1CA Constitution, Article X, Section 4; CA Coastal Act 

This public access is enforced by the California Coastal Commission.

Great! How can I access all this beach?

There are designated public access ways (technically “easements”) to the beach throughout the state. However, some of these are famously blocked by nearby homeowners who put up signs like “private property” or “no trespassing.” Any such obstacles to the designated public access ways are illegal, and could result in a fine of up to $11,250/day.2CA Const. Art X, Sec 4. See also Carstens v. California Coastal Comm. (1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 277; CA Coastal Act; SB 861

Contact the California Coastal Commission if you believe someone is blocking access to the beach.

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