Sure You Can Go Naked in San Francisco, But Why Would You?

As city hall tries to regulate nudity, the city itself curbs most would-be naturists

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San Francisco is a wonderful town. It's pretty, has great food and bars, fun people, and nice weather. Nice weather, mind you, not warm weather. That's just one of many elements that automatically curb the portion of the population that insists on walking around naked outside the house. But while that population may be small, it is hearty--enough so that one city supervisor feels moved to enter legislation that requires those who bare all to put a towel down before they sit on a public bench, sauna-style. But he really doesn't need to do that. The city itself provides enough rebuff for those in the buff.

The ordinance, introduced by Supervisor Scott Weiner, can be traced back to a group of guys who call themselves the Naked Guys, reports the Los Angeles Times: "The growing group of naturists is a regular part of the scenery in the Castro, among the best known gay enclaves in the country. They particularly enjoy Jane Warner Plaza, an often sunny spot in this foggy city, carved out of an intersection and dotted with tables and chairs." That last sentence is key. There aren't many spots in the city of intensely varying microclimates where you can get away with less than a hoodie and jeans. Most of the neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks sit under a thick blanket of fog for most of the day, and much of the coast (which is on three sides of the city) gets buffeted by constant wind. In the Castro and the Mission, where residents can frequently tell you from personal experience what the sun looks like, there's just not enough park land for large-scale nudity. (Dolores park may be an exception but it's out of commission right now.) That's a big part of why the Naked Guys find themselves hemmed into a tiny plaza between a streetcar turnaround and busy Market Street.

Of course, there are already plenty of occasions to go nude in San Francisco, should the weather ever permit. The city boasts three separate nude beaches along its seven miles of Pacific coastline. One of its alt-weeklies, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, publishes an annual guide to nude beaches throughout the area. Anybody who's strolled through the Folsom Street Fair can tell you that it boasts more flesh than fabric, and even many of the non-sexy events, like the Bay to Breakers run, have a knack for naturism.

But as a lifestyle choice regular nudity, though technically permitted by law, is just not practical. Beyond the cold, there's the fact that San Francisco, like any big city, can be a pretty grimy place. You certainly wouldn't want to sit on any of the public transit seats without a protective layer, and the healthy sea bird and pigeon population helps coat a lot of the rest of the city with muck you don't want to touch. San Francisco's expensive and hard to park in, so you probably don't have a car and therefore have to carry around your cash, transit pass, extra layer, and reusable coffee cup in a bag (messenger bags are huge in that town) that will almost certainly leave a shoulder rash. And of course, if you're not wearing any clothes, you'll never get on one of those street fashion photo blogs.

So City Hall can legislate towel-sitting if it wants (polite naturists already do it), but for those who fear a looming crackdown on public nudity, the cityscape itself is way ahead of you.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.