Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sand, Sun and a Lot of Skin

A nude beach? In Palm Beach County?

Well, yes, there was. It wasn’t a very big beach, but rumor has it that up to 3,000 sun worshipers sometimes bathed au natural on the sand there any given weekend.

Air Force Beach, as it was known then, was beloved by quite a few in northern Palm Beach County in those days and not all were sunbathers. Wikipedia says that “it was called Air Force Beach from the early 1940s to 1956 because it was used by Palm Beach Air Force personnel stationed at Morrison Air Field (where Palm Beach International is now located).

The nudity went on a bit longer, though, and I know we were calling the area Air Force Beach in the 1970s. Local historian Eliot Kleinberg posted on that the nude beach was active into the 1980s. I remember my dad coming home from a full day of fishing complaining that his fishing buddy, Cecil, insisted on sailing really, really, really slow past Air Force Beach, binoculars in hand. At ten years of age, I didn’t see why that was such a problem and no one would explain it.

Picture from Florida State Parks
 If you’d like to partake of the nude sunbathing, don’t bother running down to Air Force Beach these days. The land was bought by John D. MacArthur who donated it in the 1970s for the creation of “John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.”  Mr. MacArthur enjoyed communing with nature himself and once  invited Walt Disney to join him there in the 1960s. Holy Mickey Mouse!  I’ll never watch reruns of “The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” quite the same way again.

 The State Park opened to the public in 1989 about seven years after the State of Florida declined to continue protecting the nude beach. Guides there can take you on kayak tours of prehistoric Indian middens (a mound of shells and assorted other things that indicate humans were once living there) and point out the ruins of Dr. James Munyon’s epic Hygeia Hotel on Munyon Island. (The hotel burned to the ground in 1915. The tale of Dr. Munyon is too long to throw in here, but I’ll write something on him soon. Con man or genius? It’s still up for debate.) 

A wooden boardwalk over the Lake Worth Lagoon with a tree in the foreground.
Boardwalk to Beach from Florida State Parks
 John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is a beautiful and unusual park which provides nesting grounds for rare turtles, beautiful endangered birds, and a reef right off the shore accessible for snorkelers who don’t have boats.

 Visitors should be aware of the wild life, though. On a visit there in the late 1990s, I stood on the beach watching in awe as bull sharks and tarpon herded bait fish toward the shore for a meal. Of course, I didn’t have a camera. The tarpon were leaping in the air over the bait fish. It was incredible.

 I ended up arguing with a tourist who thought it was quite all right to stand in the middle of the swarming bait fish with her daughter next to her and baby granddaughter in her arms. Her quote? “Oh, they don’t want to eat ME. They want to eat the little fish!” It took me yelling at her that sharks aren’t known for their eyesight and one could easily take a bite out of her by mistake before she finally stepped out of the water onto the safety of the sand.

 Located at the northern tip of Singer Island, it’s worth the trip even if you have to wear a bathing suit. (561) 624-6950. 10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive, North Palm Beach, Florida 33408.

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge
Flip flop picture from Microsoft. org.


  1. Ah, the 80's. I went to France in the 80's and went to a topless beach. Hey, it was a once in a lifetime event! I couldn't resist. When in Rome...

    1. Ohhh, you are a braver woman than I, Gunga Din! Of course, in the '80s, I would have at least thought about it before running back to the dacquiri bar on the clothed side of the beach...

  2. Too au natural for me I’m afraid ;-)
    Off subject here, but would you mind adding your url to your Google plus profile so you’ll be easier to locate?
    You must be so excited about your book release!!! Do keep us posted.

    1. Hi Debra! Thanks for the comment. I thought the url WAS on the profile so I'll definitely go take a look and fix it.

      I'm excited, nervous and whole bunch of other things. :)

  3. So, can you still go nude there on the beach?

    1. I'm afraid not, Anon. It's a State Park now.