Pirate's Cove nude beach joins SLO County's park system

Pirate's Cove in Avila Beach.
Pirate's Cove in Avila Beach. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

After decades of informal public use, the Pirate's Cove area of Avila Beach is now part of San Luis Obispo County’s park system.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors accepted title of a 27-acre parcel that includes the county’s only clothing-optional beach at Pirate's Cove and the historic Cave Landing area.

Acquisition of the property allows the county to begin a $1.4 million upgrade of the site as a recreational facility. Planned improvements include a new parking lot, restrooms, a trail connecting Pirate's Cove to Shell Beach and improved access trails to the beach.

Curtis Black, county parks director, said the improvements must still go through the permitting process, including the California Coastal Commission. That process could take 18 months or longer.

The improvements will be paid for by a series of grants from three state agencies. Once installed, the park will cost $42,500 a year to maintain.

The county has been working to create a park at Pirate's Cove since 1999, when the owners of the property, San Miguelito Partners, offered the land to the county. In 2008, the county purchased a hillside lot adjacent to Pirates Cove and dedicated it as open space.

The parcel sits between the dismantled Avila Beach oil tank farm and Shell Beach. Its most popular feature is the secluded, 3,100-foot-long beach at Pirate's Cove that is used as a clothing-optional area.

The property also includes a series of informal trails that lead to sea caves and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. The area is also rich in Native American artifacts.

Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Pirate's Cove, said he supports continuing current uses of the property. Several people encouraged county parks officials to include plenty of public input when designing the improvements.

Use of the trail between Pirate's Cove and Shell Beach will be limited to hikers. However, supervisors and several speakers said they would like to see the trail eventually improved to a road that could be used as an emergency evacuation route in the event of a radiation release from the nearby Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.