Mark Haskell Smith Takes it All Off in His New Book About Nudism


From Juggalos to Plushies to professional potheads, Mark Haskell Smith is attracted to subcultures, the more extreme, the better. “I love fanatics,” says the 57-year-old Eagle Rock-based writer. After publishing 2012’s Heart of Dankness, a nonfiction journey into the world of competitive cannabis (just replace Joseph Conrad’s Marlow with Maui Wowie), Smith wanted to explore a topic far more taboo than toking. “I asked myself, ‘What other groups of fanatics are also quasi-legal and in trouble with the police?’ I thought of nudists.” For his seventh book, Smith bares all in Naked at Lunch (Grove Press), due out this month. His yearlong streak through “naturalist” culture finds Smith naked at a Palm Springs retreat, hiking (boots only) in Europe, and partaking of an in-the-buff boat ride off Florida, among other locales. “In Spain there was a children’s camp as part of one place,” says Smith. “I was shocked. They have a totally different point of view over there than we do. Americans are uniquely screwed up.”

Despite L.A.’s libertine reputation, Smith struggled to find havens where the dress code was strictly birthday suit. “There’s a famous place in Topanga,” Smith says, “but they just weren’t welcoming to a single guy.” Smith also notes that nudists are generally an older, desert-dwelling crowd. “Veterans from World War II were exposed to nudist magazines,” he says. “They’re like, ‘I’m going to let my freak flag fly.’ It’s inspiring.” For anyone considering a clothing-optional outing, Smith suggests you bring two things: “Sunscreen and an open mind.”

Mark Haskell Smith’s Top Local Places for “Free Expression”

“When I’m not stuffing my face with things like a pozole-bibimbap-bánh mì,” says Smith, “I look for wacky and artistic civil disobedience.” Here are his fringiest faves:

Nude Yoga
“Join other Los Angeles ‘nudinis’ and flow through some asanas without having to shop at Lululemon. If you can find a nude 420 yoga class, even better.”

“These street closure pedal-party parades create a safe place for Angelenos to express themselves—without motors.”

The Varnish
“After a hard day of wordsmithing and ‘iconoclastilizing,’ I like to let the talented bartenders at the Varnish freely express themselves, so I order a Bartender’s Choice.”