Despite the fortification of buildings, streets, and public squares, Rio de Janeiro's beaches remain widely regarded as democratic spaces of social diversity and accessibility. Our study revisits the question of Rio's “democratic” beachfronts, based on local interviews, field observations, official reports, and newspaper accounts. We focus on historical and contemporary perceptions of planning, privatization, and public-order programs on the city's southern seaside. Institutional discourses have justified increasing regulation to combat threats of disorder and insecurity. While residents value the relative openness of beachfronts, they also acknowledge issues of safety, social segmentation, and subtle forms of bias. The public generally applauds recent “Shock of Order” policing and commercial revitalization, although critics lament the loss of traditional freedoms for informal beach vendors and casual sports. These paradoxes highlight enduring tensions between social order and hierarchy on one hand, and democratic rights and equality on the other.