China Camp State Park
San Rafael CA 94901
About This Place
In the days after the Gold Rush, many Chinese fishermen immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area and continued to fish, often in little encampments made up of people from the same Chinese village. Many of these places were eventually torn down and built over, but the isolated shrimp-fishing village in eastern Marin County survived precisely because it was so cut off from the rest of civilization. China Camp is now the only remaining village and a unique state park keeping a near-forgotten part of American and Chinese history alive.
Parking and public transportation at China Camp
There are several lots at China Camp that are run by the state and are pay-per-vehicle. In addition, there are many free parking turnouts that are popular with hikers and bikers. But to get to the main areas -- the old camp and other popular sites among them -- the lots are the best choice. Busses can get you somewhat close but it would still be quite a hike to the main site. Even though the site is on the water there is no ferry service.
Best and worst time go to China Camp
Because parking is somewhat limited it can get rather crowded on weekends and during the summer. Late weekday afternoons also bring out many cyclists on the road or out on the trails.
Admission to China Camp
Paying for parking and hiking the trails are the main admission prices. Camping, group camping and certain picnic areas are reserveable for fees as well. One-night RV camping in certain areas is fee-based as well.
Must see/do At China Camp
Obviously the park's namesake, the old shrimp-fishing village, is a must-see. There are many old structures from before the turn of the 20th century that still survive and help tell this little-known story of American and Chinese history. There is a small but informative museum as well. A small gift shop and snack bar are generally open on weekends.
Other places to visit near China Camp
Marin County Park McNear's Beach is not far from China Camp, although it is not as historic it is a great place to relax. Downtown San Rafael has plenty of great places to eat, including local favorite Sol Food, long-time destination San Rafael Joe's and the wonderful Theresa and Johnny's. Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh owns Terrapin Crossroads, which features live music as well as food.
Insider tip for visitors to China Camp
At the village there are always more bees than I expect. I think it's because of all the shrimping, so there are a lot of smells and things that attract bees, even if humans can't pick it up. My memories of the place from when I was a kid involve lots of bees, and that's still true. It's not a crazy swarm or anything, there are just plenty of bees, so be prepared. In addition, most people just go to the shrimp-fishing village. But a not-too-strenuous hike from the main parking lot goes to an overlook where you can see all the way to San Francisco or far north. It's a great place to explore.
Author's bio: Alex Drude is a Bay Area native. The bees don't bother him because he doesn't bother them. Follow his sports and travel musings on Twitter @Alex_Drude and on Facebook.