More than a century ago, a tiny alcove on San Pablo Bay near San Rafael was a bustling shrimping village. Hundreds of people from the Guangdong province of China had settled in the area, and were busy catching and selling shrimp.
Of course, that didn’t last for long, but amazingly, a lot of the remnants of the actual village are still around. They form the historical showpiece of China Camp State Park, an interesting – and endangered – state park in eastern Marin County. The park is very popular for trail runners and mountain bikers but also a prime hiking spot too. Families with small kids and others who don’t want to do a rigorous lengthy hike can drive into the park in numerous locations and park near the village itself, which features a small diner-like establishment (chowder, seafood sandwiches, beer and ice cream, all for sale), a beach with actual sand, a pier and some great stories from yesteryear.
I made my first trip to the 1,500-acre park last weekend and was curious how the hiking would be. Bottom line, you can give yourself a good workout, or you can wander around. But whichever route you go, get ready for gorgeous waterfront views nearly the whole way. At one point about 700 feet high, it was possible to make out three different Bay Area bridges – the Richmond-San Rafael, the Bay Bridge and the peaks of the Golden Gate. Other than two deer and several ducks, there was little wildlife to be found, a reflection more of the colder weather than the terrain. Our group did about nine and a half miles in about four hours of hiking including a stop for lunch at the village and its beach.
P.S. The park is among those that are being closed by the state in the next few months. Judging from the dozens and dozens of cars parked right outside the open gates this weekend, clearly the closing won’t have an impact on park usage. But all those parked cars just outside the paid gates mean something else too.
P.P.S. If you’re a John Wayne and Lauren Bacall fan, and who isn’t, the film “Blood Alley” was filmed at China Camp. Watch the clip below to see plenty of shots of the village, which was supposed to be a fishing camp in China.
“Where the seas run red with danger!!!” – I love that line, for some reason.