Of all the sites I’ve visited since I got hooked on HALS one of the most intriguing is China Camp in San Rafael. One of my three nephews from Australia, Shaun Robinson, was visiting and we needed something to do, so I suggested a visit to China Camp. My Mom had told me about it years before. She said, “You’ll love it.” Of course, she was right.
China Camp is located on Point San Pedro in Marin County on the San Francisco Bay. It is a 1512-acre State Park. During the California gold rush Chinese immigrants came to California from Canton on the delta of the Pearl River where their families had been shrimp fisherman. After the gold rush some of these men became laborers at the McNear family brick plant in San Rafael in 1868. From there they started shrimp fishing and ultimately created a community.
The workers developed special bag nets and emptied their catch onto junks and sampans – traditional flat bottomed fishing boats. They sold the shrimp to local restaurants for food and flavoring and made the tails and exoskeletons into chicken feed.
During the 1880s nearly 500 people lived at China Camp. Several buildings and structures remain today including the 1895 general store originally owned by Quan Hung Quock and now operated by his grandson Frank Quan. The shrimp drying shed, a 305 foot pier, a shrimp drying platform, two floating houses, a shrimp grinding shed and several residences also remain.
Ultimately the Chinese were driven out by a combination of discriminatory legislation that forbade traditional Chinese fishing techniques, limited the fishing season, prohibited the export of dried shrimp and restricted the size of the catch, and deterioration of the bay waters.
China Camp has a good, but not great interpretive display. Some of the exhibits are exposed to the elements, in the open air buildings, and have some deterioration, but the content is well-presented and interesting.
China Camp is part of a larger state park with open space and hiking trails. It is right on the water and a wonderful place for a day trip or picnicking. Its scenic landscape attracts artists. The day we visited a group of painters were there, which added to the ambiance.