China Camp State Park

Last updated
China Camp
China Camp 3654.jpg
China Camp in 2010
Relief map of California.png
Red pog.svg
Usa edcp relief location map.png
Red pog.svg
Location San Rafael, California
Coordinates 38°0′3″N122°27′41″W / 38.00083°N 122.46139°W / 38.00083; -122.46139
Area75 acres (30 ha)
NRHP reference No. 79000493 [2]
CHISL No.924 [1]
Added to NRHPApril 26, 1979

China Camp State Park is a state park in Marin County, California, surrounding a historic Chinese American shrimp-fishing village and a salt marsh. The park is located in San Rafael, California, on the shore of San Pablo Bay. It is known for its hiking and mountain biking trails, scenic views, and open spaces. The 1,514-acre (613 ha) park was established in 1976. [3] A 75-acre (30 ha) district, including the shrimping village and a prehistoric shell midden, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 for having state-level significance in archaeology, architecture, commerce, settlement, and social history. [4] China Camp State Park, along with the Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve, is part of the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. [5]



Pre-Chinese settlement

Prior to the 1700s, the area now containing the park was inhabited by indigenous Coast Miwok people, who lived by hunting, harvesting acorns from the local oaks, and fishing and gathering seafood from the bay. After the 1775 arrival of the Spanish, who founded the nearby Mission San Rafael Arcángel, the Miwok were largely wiped out within 100 years.

In 1844, the Spanish granted much of the land that now comprises the park to Timothy Murphy, an Irish settler who became mayor (alcalde) of San Rafael. Following the United States takeover of California in 1846, Murphy lost most of his land and subsequently died, and the land came into the possession of John and George McNear, two Sonoma County businessmen who established a large dairy ranch and other businesses, such as a quarry and brickyard, on the site. These businesses employed a number of Chinese immigrants, who began to settle in the area.

Chinese settlement

The Chinese shrimp fishing village in 2010 China Camp 247 N San Pedro Rd San Rafael CA 3-21-2010 4-39-54 PM.JPG
The Chinese shrimp fishing village in 2010

By the 1880s, Chinese Americans had established a village at China Camp of approximately 500 people, many of whom were originally from Canton, China. They supported themselves by shrimp fishing in San Pablo Bay and/or working at local businesses. In its heyday, the village had three general stores, a marine supply store and a barber shop. China Camp was one of approximately 26 such shrimp-fishing villages established along the coast by Chinese Americans, many of whom had moved from San Francisco to escape racial prejudice and persecution. For a brief time following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, China Camp's population increased to 10,000 as residents of San Francisco's Chinatown fled from the destruction.

In the late 1800s, the Chinese American fishermen of China Camp would catch 3 million pounds of shrimp per year, much of which was exported to China and Hawaii. However, the economy of the village was severely harmed by the passage of laws in the early 1900s that outlawed the export of shrimp, closed the height of the shrimping season, and prohibited shrimping with bag nets which were the main method of catching shrimp. As a result, the population of China Camp greatly declined, leaving only one family — the Quans — carrying on shrimp fishing.

In 1914, a new net, the trawl, was invented, which made it possible for the Quans to resume their commercial shrimp fishing enterprise and process 5,000 pounds of shrimp per day. They also operated other businesses such as a general store, a boat rental, and a cafe, which served both villagers and visitors who came to the area for outdoor recreation.

Establishment of state park

By the 1960s, most of the surrounding area including the future park lands was owned or controlled by developer Chinn Ho. The shrimp population of San Pablo Bay had also greatly declined due to water pollution and diversion, although Frank Quan, the grandson of the original Quan patriarch who came to China Camp and the last remaining Quan family member living there, continued to fish, selling most of his catch for bait.

In the early 1970s, Gulf Oil expressed interest in large-scale development of the area, including high-rise condominiums and large commercial areas. Local residents and environmental and conservation groups protested the plan, and as a result, the land was sold for approximately $2.3 million in 1976 to the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation, who in turn sold it to the state of California to create China Camp State Park. Chinn Ho donated the 36-acre site of China Camp village for preservation as a memorial to Chinese American history. The general plan established for the park specifically provided that Frank Quan would be permitted to continue living in the village.

1975 Barbecue murders

The park is also known for the 1975 barbecue murders, in which a local teenager, Marlene Olive, and her boyfriend, Chuck Riley, killed her parents, Jim and Naomi Olive, in the nearby suburban community of Terra Linda and then tried to dispose of the bodies by cremating them in a barbecue pit (firepit) at the park.

2011 proposed closure controversy

In 2011, China Camp State Park was one of 70 parks slated for closure by the state of California in connection with a $22 million state budget cut. Marin County residents voiced concern that if closed, the park could fall into disrepair, including the historic Chinese village which, according to Frank Quan — then 85 years old and the last remaining resident of the village — was the last of the 26 coastal Chinese fishing villages with enough original structures left to preserve. The California state parks department claimed that China Camp State Park was running at a deficit and that it lacked the money to keep it and other parks open.

The nonprofits Marin State Parks Association and Friends of China Camp, along with various other residents and community groups, protested the closure and raised funds to save the park. After an investigation by the Sacramento Bee revealed that the state parks department had an undeclared budget surplus of $54 million, leading to the resignation of the state parks director and the firing of her assistant, an agreement was reached under which China Camp State Park would be jointly funded by the state parks department and the Marin State Park Association, which would also operate the park. Similar agreements were reached for two other Marin County state parks, Olompali State Historic Park and Tomales Bay State Park.

A revised agreement in 2013 returned operation of Olompali and Tomales Bay parks to the state, while the nonprofit organization Friends of China Camp continues to operate China Camp State Park, with no funding from the state.

Frank Quan died August 2016, at age 90, while still living at the park. [6]


The park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including overnight camping, picnic facilities, hiking and biking trails, kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing.

China Camp also celebrates a Chinese-American Heritage Day each August, with lion dances, acrobatic and tai chi demonstrations, arts and crafts sales, activities for children, and a visit by the replica Chinese junk Grace Quan and other historic boats.

The Chinese fishing village at China Camp was used extensively in the filming of the 1955 movie Blood Alley , starring John Wayne as a captain in the United States Merchant Marine who rescues Chinese refugees from Communist China and transports them to British Hong Kong.

In 2018, China Camp was used as a filming location for the Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why . The park has also been used as a filming location for the 2012 HBO television film, Hemingway & Gellhorn . [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Marin County, California County in California, United States

Marin County is located in the northwestern part of the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 252,409. Its county seat is San Rafael. Marin County is across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and is included in the San Francisco–Oakland–Berkeley, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Inverness, California census-designated place in California, United States

Inverness is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located in western Marin County, California. Inverness is located on the southwest shore of Tomales Bay 3.5 miles northwest of Point Reyes Station, at an elevation of 43 feet. In the 2010 census, the population was 1,304. The community is named after Inverness, Scotland and was named by a Scottish landowner.

Novato, California City in California, United States

Novato is a city in northern Marin County, in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, in the U.S. state of California. At the 2010 census, its population was 51,904. Novato is located about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of San Rafael and about 30 miles (48 km) north of San Francisco on U.S. 101. Novato has been called one of the best places to live in the U.S.

Tomales, California census-designated place in California, United States

Tomales is a census-designated place (CDP) on State Route 1 in Marin County, California, United States. The population was 204 at the 2010 census. The largest employer in Tomales is Tomales High School, which has a student body of approximately 190.

Point Reyes National Seashore Park preserve in California, United States

Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre (287.44 km2) park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California. As a national seashore, it is maintained by the US National Park Service as an important nature preserve. Some existing agricultural uses are allowed to continue within the park. Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. All of the park's beaches were listed as the cleanest in the state in 2010.

Coast Miwok Tribe of Native American people

Coast Miwok are an indigenous people that was the second-largest group of Miwok people. Coast Miwok inhabited the general area of modern Marin County and southern Sonoma County in Northern California, from the Golden Gate north to Duncans Point and eastward to Sonoma Creek. Coast Miwok included the Bodega Bay Miwok, from authenticated Miwok villages around Bodega Bay, and the Marin Miwok.

Drakes Bay United States historic place

Drakes Bay is a 4 mi (6.4 km) wide bay named so by U.S. surveyor George Davidson in 1875 along the Point Reyes National Seashore on the coast of northern California in the United States, approximately 30 mi (48 km) northwest of San Francisco at approximately 38 degrees north latitude. The bay is approximately 8 mi (13 km) wide. It is formed on the lee side of the coastal current by Point Reyes. The bay is named after Sir Francis Drake and has long been considered Drake's most likely landing spot on the west coast of North America during his circumnavigation of the world by sea in 1579. An alternative name for this bay is Puerto De Los Reyes.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes (re-ʝes) is a prominent cape and popular Northern California tourist destination on the Pacific coast. It is located in Marin County, and approximately 30 miles (50 km) west-northwest of San Francisco. The term is often applied to the Point Reyes Peninsula, the region bounded by Tomales Bay on the northeast and Bolinas Lagoon on the southeast. The headland is protected as part of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay is a long, narrow inlet of the Pacific Ocean in Marin County in northern California in the United States. It is approximately 15 mi (24 km) long and averages nearly 1.0 mi (1.6 km) wide, effectively separating the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland of Marin County. It is located approximately 30 mi (48 km) northwest of San Francisco. The bay forms the eastern boundary of Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Bay is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy. On its northern end, it opens out onto Bodega Bay, which shelters it from the direct current of the Pacific. The bay is formed along a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault.

Bodega Bay United States historic place

Bodega Bay is a shallow, rocky inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the coast of northern California in the United States. It is approximately 5 mi (8 km) across and is located approximately 40 mi (60 km) northwest of San Francisco and 20 mi (32 km) west of Santa Rosa. The bay straddles the boundary between Sonoma County to the north and Marin County to the south. The bay is a marine habitat used for navigation, recreation, and commercial and sport fishing.

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly known as the Federated Coast Miwok, is a federally recognized American Indian tribe of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians. The tribe was officially restored to federal recognition in 2000 by the U.S. government pursuant to the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act

Tomales Bay State Park

Tomales Bay State Park is a California state park in Marin County, California. It consists of approximately 2,000 acres (8 km²) divided between two areas, one on the west side of Tomales Bay and the other on the east side. The main area, on the west, is part of the Point Reyes peninsula, and adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, which is operated by the U.S. National Park Service. The park is approximately 40 miles (64 km) north of San Francisco.

Olompali State Historic Park 700-acre park in Marin County, California

Olompali State Historic Park is a 700-acre (2.8 km2) California State Park in Marin County, California. It is constituted of the former Rancho Olómpali and was the site of the famed Battle of Olómpali during the Bear Flag Revolt. Rancho Olómpali was purchased by the Californian government in 1977, which turned it into a public park.

Camilo Ynitia was born in 1803, in Marin County, southern Marin, of the Huiman tribe near Sausalito. They likely traveled up to Olompali, where his father had built an adobe brick home. Camilo was a notable leader of the Coast Miwok, a Native American people. Camilo was known as the last Hoipu (headman) of the Miwok community living at Olompali and the Coast Miwoks of the Southern Marin Band. Camilo was also the only Native American on the northern frontier of Alta California to secure and keep a large Mexican-era land grant: In 1843 Governor Manuel Micheltorena of Alta California deeded him the Rancho Olompali, a large tract of land that is between present-day Novato and Petaluma, California. A part of this land now comprises the Olompali State Historic Park.

Novato Creek

Novato Creek is a stream in eastern Marin County, California, United States. It originates in highlands between Red Hill and Mount Burdell above the city of Novato, California, and flows 17 miles (27 km) before emptying into San Pablo Bay south of Petaluma Point.

McNears Beach, California Private recreational facility in California, United States

McNears Beach was the site of a fashionable beach resort established in the 1880s on San Pablo Bay in Marin County, California. It was located 0.5 miles (0.8 km) north-northwest of Point San Pedro, and 3.4 miles (5.4 km) northeast of San Rafael. The United States Board of Geographic Names rejected other, similar names proposed for the site, including McNear, McNear Landing, and McNear's Beach.

Rancho Olompali

Rancho Olompali was a 8,877-acre (35.92 km2) Mexican land grant in present-day Marin County, California given in 1834 by governor Manuel Micheltorena to Camilo Ynitia, son of a Coast Miwok chief. The name Olómpali comes from the Coast Miwok language and likely means southern village or southern people. The land grant is between present-day Novato and Petaluma. A part of this land now comprises the Olompali State Historic Park.

Rancho Nicasio was a Mexican land grant of 56,807 acres (230 km2) granted to the Coast Miwok indigenous people in 1835, located in the present-day Marin County, California, a tract of land that stretched from San Geronimo to Tomales Bay. Today, Nicasio, California is at the heart of this location.

Olompali, California Former settlement in California, United States

Olompali is a former Indian settlement in Marin County, California. It was located 5 miles (8 km) south of Petaluma.

<i>Grace Quan</i>

Grace Quan is a modern reconstruction of a Chinese-American shrimp fishing junk, similar to those in the fleet that operated in San Francisco Bay in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The junk was built in 2003 as a joint project between China Camp State Park in San Rafael, California and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and is now jointly exhibited and operated by both institutions. It functions as a "working sailing museum" to educate the public about a previously forgotten chapter in the history of Chinese-American immigrants to California.


  1. 1 2 "China Camp". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  2. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  3. "California State Park System Statistical Report: Fiscal Year 2009/10" (PDF). California State Parks: 22. Retrieved 2011-10-29.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. Bingham, Jeffrey C. (1978-08-22). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: China Camp". National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-05-10.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. "San Francisco Bay NERR::Reserve Sites". Archived from the original on 2009-09-05. Retrieved 2009-03-25.
  6. "North Bay shrimper kept alive history of California Chinese community". Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Oct 14, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  7. "Camping & Picnicking". Friends of China Camp. Retrieved 2020-11-03.

Coordinates: 37°59′57″N122°29′18″W / 37.99917°N 122.48833°W / 37.99917; -122.48833