Essential San Francisco Camping: Why We Love China Camp
China Camp has been one of our longtime favorite destinations, since our very first bike camping trip there on New Years Eve a handful of years ago. It really is a destination full of surprises, and it’s serene Bay views, bands of wild turkey’s, Technicolor salt marshes, and exceedingly charming fishing village fill us with wonder and new discovery with every visit.
China Camp is brimming with natural and cultural history and its location make it an unexpected, yet perfect place for an overnight campout. Perched on an outcropping of rugged land that opens up to the tranquil shores of San Pablo Bay (which connect directly to SF Bay), it seems a world apart from the polished communities of San Rafael and the rest of southern Marin. It’s like taking a trip back in time to an abundant Bay Area past.
Our Most Recent China Camp Adventure
A few weeks we had the good fortune of arranging a team bike camping adventure for our friends at Hipcamp (read more about them below). Greeted by a brilliant day, our troupe of 6 first time bike campers (+2 guides) arrived at the Pedal Inn, with a spirit of adventure. After plenty of Dynamo Doughnuts and Four Barrel Coffee, we packed up our panniers, loaded up the bikes, and hit the road.
We were definitely a fun sight to behold: 8 colorfully loaded bikes, rolling in a pack through the bike lanes, bells chiming. Traveling through the city we made our way out of the Mission, onto the Wiggle, and outward to Golden Gate Park and the Presidio (see the adventure map for more details). As a mixed group of longtime residents and new arrivals, it was awesome sharing perspectives on SF neighborhoods, parks, and landmarks, while discovering those cool details that are so easy to miss. One of the most memorable stops was at the lookout point above Baker Beach, where there was were some of the clearest views of the Pacific, Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge imaginable. After navigating the bridge we descended down along the waterfront into Sausalito for lunch at Sartaj, one of our favorite local Indian restaurants.
Fueled up for the rest of the ride, we followed the Bay inlets to Larkspur and it’s awesome new bike tunnel (part of Marin’s extensive rail-to-trail bike path network) into San Rafael. After teaming up on a quick beer and grillables stop at Andy’s Local Market, we finished the short ride into the park. The sunset was magical as we rolled into camp. And we even saw a band of wild turkeys roaming the side of the road as we passed!
We found our creek side site, tucked into a private corner of the park under some grand oaks and madrones. After stringing up some LED lights and getting the music playing, we built up a blazing campfire, and started cooking. After some refreshing beers and some spicy spring rolls prepared campside, we served up some loaded bahn mi sandwiches, with marinated pork and tofu grilled right over the campfire.
Energized after a full dinner feast, we ended going on a spirited night hike high in the hills above camp to take in the night sky and the moonlight bay below. After rambling down the hill we cozied up by the campfire and wound down the night with some stories and games.
After a refreshing night sleep we woke up to coffee and granola, topped with fresh berries and yogurt to fill up for the days adventure. On the ride back we got to explore the salt marshes and historical shrimp fishing village that gives China Camp it’s name. Nearly 500 people, originally from Canton, China, lived in the village starting in the 1880’s. In its heyday, there were three general stores, a marine supply store and a barbershop! All of its charm is still preserved and the village now houses a history museum and tiny café that serves up ice cream, pie, and hot cider. We also explored the pier with a restored junk boat and the pristine beach the adjoins the village. It’s definitely a must see for history lovers.
After a history lesson and sunshine at the village we took the leisurely ride back to Larkspur, where we ate at Off the Grid, a gourmet food truck gathering before boarding the ferry home to SF. The ferry ride took us right past San Quentin, Angel Island, and Alcatraz before we rolled off the boat at the ferry building. Then it was a flat ride back along the Embarcadero and past ATT park to the Pedal Inn.
All in all, it was about 40 miles of active, yet accessible riding and making some incredible memories with new friends. It was the perfect weekend getaway. Learn more about China Camp, see the ride map, and check out the next Pedal Inn adventure there below.
Hipcamp's aim is to making camping more fun and easy by streamlining the way we make camping reservations. Their beautiful website has details on all the California camping spots for all levels of adventure. Plus, they share great insights on what to see, the history of each place, and notes on their recent adventures. We're also looking forward to the possibilities of their private land camping initiative for future adventures! Check them out at hipcamp.com.