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Oso Flaco Lake



Don Gaspar de Portola was traveling south with his Spanish land expedition in 1769 when his soldiers killed what he described as un oso flaco or a lean bear. Why they referred to a 10-foot-tall, 375-pound grizzly bear as lean is somewhat curious. California’s grizzlies have been extinct since 1922, but Oso Flaco Lake remains home to herons, rails, grebes, and a wide range of other birds, especially during winter migrations.

From the entrance parking lot, it’s about a five-minute walk to the lake where a boardwalk leads out across the shallow waters. The boardwalk is an excellent place for parents to take their kids fishing. Small bass and other fish can be caught. But it can be just as much fun to watch the fog drift in over the tules and the flat, reflective lake waters.

Oso Flaco Lake is near the beach, and sand from the constantly moving dunes has reached right to the edge of the lake. Work has been done to try and keep them from moving into the lake, and some of it has succeeded. What helps keep everything intact is the fact that only foot traffic is allowed in the park.


Directions: From Highway 1, about 3 miles north of Guadalupe, drive 3 miles west on Oso Flaco Road. It dead-ends at the park entrance.

Activities: Hiking, fishing.

Facilities: None.

Dates: Open daily for day use only.

Fees: There is a small fee for each vehicle to enter and park. Walk-ins are free.

Closest town: Arroyo Grande, about 10 miles.


For more information: There is no office in the park, so contact Oceano Dunes SVRA, 576 Camino Mercado, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420. For recorded information, phone (805) 473-7223 or (805) 489-2684.


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Pismo State Beach



Besides the hustle and bustle of people moving in and out of restaurants, surf shops, motels, and tourist gift shops in the city of Pismo Beach, the adjacent Pismo State Beach offers a unique experience for California’s millions of beach-goers. The long stretch of beach has sand firm enough to support motor vehicles, so thousands of people each year drive their street-legal cars on the beach. On nearly any given day there are hundreds of passenger cars, motorcycles, truck-towed mobile homes, and motorhomes driving up and down the beach, all 8 miles of it. The experience can be a little disconcerting at first, especially when driving in something other than a four-wheel drive vehicle past the park entrance kiosk and then down the ramp and onto the beach sand.

It’s always wise to drive on the wet sand just above the breaking waves, especially during high tide when vehicles are forced higher up the beach toward what is generally the looser sand. Get too high up the beach and two-wheel drive vehicles are more likely to get stuck. The speed limit is 15 m.p.h. along the beach, and there’s at least one place where a small stream runs down the beach and empties into the ocean. But the stream, Arroyo Grande Creek, at least during summer when it’s not particularly high, is easy enough to cross. Winter storms can create a much different scenario.

The beach provides great surf fishing, always a popular sport, and good sand castle-building opportunities for kids, but digging for the famed Pismo clam has been a favorite pastime for generations of beachgoers. The only problem is that today, the clam population is nowhere near what it was in past decades. Check the current fishing regulations for the open season and license needs. There’s a minimum size limit of 4.5 inches, and it can often be challenging to find clams large enough to keep. For those not interested in digging in the sand searching for dinner, it’s only a short drive off the beach and back into town where a plethora of restaurants awaits.


Directions: Pismo State Beach is located on Highway 1 and US 101, 12 miles south of San Luis Obispo and about 2 miles south of the town of Pismo Beach.

Activities: Fishing, surfing, swimming, beachcombing, camping, digging for clams.

Facilities: Besides the open camping on Pismo State Beach, two other nearby state park campgrounds away from the beach offer less primitive campsites. Oceano Campground, located at 555 Pier Avenue in nearby Oceano offers 80 campsites, while North Beach Campground (a primary monarch butterfly overwintering site), just off Highway 1 in Pismo Beach has just over 100 campsites. Reservations are generally required at Oceano and North Beach campgrounds during summer. Phone (800) 444-7275 for reservations.

Fees: There is a small day-use and a moderate camping fee per vehicle.

Closest town: Pismo Beach and Grover City.


For more information: Pismo State Beach, Ranger Staton, 555 Pier Avenue, Oceano, CA 93445. Phone (805) 489-1869 or (805) 489-2684.


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Point Lobos

Scuba Diving



Much of Point Lobos State Reserve can only be enjoyed by those willing to don a mask and scuba gear. More than half of the park is located where an incredibly rich marine environment has created one of California’s most diverse and beautiful underwater areas. Because both warm and cold ocean waters meet here, species that thrive in both habitats live in the reserve. Like the terrestrial portion of Point Lobos, the underwater portion of the park is protected, so the taking of any plant or animal is not allowed. In order to protect the underwater park, a limited number of divers is allowed each day. While reservations aren’t required, it’s likely most divers will be disappointed if they arrive without them. Dive reservations are best made on the Point Lobos State Reserve Web site:




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Native Americans probably first visited Angel Island and Alcatraz as early as 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, but only Angel Island offered any sheltering trees or freshwater. The Ohlone Indians (Ohlone was a Miwok Indian word meaning “western people”), who inhabited much of the area around and to the south of San Francisco Bay, probably gathered bird eggs from the desolate rock, but there was never any attempt to establish a permanent settlement. A few Indians may have been banished to the island as punishment for tribal infractions, and others might have tried to hide on the desolate island in order to escape mission life.

Permanent settlement of the island didn’t occur until the U.S. Army began building gun emplacements in the mid-nineteenth century. The U.S. military saw the island as a crucial part of the overall defense of San Francisco Bay and thus, California. The army hauled dirt from Angel Island during the construction of its initial gun emplacements, but their initial attempts to grow simple grass and clover on the island’s poor soil failed.

The army continued adding soil, and within a few years better-adapted native plants, such as coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), and blackberries (Rubus ursinus) finally gained footholds in the soil. During the 1860s, workers blasted pits in the rock and filled them with soil, getting trees and other larger vegetation to grow, with beautiful formal gardens finally being maintained by the 1880s. By the early 1900s, the land around the island’s military buildings had been transformed into a multicolored garden.

San Francisco’s importance to the Union was aptly illustrated by the platforms for 155 guns that were constructed on the island, including 6-, 8-, and 10-inch Solumbiad cannons mounted on wooden carriages. The army also placed some of the Civil War’s largest guns on the island, including the 15-inch Rodman that could fire its 440-pound shot 3 miles. The island’s guns fired only one shot during the Civil War and that was at a British ship that had initially failed to identify itself.

The Civil War started what would become Alcatraz’s most well-known use—it began serving as a prison for army and navy officers who refused to swear allegiance to the Union. They were followed by Southern sympathizers in California who unwisely spoke too loudly about their loyalties to the Confederate States. Something as simple as a drunken toast to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, landed people in what was quickly gaining a reputation as a harsh prison. Military prisoners broke rock all day while dragging around 24-pound iron balls chained to their legs, meant to discourage escape attempts. Civil War prisoners were followed by Spanish American War prisoners in 1898. Its continued and growing use as a prison prompted additional construction of concrete cellblocks and other facilities.

The military finally abandoned Alcatraz as a prison in 1933, no longer willing to pay the high costs of maintaining and supplying the island. It was then that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover agreed to take over the prison. It met his need for a “super-prison,” capable of handling the most dangerous and infamous criminals that his agents were capturing. The following year it was formally named United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz.

Some of its first “super-prisoners” included Al “Scarface” Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly, although it was always the prison administration’s policy to never announce, confirm, or deny which prisoners were on the “Rock.” Such secrecy, coupled with horror stories from released prisoners (one called it the “island of the living dead”), added both mystery and a sense of fear, further enhancing Alcatraz’s reputation as the “hardest” prison in the country. Others, including both guards and prisoners, disagreed with that harsh assessment.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy finally closed the prison on March 21, 1963, ending its 29 years as a federal prison. Kennedy closed it for the same reason as the army: the aged and crumbling facility was much too costly to maintain. Plans to transform the abandoned prison into a national park were interrupted by the Native American Indian occupation that began in November 1969 and didn’t end until June 1971. While the occupation brought much needed attention to Native American issues, much of the old prison’s historic fabric was damaged or destroyed during the occupation.

The National Park Service again assumed control of the island and it became part of the new Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The first public tours began in 1973.

Alcatraz isn’t all military and prison history. The island is a refuge for a wide variety of plants and wildlife. Its tidepools are man-made, established on jagged piles of rock, granite, brick, concrete, and other debris that has been dumped on the island’s shore for the more than 100 years. Anemones, sea stars, and other common tidepool animals thrive in the waters around the island. On land, animals range from California slender salamanders (Batrachoseps attenautus) and deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) to about two dozen species of birds that are commonly seen. They include brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), and red-throated loons (Gavia stellata).


Directions: The most popular route to Alcatraz is by ferry from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The ticket booth is located at Pier 41, near where The Embarcadero merges into Jefferson Street.

Activities: Hiking, tours.

Facilities: Gift shop.

Dates: Open daily. Times and frequency of tours vary seasonally.

Fees: There is a fee for the ferry crossing, which includes entry onto Alcatraz Island. From Apr. through Oct. it is advisable to purchase tickets well in advance. Phone (415) 705-5555.

Closest town: San Francisco.

For more information: Blue & Gold Fleet for ferry times and prices, phone (415) 705-5444.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area Headquarters, Fort Mason, Building 201, San Francisco, CA 94123. Phone (415) 705-1042 or (415) 556-0560


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Angel Island

San Francisco Bay



Coast Miwok Indians first used Angel Island, paddling their tule reed boats across the short channel from the Tiburon mainland and establishing villages near today’s Ayala Cove, where the West, North, and East garrisons are located. The island’s deer, harbor seals, and sea lions, along with ducks, quail, and sea birds provided plenty of food, especially when combined with acorns and various wild roots and bulbs.

In 1775, Spanish lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala sailed into San Francisco Bay and mapped its islands and shoreline, naming the island Isla de Los Angeles. Little was done with the island, but the Indians were soon pulled off and moved into the nearby missions. In 1837 the governor of Mexican-controlled California granted most of Angel Island to Antonio Maria Osio for a cattle ranch, with a portion retained for a potential coastal defense post. In 1846, with the United States in control of California, Osio lost most of his land.

Often known as the Ellis Island of the West, Angel Island served the United States as a strategic military post for every conflict since the Civil War. In 1864, the army began constructing Camp Reynolds and its defensive cannon emplacements. As the military build-up continued through the end of the nineteenth century, a quarantine station was also established at Ayala Cove. The station fumigated foreign ships entering the port and held immigrants in isolation who were thought to be carrying contagious diseases.

In 1899 the army maintained a detention camp for U.S. veterans who had either contracted or been exposed to contagious diseases. As the war wound down, troops returning from the Philippines during 1901 passed through the island’s facilities during their transition from soldier to civilian life.

The Immigration Station in today’s North Garrison was in operation in 1910 and handled primarily Asian immigrants. The heartfelt poems and the names of many who passed through the facility can still be seen, written on the inside walls of some of the buildings. This same time period marked the island’s beginning as a major army recruit receiving and processing center, primarily in the East Garrison. It included a 600-man barracks and other support facilities. At the beginning of World War I the island added a detention center for “enemy aliens,” mostly German citizens who were unfortunate enough to be in U.S. ports when war broke out.

Angel Island was the country’s only overseas processing and training facility prior to the beginning of World War II. It served the only U.S. overseas bases at the time, which were located in the Philippines, Hawaii, and in the Panama Canal Zone. During World War II, portions of Angel Island served as prisoner of war camps for Japanese prisoners. It also served as a major defense post, with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights set up on the top of the mountain. The U.S. military ended most of its uses for the island following the processing of returning GIs after Japan’s surrender. Then in the mid-1950s the island was seen as an ideal Nike missile site. This was also the same time that efforts were being made to make the island a public park. The missile site was deactivated in 1962.

Today, many of the original military and immigration buildings remain and the island is ringed by a paved trail that provides for a great bike ride. Bikes can either be brought over on the ferries or rented from an island concessionaire. There is also a trail to the top of Mount Livermore. With the summit 750 feet above the bay, the mountaintop views of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and the City of San Francisco are awe-inspiring on clear, fogless days. Even on days when the fog layers itself across parts of the bay the view is worth the hike.

While ferry service from either San Francisco or Tiburon is the most common way to get to Angel Island, anyone with a boat can use the park’s docks and slips. Overnight boat mooring is allowed, but passengers must remain on their boats after the park’s day-use hours end.


Directions: Ferry service or private boat is the only way to reach Angel Island. There are numerous daily departures of Blue and Gold Fleet ferries from San Francisco’s Pier 39 and Pier 41, located on The Embarcadero, near Fisherman’s Wharf. Ferry service is also available from Tiburon.

Facilities: Visitor center, bookstore, bike trail, historic buildings.

Dates: Open daily. For a recorded schedule, phone (415) 773-1188.

Fees: There is a ferry crossing fee, which includes entry onto Angel Island.

Closest town: San Francisco and Tiburon.


For more information: Angel Island State Park, PO Box 318, Tiburon, CA 94920. Phone (415) 435-1915 or (415) 705-5555.


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The city of Arcata, a close neighbor of Eureka, located on the northern end of Humboldt Bay, is home to numerous wildlife viewing areas. Even though 90 percent of the original wetlands around Humboldt Bay have been filled, the remaining 10 percent play host to over 425 bird species. While waterfowl are common, especially during the fall migration, it’s equally reasonable to expect that a gray jay, ruffed grouse, rock sandpiper, or even a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) might end up on the far side of a pair of binoculars or spotting scope.

The Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center is the perfect starting place to gather information about the surrounding wetlands, view numerous exhibits about the wildlife, learn about special efforts to restore the wetlands, or maybe join a guided nature walk. Just outside the interpretive center there is a trail that meanders for 4.5 miles through 154 acres of restored marsh. This entire area was originally part of the wetland, but it was filled and turned into an industrial and timber processing area. Even today, old and rotted wood pilings mark the locations of buildings and warehouses from an earlier era. Much of the marsh has been restored in what began as a test project designed to naturally treat up to 5 million gallons of the city’s raw sewage each day.

The incoming sewage circulates through a series of ponds, marshes, chlorinating facilities, and an aquaculture project, allowing algae, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms attached to plant roots to filter and transform the solids. All this may sound pretty ugly, but thousands of birds have found new homes in this restored wetland. Mallards, cinnamon teal (Anas cyanoptera), golden crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla), palm warblers (Dendroica palmarum), and Thayer’s gulls (Larus thayeri) are only a small sampling of the birds that can be found in the area. For some, black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), American bitterns (Botaurus lentiginosus), and an occasional green heron (Butorides striatus) provide more interesting sights.

While Arcata’s South G Street runs along the east side of the marshes, South I Street bisects a portion of the area and ends at a parking lot where the only concrete boat launch on the north end of Humboldt Bay is located.

Besides being a birder’s paradise, the Arcata Marsh is also a perfect place for the amateur or professional botanist. Trails lead past areas thick with shrubs and trees such as big leaf maples (Acer macrophyllum), coast willow (Salix hookeriana), transplanted Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), red alder (Alnus rubra), wax myrtle (Myrica californica), and coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis), one of the more common shrubs found around the fringes of the marsh. Add bulrush (Scirpus acutus), broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia), marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides), and pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) to the list of plants that create this rich, biotic plant community.

Scattered around the trail that winds throughout the marsh are interpretive signs that help tell the story of this successful restoration. There are also bird blinds for anyone wishing to simply sit and wait for the birds to come to them.


Directions: Arcata Marsh Visitor Center is located on South G Street in Arcata. From US 101, take the Samoa Boulevard (Highway 255) Exit west. Turn left (south) onto South G Street and drive about 0.5 mile to the center, which is on the right.

Activities: Walks and information.

Facilities: Exhibits, trails.

Dates: Arcata Marsh is open daily. Visitor center is generally open in the afternoon.

Fees: None, but there is a jar for donations.

Closest town: Arcata.

For more information: Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center, 569 South G Street, Arcata, CA 95521. Phone (707) 826-2359.


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Bodega Bay



While the Miwok and Pomo Indians were the first to settle this part of California’s coast, the town of Bay was founded by Firmin Candelot in the late 1800s. The name wasn’t expanded to Bodega Bay until 1941. In 1843, Captain Stephen Smith claimed much of the surrounding land, naming it Rancho Bodega, probably after Lt. Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra who had sailed his ship Sonoma into the south end of the bay in 1775. Smith constructed the first steam-powered sawmill in California and the bay served him well as a port for shipping his lumber products to distant markets.

Even today, Bodega Bay remains relatively undeveloped along much of its shoreline to which Highway 1 clings. A few old houses, some dilapidated fishing piers, and falling-down buildings long past their prime, especially along the southern portion of the bay, are the most visually intriguing. There are a few newer structures and they begin to increase in numbers and concentrations as Highway 1 continues north toward the harbor area.

Bodega Bay Harbor, with its small, picturesque community on its northeastern shore, has the largest and busiest harbor between San Francisco and Fort Bragg to the north. The community offers numerous hotels and restaurants and there are plenty of opportunities to try your hand at fishing. Besides the state campground at its north end, the bay is surrounded by mostly regional or county parklands including Westside Regional Park (phone 707-875-3540) and Doran Beach Regional Park (phone 707-875-3540), which lies at the end of the long spit marking the south shoreline of Bodega Harbor. There are numerous private facilities surrounding the harbor, including boat launching areas and ocean sport fishing opportunities such as with Wil’s Fishing Adventure (phone 707-875-2323) or The Boathouse (phone 707-875-3495). The fishing trips can be especially productive, and depending upon the season, can bring in salmon, halibut, rockcod, lingcod, albacore, and even Dungeness crab.

For a change of pace in overnight accommodations, the Chanslor Guest Ranch & Stables (phone 707-875-9008) in Bodega Bay offers comfortable rooms with mountain and ocean views, along with horseback rides through the hills and along the beach. There’s a special ride into a wetlands preserve that is easy enough for younger children (about age 8) and offers a close look at a different habitat.

Directions: Bodega Bay is located along Highway 1, about 70 miles north of San Francisco.

Activities: Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, beachcombing, camping.

Facilities: Hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, fishing and boating supplies, campgrounds.

For more information: Sonoma Coast Visitors Center, 575 Coast Highway 1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923. Phone (707) 875-3422.


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California Academy of Sciences--

Steinhart Aquaium &

Morrison Planetarium



The California Academy of Sciences was formed in 1853 by a group of naturalists concerned about what the gold rush was doing to California’s natural resources. They used the academy as a forum for exchanging, documenting, and storing scientific information. They collected, identified, and classified plant and animal specimens. The 1906 earthquake destroyed all of their work, but they immediately started over. The academy moved to its current location in 1916, where they opened the first of several buildings to the public.

Today the academy maintains a natural history museum, the Steinhart Aquarium, and a planetarium in a single large complex, plus eight scientific research departments in the field of natural history. It boasts one of the 10 largest natural history museums in the world. The academy’s collections are worldwide in scope, as the nearly 1.5 million visitors each year quickly discover.

The Natural History Museum’s [Fig. 34(2)] 140 million-year-old, 30-foot dinosaur may dominate many imaginations, but the exhibits that fill the remainder of the museum are equally commanding. Visit an African waterhole and see a mountain gorilla, zebra, and giraffe in re-creations of their natural habitats. In another hall, a 1,350-pound quartz crystal and a 465-pound amethyst-lined geode highlight more than 1,000 gem and mineral specimens. Exhibits on giant bugs, plate tectonics, earthquakes, birds, and butterflies fill other rooms of the museum.

The Steinhart Aquarium [Fig. 34(2)] allows visitors to explore the underwater realm of the world’s rivers, lakes, and oceans. Nearly 600 species of fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and a few penguins fill the exhibits at the aquarium. Learn how fish have adapted to waters as different as San Francisco Bay and an African lake, a Himalayan stream and California’s kelp forests. Visitors can stand in the center of a 100,000-gallon circular tank filled with thousands of fast-swimming ocean fish and feel the oddly dizzying effect it causes. And there’s a coral reef that showcases the brilliant-colored fish that inhabit tropical ocean waters. There is also a shark tank and a place where blackfooted penguins waddle around, as only penguins can do.

The Morrison Planetarium features sky shows that realistically simulate the night sky. The shows can re-create views of the different stars and constellations observed from the Northern and Southern hemispheres, giving everyone an opportunity to see planets, stars, and celestial events, such as eclipses, that are not always visible. The shows are changed periodically, often featuring upcoming, popular heavenly events.


Directions: The California Academy of Sciences is located in Golden Gate Park, so it’s best to obtain a city street map, as there are many possible approaches. The Academy is located next to the Music Concourse and is accessible from 8th Avenue and Fulton Street and 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way.

Facilities: Gift shop, café, exhibits, public programs.

Dates: Open daily.

Fees: There is a general admission fee, plus an additional fee for the Planetarium’s Sky Shows.


For more information: California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118. Phone (415) 750-7145.



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China Camp

State Park



This is one of those out-of-the-way places that few people except Bay Area locals ever get far enough off the US 101 freeway to see. It sits on the southwest edge of San Pablo Bay and in addition to its fascinating and sad history, it offers more than 1,600 acres of undeveloped hills, one of which offers a 360-degree view of the bay and several north bay counties. On clear days, of which there are many because of the protecting hills that generally keep out the fog that invades neighboring San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo, Angel Island, and Mount Tamalpais are also visible.

There are 15 miles of trails in the park and many offer short walks to salt marshes, mud flats, meadows, and up the hills into oak woodlands and a small redwood grove. The park protects the largest, undisturbed watershed in this very developed portion of Marin County.

China Camp State Park is home to numerous animals. Deer, fox, and squirrels live and feed on the hillsides, while large populations of shorebirds search the wetlands for food. The park is also popular for fishing. Striped bass (Morone saxatilis) and white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) can both be caught when the tide is in.

This land passed through the hands of the Coast Miwok Indians when the Spanish established their missions here in the nineteenth century. Timoteo Murphy acquired Rancho San Pedro, Santa Margarita y las Gallinas as a land grant. Following his death, the property was subdivided and in 1868 John and George McNear purchased the land now occupied by the park. The McNears grazed cattle, manufactured bricks, and quarried basalt, shipping their products by barge throughout the area.

The park gained its name from the Chinese fishermen who settled here, creating more than 20 villages along the bay. They came to California from the maritime province of Kwantung, China, looking for the golden riches that every immigrant expected during the mid-nineteenth century. On San Pablo Bay the Chinese began harvesting grass shrimp, a business that they were so successful and profitable in that non-Chinese fishermen pushed for passage of legislation that, when passed in 1911, outlawed the efficient Chinese bag nets.

During their prosperous early years, the Chinese dried the majority of their catches on the hillsides behind the camps and shipped most to either China or to other Chinese communities in the United States. Within China Camp State Park, remnants of some of the early buildings remain and a small museum exhibit explains the history of the Chinese here.

Directions: From US 101 in San Rafael, take the North San Pedro Road Exit and drive east for 5 miles until the road enters the park.

Activities: Bird-watching, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, camping. There are 30 walk-in campsites. Reservations are advised during summer. Phone (800) 444-7275.

Dates: Open daily.

Fees: There are day use and camping fees.

For more information: China Camp State Park, Route 1, Box 244, San Rafael, CA 94901. Phone (415) 456-0766.


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San Francisco



San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most fascinating and colorful areas of the city, and also one of the most popular among visitors. A wonderful and eclectic collection of shops and restaurants sit side-by-side, with merchandise spilling out onto the sidewalks and the aroma of wonderful food wafting through the air. Street-level shops often have narrow interior stairways leading downstairs to cluttered rooms filled with boxes and shelves stocked with everything from fine china to silk neckties. Some of the small restaurants feature street-side windows that allow passers-by to view the food being prepared and roasted, which often includes such things as whole chickens with their heads still intact.

Numerous Chinese communities popped up throughout California as the Chinese began coming here in 1848; 20,000 arrived during the following four years. Most initially headed for the gold fields and, for a variety of reasons, many returned to the cities and towns to set up businesses that often were more profitable than searching for gold. Primarily for protection against the severe discrimination that existed during this time, the Chinese generally lived in small communities that excluded outsiders.

Discrimination was real. California congressmen rallied for passage of an 1882 federal law banning Chinese immigration because the low-paid coolies were seen as a threat to American workers. It was the first time such a law had been passed, and it wasn’t repealed until 1943. Similar local laws kept the Chinese out of many of the prime gold-mining areas in California’s Mother Lode. Local citizens harassed, beat, and murdered the Chinese, often viewing them as unfair competition. To an

observant writer of the time: “The white men have vast advantages in the possession of all the capital, the language, the mechanical skill, the government, and the exclusive right of claiming and preempting farms on the Federal domain. Under these

circumstances, if they cannot compete with the Chinaman, then for the welfare of California, they should give way before the stronger race.”

In 1885, about 25,000 people called San Francisco’s Chinatown home, but much of the community was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the fires that resulted. The area was rebuilt and today is one of San Francisco’s great places to wander and explore. The area is easy to spot, with its pagoda-style roofs, lantern-shaped lampposts, and the joss houses (Chinese temples).


Directions: The main part of Chinatown is bounded by Stockton Street, Broadway, Kearny and Bush streets, with Grant Avenue serving as its main street.

Activities: Sight-seeing, shopping, eating.

Facilities: Shops, restaurants.

Dates: Open year-round.


For more information: San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, 201 Third Street, Suite 900, San Francisco, CA 94103. Phone (415) 391-2000.



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Publishing Syndicate

PO Box 607 Orangevale CA 95662

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