If you’re tired of beaches with powdery soft sand (how boring!), have we got a coastal destination for you. Head to the part of the San Francisco Bay shoreline the locals call Tepco Beach, where you’ll find a much more unusual terrain: a vast stretch of old, broken ceramic dishes.
The reason for this geographical oddity is actually quite sad: From 1930 to 1968, there was a business called the Technical Porcelain and Chinaware Company that operated in El Cerrito, California. It was started by an Italian immigrant named John Pagliero. And Tepco used this beach, at the southwesternmost point of Point Isabel in Richmond, as a dumping ground for any chipped, damaged or otherwise unusable dishes.
No doubt, it was unrestricted dumping like this that led Richard Nixon’s administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. But while today people tend to be much more environmentally aware, many are still captivated by this beach and the treasures they can find there.
In fact, there’s a whole Facebook page for Tepco Beach devotees and the cool artifacts people find there, although it’s not very active.
A cult following of collectors search out vintage dishes from the long-defunct company, and some people comb the beach looking for dishes that are still in one piece to add to their collections.
But the majority of treasure hunters here just search through the broken shards and handles for cool artifacts. The place has become a tourist destination where damaged, tossed-out dishes are considered valuable relics to bring home. You’re considered especially lucky if you find a fragment that has the Tepco logo on it.
A typical Facebook post lists the specifics of the treasure hunter’s haul, like this one:
“I brought my four kids (ages 2, 4, 7 and 9), and we spent several exciting hours finding broken treasures, crabs hiding under plates and skipping rocks and plates,” wrote Julie Herson in local parenting publication 501 Families.
You may be wondering, “But isn’t it dangerous to walk on broken porcelain?” In fact, Herson’s husband brought up this point.
“I agree, it does seem a bit crazy to bring little kids to such a place,” Herson said. “But I figured most of the broken pieces’ edges would be rounded off and smooth since they’d been there for 80 years. I’m happy to say, I was generally correct.”
She admitted that there were still some sharp edges, so visitors should keep this in mind and not go barefoot!
Here’s what the beach looked like at low tide last year, according to local cyclist @DavidGallagher.
Finally a lowish tide at Tepco Beach #bikeride pic.twitter.com/azi2Tjh1Rm
— David Gallagher (@DavidGallagher) January 10, 2022
People in the know also hunt through the broken shards for tiny Buddha heads, which have nothing to do with the Tepco company. In 2006, an artist and college professor named Casey O’Connor made hundreds of them in his garage, then dropped them in a spot near the Iowa Hill Bridge Road in Colfax, California, for locals and tourists to find. The porcelain bits got into the American River and some of them washed up on Tepco Beach.
Government officials thought they were ancient artifacts when they confiscated them from a gift shop nearby. The gift shop’s owner had paid a treasure hunter good money for the heads, which he’d found while searching for gold. O’Connor quickly fessed up that they were not, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the treasure hunters who continue to look for the quarter-sized heads amidst the pottery rubble.