SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Did you know you can sleep under the stars in a natural setting at a real campsite in San Francisco's city limits for just $35 a night? Well you can. Sunrise Point Campground at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area opened six new sites this month and we camped out.
You can only camp there for two nights max, which we did. It's fairly accessible from Muni's T light rail line and you don't need to have a Boy/Girl Scout background. Just a tent, a sleeping bag and a sense of adventure for urban camping will do.
The uniqueness of having a natural space within such close proximity of Bayview-Hunters Point, literally on the margins of the city, is quite the juxtaposition, but one that underserved populations, which are often times youth of color, can take advantage of.
“Every single individual in the state of California, in each community, deserves to have access to the great outdoors,” said Lisa Mangat of California State Parks around the time of the new campsites' ribbon-cutting ceremony.
In 2016, San Francisco was selected as one of seven inaugural cities to develop and support initiatives that prioritize access to natural green space, outdoor recreation and learning opportunities for underrepresented children, according to the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department.
"Young people devote an average of 7.5 hours a day to electronic media and spend significantly less time outdoors in 'unstructured playtime' than previous generations," said SF Park and Recreation Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg, citing recent studies.
You'll find the campground to be a surprisingly legitimate experience. You can wake up in the morning with the birds around sunrise, hear a variety of chirps, whistles and calls. By night, notice the crescent moon hanging low among visible stars to a faint hum of traffic along Highway 101, kind of like white noise that lulls you to sleep.
Sounds nice, right? For an idea of where this is, you may have fond memories of the old Candlestick Park. If you walk (no vehicles are allowed onsite) from Muni, you'll notice the 49er's fading signage from their glory days still stands along Carroll Street leading up to the park's north entrance.
The walk may be a bit sketchy for some who aren't accustomed to walking in desolate, industrial areas and the detritus that accompanies.
Upon our Saturday check-in after 2 p.m., we found the ranger station and a nice officer who gave us a ride so we didn't have to endure a roughly 25-minute hike, partially in the street.
You'll pass an RV park and housing complexes, but once you're in the park, it's well worth it. The California State Parks website boasts opportunities to fish (we did see a couple of fishermen on the pier who caught and released a tiny fish) windsurf, bird watch, hike on trails, or simply to relax.
The website also mentions potable water and flush toilets, but no showers. The flush toilets weren't operational, yet, and some of the potable water faucets along trails didn't work. We reached out to the State Parks. They apologized for the inconvenience, but assured the flush-toilet restrooms are being restored. In the interim they have provided porta-potties.
Once you arrive at your site, you'll notice each is equipped with a barbecue grill, a picnic table, and a food locker (ours even had leftover charcoal briquettes inside). You cannot have a campfire or bring pets, which may seem like a bummer, but good to know in advance. For a full list of rules and restrictions, consult the website.
So what is there to do? We didn't see any windsurfers, and other than a family of three, and a solitary nature lover who came and went, had the campground to ourselves. A massive group of runners took a Sunday morning run around Jack Rabbit Picnic Area. Later that evening there were plenty of family-style picnics scattered about the park.
A park ranger makes an announcement well ahead of 7 p.m. to clear visitors out, unless you reserved a spot to camp overnight. We were glad to find anytime we left our campground, our site remained undisturbed and intact.
Which brings up a final point: leaving the site. Camping doesn't have to be roughing it. People go 'glamping' all the time. With a tent, no showers or flush toilets, but easy access to a glamorous city for $2.75 (the price of a Muni pass), this was somewhere in between.
Don't feel like you're cheating yourself if you sneak away to the Bayview's Radio Africa Kitchen or the Dogpatch's Just For You cafe. Both neighborhoods are nearby and you may not want to do the cooking, or lug supplies on your hike in.
It will feel like a staycation for sure, but go ahead and treat yourself to a breath of fresh air if you need an urban escape on the cheap. Who knows? It may just inspire you to do a more ambitious Yosemite or Tahoe getaway.
This story has been updated to include information from California State Parks.