By JASON CAMPBELL
SAN FRANCISCO – Nearly everybody I know that lives within a 200-mile radius of San Francisco has been there at least once in their lives.
And they all have their favorite place – Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach or Delores Park or The Presidio or the Embarcadero or, in the event of my sister and her incomprehensible fascination with Bubba Gump, Pier 39.
But the biggest hidden gem of them all is a place that every single one of those people who have been to San Francisco has already been without even realizing it – Treasure Island.
I’m not quite sure when I realized that the infill island that was constructed to host the 1939 World’s Fair held something other than just a tunnel as you switched between the two spans of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.
But it wasn’t until I was old enough to venture into San Francisco on my own and poke around that I finally got off of the freeway midway through the bridge, made the long sweeping turn back over the tower span of the bridge, and drive down into the sweeping views of San Francisco that are typically reserved only for movie intros and those who understand how to get there in the first place.
And it has been a tool in my quiver for out-of-towners and special people ever since.
There’s nothing fancy about Treasure Island – today just a mishmash of old remnants of the island’s past as a naval installation that is still being used for a variety of different functions. The majority of the base is either abandoned or falling into serious disrepair, and while there are some businesses and some of the old base housing has been used since its closure, most of the structures look like they’re on the verge of falling down.
And that’s exactly what makes it so wonderful. Nobody would ever think to go there.
The views of the San Francisco skyline that make the drive across the tower span so electrifying are on full display when you make your way down towards the old base entrance – giving not only sweeping views of the skyscrapers, but also the Golden Gate Bridge and the expansive neighborhoods in between the two. Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill, is visible from this angle which also gives the viewer the ability to see the city framed in its famous fog during certain times of the year.
And it’s loaded with tons of personal memories that will always make it a special place in my heart.
It was where my wife and I took our first picture together on our first date. It’s where I’ve taken countless people to go and see the beauty of the city that still remains my most favorite place in all of existence. It’s where I took one of my favorite photographs of all time on the night that the new span of the Bay Bridge opened up.
There was a time when it was possible to drive up to the top of the island – where a number of radar installations and towers still exist, and where old Coast Guard officer’s quarters overlook the bridge, the bay and the city itself that I would pay any amount of money to get to wake up to every morning for the rest of my life, but construction has nullified that recently.
Even still, the look on somebody’s face when they see the profile of the tower span of the bridge right before you cross over it (take the exit and make the drive and you’ll see what I’m talking about) makes this worth the time needed for the detour alone.
I feel like I’m disclosing closely-guarded secrets here, but Treasure Island is one of my favorite places in San Francisco.
And I’m sure that if you give it a chance you’ll feel the same way too.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.