In dawn missions, participants stake claims to land not with flags, but with coolers full of beer and meat.
They are the early risers —whether they lost a card game or are just taking one for the team — who operate in the morning chill to grab a weekend spot to party at The City’s picnic areas.
Some of the hardest tables to reserve in town are the tables and grills in the parks, especially on a holiday weekend, and only the earliest are rewarded for their efforts.
At the picnic areas near Crissy Field, Baker Beach and the Presidio, Labor Day revelers arrived earlier than 7 a.m. to ensure they secured a place to unfold their chairs, grill their meat and find some answers at the bottom of a beer.
At Crissy Field, near the Warming Hut, charcoal was out and beers were cracked as the sun had just cleared the fog line and was beginning to burn off the marine layer.
The practice of squatting for a table and grill can be cutthroat, with territory clearly marked by cases of beer set on a table or a tablecloth pinned down by a cooler.
And nothing beats having somebody there to mark your spot and ward off potential rivals who may want to move in.
Jen Stoneman, who arrived at 6:30 a.m. in order to host a party for her clients at StrollerStrides.com, an exercise group for parents, was not going anywhere, after her previous experience of losing a table.
“I came one year and left some identifiers, and I went home to sleep. When I came back half of my identifiers were stolen and half were moved to a less-desirable table,” said Stoneman, 29.
Although picnickers can reserve grills and camps in Golden Gate Park and other city parks, barbecue spots at National Park Service areas, such as Crissy Field, are first-come, first-served.
Zach Heller and Robert Hutson, both 26, said they have put together a Labor Day barbecue for the last five years.
Last year, they woke up early but missed out on spots at Crissy Field and Golden Gate Park, ultimately landing in Stern Grove to have their feast, Heller said.
This year, though, they were among the first at Crissy Field, their favorite place to grill. “We only got about four to five hours of sleep,” Hutson said.
They brought Eggo waffles and some breakfast sausages to cook up on the grill before they broke into the burgers and tube steaks — otherwise known as hot dogs — a move they said was crucial if they were to last the full day.
“That’s a good sign that you’ve got your grill going early,” Heller said, already sipping a Sierra Nevada beer.
“You figure, you get here early enough, it’s yours for the day,” Heller added.