STEAK and sausages sizzling on a grill, giving off that smoky, hard-to-resist aroma. A natural setting in the woods. Blue skies, bright sun, light breeze and low humidity.
June is barbecue season, and it's brief, so enjoy outdoor cooking before the hottest weeks in Shanghai come, with killer temperatures, more humidity and lack of wind, all made worse by the concrete, steel and glass that intensify the heat, and the auto pollution.
So, get out of the city before it's either too rainy or too hot.
Camping is a favorite activity that combines nature appreciation, hiking, games, barbecue and possibly starry skies for those who get far enough from urban light pollution.
Though it is a pioneer in urban development, Shanghai lags behind when it comes to desirable camping sites.
Some parks, such as Dongping National Forest Park on Chongming Island, allow campers to spend the night, and some beaches offer camping services, but overall, overnight camping isn't too popular.
Daytime excursions for picnics and barbecues are more popular. Many parks and outdoor venues contain a barbecue area where tents are allowed, but not overnight.
Fengxian Beach hosts an annual beach camping festival with a capacity of 1,000 tents, varied activities includes sports competitions and bonfire parties. It is the only large camping event in Shanghai.
"We started out around 10 years ago, but backpacking, camping and many outdoor activities only started getting popular in the past two or three years," 37-year-old backpacker David Huang tells Shanghai Daily. "The idea is still new to many people, who consider it troublesome and dangerous. Lack of official camp sites is also a reason."
Bodhi Adventures, among many travel agencies, also finds it difficult to recommend camping areas because of the issue of property rights and lack of designated camping grounds.
Camping in Shanghai
Huang and his backpacking friends take weekend trips once or twice a month and they always go out of the city to nearby villages or mountains in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces - most have no designated camp sites.
"Nobody says we can't camp there, but nobody says it's allowed either. It's kind of vague," he explains. "We were kicked out by local people before, but most of times, locals don't care what we were doing there and we had lots of fun."
While they usually go outside the city when they have time, Huang has also tried camping in Shanghai a few times, sometimes with his six-year-old daughter. Instead of a long hike or walk, he chooses an open area where he can get together with other families and children for games and barbecue.
"If you are just looking for a beautiful place to put up a few tents, play some games and spend a night, there are plenty of discoveries to be made in Shanghai," he says.
He recommends Hengsha Island, which is smaller, less well known, less crowded and developed than Chongming Island. Huang and his friends drove around the island a few weeks ago and found quite a few grassy areas that are good for camping. They stayed for a night, and lots of curious villagers came by to see what was happening.
This kind of experience isn't reserved for veteran backpackers like Huang; many young parents are looking for sites for an outdoor weekend with their children.
"You can always find tents, sometimes a lot and sometimes only a handful, on these grassy areas during weekends," says 31-year-old Tracy Lin, who lives near Moon Lake Sculpture Park in Songjiang District.
Sometimes, her friends and colleagues drive out to visit and they all get together and play, including her five-year-old son.
She refers to the grassy areas between the road and the lake near the park, again, not designated, but welcomed by people in the know.
For Lin, it is not easy to take her son out of the city, but she wants the child to get some sense of nature.
"We are not experienced campers, so a few hours out there on the lawns where the children can run around freely is just perfect," she says.
Shanghai Daily has selected a few places to enjoy the last days before heat, some for overnight camping, others for a cheerful day outing.
Anyone who plans to go camping should check the weather report, take sunscreen and mosquito repellent and a first-aid kit.
Dongping National Forest Park
Since there aren't many camping options in Shanghai, most travel agencies and backpackers recommend Chongming County. It's a great place to watch sunrise and sunset, see how farmers live, visit organic farms, enjoy farmhouse cooking, pick produce, and visit wetlands to see migratory birds.
Dongping Forest Park is the largest of its kind in Shanghai, and it offers a water park, a beach, restaurants, and outdoor activities such as golf, tennis, beach volleyball, horseback riding, hiking, bicycling and other activities.
Camping is allowed overnight but campers must enter the park before 4:30pm.
The BBQ area in the park is one of the most popular and can accommodate as many as 200 people. Grills can be rented and ingredients can be purchased on the spot.
The island contains two wetland parks - the Dongtan Wetland Park in the east, which is good for watching the sunrise and for bird watching, as well as Xisha Wetland Park to enjoy the natural setting and the sunset.
Tickets: 30 yuan
Address: Baohu Rd, Luhua Town, Chongming Island
Tel: 5933-8266, 5933-8028
The park, near Shanghai's largest lake, Dianshan Lake, is a popular site for training programs for schools and companies. More than a third of the land is water, while the rest is open fields, woods containing 110,000 trees and hundreds of flowers. It also has a 2.4-kilometer pathway around the lake.
The spot offers dozens of facilities to accommodate all kinds of activities, from survival games to scientific and educational programs. It contains a popular BBQ area. Visitors can choose to stay overnight in cabins of pitch tents in designated areas.
Tickets: 50 yuan
Address: 6888 Huqingping Highway, Qingpu District
Gucun Park is three times the size of Century Park in the Pudong New Area and it's famous for its varieties of blossoming trees and flowers. It's known for cherry blossom appreciation in spring, but there are attractions in every season. In summer, the lake is covered with lotus that can be appreciated from the bridge.
Pagodas and small cabins are scattered around the park, which also contains Chinese gardens. But the park is largely natural.
In summer the temperature is much cooler than downtown. The BBQ areas ontains around 60 grills.
Hours: 5am-7pm (summer)
Tickets: 20 yuan
Address: 4788, Hutai Rd, Baoshan District
It contains a professional stables and horseback-riding center where horses can be rented. The area also has campsites and barbecue facilities. The natural setting of meadows, woods and natural ponds make it attractive for barbecues, games, parties and camping away from the city.
Hours: 9am-7pm (Tuesdays-Fridays), 8am-7pm (weekends), closed on Mondays
Address: 2780 Shenzhuan Highway, Qingpu District
Tel: 6983-0022, 6983-0055
This is one of the favorite suburban retreats for people fleeing the congested downtown, and it's close to a handful of parks.
The nearby Chenshan Botanic Park contains three large greenhouses featuring plants from rainforests and deserts, including very rare species.
The Moon Lake Sculpture Park features more than 30 works created by artists from China, Japan and the United States. The Sheshan Forest Park, divided into the eastern and western hills, are both popular sites. The eastern part offers barbecue facilities, the west is for those curious about the ancient observatory and Sheshan Cathedral.
Hours: 7:30am-4:30 pm
Tickets: Free for admission, but surcharges inside
Address: Qingsong Highway, Songjiang District
Jinshan and Fengxian beaches
Beach camping offers ocean breezes, a chance to play in the water, play beach volleyball and try water activities. Watching girls in bikinis and guys flexing their muscles is a favorite pastime.
Tickets: 30 yuan on weekdays and 50 yuan on weekends for Jinshan; 80 yuan for Fengxian
Address: 5 Xincheng Rd, Jinshan District
39 Haiou Rd, Fengxian District
Tel: 5793-5884 for Jinshan, 5712-0707 for Fengxian
Gongqing Forest Park
The forest park with BBQ area has always been a hot spot in summer for students and families.
Tickets: 15 yuan
Address: 2000 Jungong Rd, Yangpu District
Hengsha and Changxing islands
Both are smaller and less known than Chongming, but as David Huang says, they are less crowded and less commercialized. Changxing Island is the smallest and closest to the city, famous for its orange orchards and fishing villages.
There are no designated campgrounds, but there are open fields and beach sites where tents can be pitched.