Berkeley (named for the English philosopher-theologian George Berkeley) is dominated by the University of California. Its grand buildings and thirty thousand students give off an energy that spills south down raucous Telegraph Avenue, where aging hippies peddle rainbow bracelets in front of vegetarian restaurants, music stores, and pizza joints. The very name of Berkeley conjures up images of dissent and it remains a solidly left-wing oasis.
Telegraph Avenue holds most of the student hangouts, and several excellent bookstores. Older students congregate in Northside, popping down from their woodsy hillside homes to partake of goodies from Gourmet Ghetto – the restaurants, delis, and bakeries on Shattuck Avenue like the renowned Chez Panisse. North of here, on the hills, Tilden Regional Park has good trails and a fine rose garden. Along the bay itself, at the Berkeley Marina, you can rent windsurfing boards and sailboats, or just watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate.
There's more to Berkeley than the University of California. While the campus may be the city's economic and cultural nexus, Berkeley's neighborhoods are as distinctive as they are diverse. From the scruffy, countercultural appeal of Telegraph Avenue to the Olympian grandeur of the hills and the post-industrial hip of Fourth Street , the communities of Berkeley all celebrate the city's iconoclastic but self-assured character.
University of California Campus
Perennially ranked among the top three universities in the country, the University of California at Berkeley has much to offer visitors as well as students: museums, libraries, superb views from the campanile, public lectures by Nobel laureates, world-class entertainment and NCAA sports. The main campus is situated with a compact elegance at the base of the rugged hills that are home to the Strawberry Canyon recreational area and the Lawrence Hall of Science . Campus life for Cal's 35,000 students centers (inasmuch as it centers at all) on Sproul Plaza and Sather Gate. In the sunny plaza in front of the administration building, you can find dozens of student organizations staffing tables at lunchtime. Though nowadays you will be far more likely to see the Christian Students Ministry recruiting undergraduates than the Spartacist Youth League, a plaque on the stairs in front of Sproul Hall (which marks the spot where Mario Savio launched the Free Speech movement in 1964) serves as a reminder of Berkeley's place in American social history.
Telegraph Avenue & South Berkeley
Telegraph Avenue, for three generations the engine of Berkeley's countercultural tendencies, is a vibrant, living anthropological museum. Still-angry activists draft leftist tracts in cafes, aging hippies sell tie-dye and macrame from sidewalk tables next to Rastas offering knit tam o'shanters and hemp advocates hawking bumper stickers. Knots of disaffected youngsters in black leather set up camp on the curb. The inevitable "Berkeley Crazy" floats through the crowd, talking animatedly to unseen companions. For the thousands of undergraduates who do their business on "The Avenue," however, it is all just background (or foreground) to the eateries, record barns, clothing outlets and bookstores lining the four blocks between Bancroft and Dwight. Rasputin , Amoeba Records and Moe's have ardent, extra-dedicated followings after decades in business on Telegraph Avenue. Street merchants sell their wares weekdays and weekends alike on the sidewalks. History buffs can see People's Park by wandering up Haste Street or Dwight Way 300 feet or so east (toward the hills), but in truth the scruffy and overgrown lot tends to attract a rather seedy crowd and is best avoided, especially at night.
Further south, Telegraph Avenue widens and begins to feature more conventional businesses such as doctor's offices, photo finishing labs and gas stations. South Berkeley as a whole, with its quiet neighborhoods of small bungalow homes, lacks the multicultural action of the area near the campus. There are scattered attractions for the visitor, however: epicures and organic food lovers flock to the large Whole Foods at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Ashby Avenue and to the landmark Berkeley Bowl (justly famed for its voluminous produce section) at the corner of Shattuck and Oregon streets. At the Ashby BART station, the Saturday flea market has been drawing big crowds of bargain hunters for 30 years.
A mere block from campus, downtown Berkeley has been trying for years to shake off the brown-brick fustiness of a college-town mercantile district. Its retail clout has been outstripped by the far hipper Fourth Street Shopping Area . The city's cultural and civic nerve center, and home to the Berkeley Repertory Theater , downtown Berkeley seems to be finding its stride again as an entertainment and dining center. In truth, it has long served that function; the grand old movie houses along and just off Shattuck have made a successful transition to multiplexes, drawing crowds every night. Cheery, casual dining, particularly on Center Street, is the style here. Around the corner on Shattuck, successful brew pub Jupiter packs in the crowds on weekends with live music.
As Berkeley's main east-west thoroughfare, University Avenue makes up in sheer traffic what it lacks in style. At the Shattuck and University hub, bicycle dealers, inexpensive ethnic restaurants and computer stores (emphasis on the Mac here: Berkeley is the home of the world-renowned Berkeley Macintosh Users Group [BMUG]) are foremost. The ethnic restaurant theme continues down University Avenue through patches of Central America, Thailand and China until eventually settling on India. Lower University Avenue has in fact been called Little India: dozens of Indian restaurants, sari, grocery, video and utensil stores cater to the East Bay's large East Indian community. Among the best and most user-friendly of these is Bombay Bazaar, whose selection of foods, spices, clothing, incense, musical instruments and books attracts Indian and non-Indian alike.
Formerly a rugged, gritty industrial district, Fourth Street between Hearst and Cedar streets now generates more retail tax revenue for the city than the whole of downtown Berkeley. Fourth Street has become the apex of yuppie style. The racks of its boutiques tend towards a certain unstructured, natural look. Epicurean gardeners, home decorators and the ubiquitous foodies are all catered to here as nowhere else. Fourth Street has become successful, many feel, not just by featuring the right things, but by creating the right environment. The shopping area is attractively styled, pedestrian oriented, and encourages gathering. Without as much fanfare as the Fourth Street Shopping District , but equally indicative of West Berkeley's economic transformation, a slew of new residential and office space has also taken shape along Fifth Street and west of University Avenue as far as Emeryville. Industrial materials like corrugated aluminum and a deconstructed design program have created a neo-Bauhaus look, favored by the architects, designers, new media studios and young professionals who have moved into the area.
The Berkeley Hills
The resolutely residential redoubt of the Berkeley Hills offers some of the finest views in the entire Bay Area. Homes here are handsome but not showy. The attraction is the aforementioned view of lower Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin and the bridges, as well as the Olympian feeling of being literally above it all. The only thing approaching a commercial establishment in the hills is the Lawrence Hall of Science , a beautifully laid out, hands-on science museum with years of experience at kindling scientific wonder in the younger set. Tilden Regional Park , just beyond the crest of the hill, is the jewel of the East Bay Regional Park District. Hiking, mountain-biking, lake swimming and a miniature steam train can all be enjoyed within its hundreds of wild, undeveloped acres of scrub oak and manzanita country. On the other side of Grizzly Peak Road, U.C. Berkeley's extensive holdings drop through eucalyptus groves down to the main campus, offering students and visitors miles of challenging hiking and running trails.
If you want to explore the hills, expect a cardiovascular workout or simply bring a car, and expect to get lost. Except for Centennial Drive and brutally straight Marin Street, streets here wander upwards in an aimless, criss-crossing, spaghetti-like fashion. Do not attempt this for the first time in the fog.
The commercial face of Elmwood , a genteel alternative to the countercultural hurly-burly of Telegraph Avenue, is confined to a scant three blocks around College and Ashby Avenues. The Elmwood's culinary status, however, is out of proportion to its size, with a wildly popular Italian trattoria ( Trattoria La Siciliana ), a fine Italian deli ( A.G. Ferrari ), a bakery ( Nabolom ), a cafe offering hot entrees ( Espresso Roma ), two excellent taquerias (Gordo's and La Cascada), a kosher spot ( Holy Land ) and artisan ice cream ( Ici )—to name but a few—within two blocks. Nor is there a shortage of specialty retail establishments—four or five businesses sell antiques and oriental rugs, Sweet Dreams Candy Store offers toys, fashion and (if all else fails) candy for kids, and the Tail of the Yak has a gift selection as indescribable as its name suggests. The quiet side streets of the Elmwood are filled with stately, dark-shingled homes inspired by West Coast Arts & Crafts architects Green and Greene and Bernard Maybeck. At the upper end of Ashby one comes upon the white-towered, fairytale splendor of the Claremont Resort and Spa , which caters equally to meeting-goers and tennis players.
At the geographic and spiritual center of North Shattuck street's famed Gourmet Ghetto is Chez Panisse , Alice Waters' shrine of California Cuisine. Within a block or two of Chez Panisse are wildy popular Cha-Am, The Cheese Board , Vegi Food China (home to what may be the best sweet and sour walnuts in the world), the exotic produce section of Monterey Market, epicurean Andronico's, and FatApples, whose Brobdingnagian pies are the stuff of legend. Book lovers also flock to independent Black Oak Books for readings, slightly superior salespersons and a broad selection, both new and used. Residentially, North Berkeley, favored by U.C. professors, is the quiet, unfussy, but attractive continuation of the Berkeley Hills—indeed, Euclid Street, if patiently followed to its end, leads onto Grizzly Peak Road, and thence back around to Tilden Regional Park .
Solano Avenue, skewing across the border between Berkeley and Albany, continues North Berkeley's culinary focus, with an array of restaurants surely daunting to the indecisive. Ajanta, Fonda and Rivoli are among the many draws that make this such a challenging area in which to park. Pegasus Books is another new and used favorite.
In the last decade, working class, industrial Emeryville has burst onto the scene as the hot place to build a concept mall, hotel complex or dot-com office. The Emery Bay Public Market, with its highly successful international food court, Border's Books & Music and art-deco inspired decaplex theater, helped kick off the city's renaissance—along with a nearby "big box" shopping center, where Home Depot and OfficeMax ring up high volume sales and create traffic problems. Adding to the fun along the I-80 corridor is Emeryville's gargantuan IKEA store and the Bay Street Shopping Area. While Emeryville's residential demographics are still predominantly low-income, dot-commers and other young professionals are moving into the new condominiums and neo-Bauhaus lofts sprouting up near the design studios, new media enterprises and software companies that hug the I-80 highway. Emeryville's go-go business climate, in stark contrast to development-phobic Berkeley next door, has attracted not only IKEA, but also Sybase, PeopleSoft and a number of other expanding hi-tech businesses looking for new headquarters.
Though a fairly small city, the scope and influence of Berkeley's restaurant scene are positively outsized.
California Cuisine started here, after all. The effects of Chez Panisse and chef/owner Alice Waters' fresh food revolution are still being felt as far as Paris (where she has been asked to set up a restaurant at the Louvre). The East Bay's other top-flight "white tablecloth" restaurants are very much in Waters' vanguard.
Whether elegant or casual, it is simply impossible to find a more international selection of restaurants than in Berkeley. Within a few blocks of campus, one can dine inexpensively on the cuisine of at least 50 different countries. And, should the culinary climate inspire one to head to the kitchen, a range of cooking and specialty food stores stands ready to meet the most epicurean requirements.
35,000 hungry Cal students roaming the streets! It is not surprising that restaurants in the vicinity of the U.C. Berkeley campus tend to emphasize the quick and inexpensive. Certainly, burger and pizza joints can be found in abundance. This being Berkeley, however, it is just as easy to find Korean, Mediterranean or Ethiopian fare served with some flair and imagination.
Campus visitors may want to patronize one of the many food carts that set up shop on the sidewalk along Bancroft Street. Falafel, Asian noodle dishes, smoothies and the like make for tasty and quick snarfing on Sproul Plaza. Along Telegraph Avenue and the streets off it, Blondie's Pizza , Top Dog and Bongo Burger jostle with Asian eateries beyond number in an ethnic struggle over the student dollar. Smart Alec's and Cafe Intermezzo fill the bill for soups, salads and monster sandwiches. For the quintessential hippie/radical flashback, duck into La Mediterranee , order an espresso, and watch the show. A smaller restaurant row of almost identical composition can be found on the other side of campus at the corner of Hearst and Euclid streets.
Similar choices await the diner heading west from campus along Addison Street, Central or University Avenues. The ambiance here edges up incrementally over Telegraph Avenue (perhaps due to the absence of sidewalk squatters). On bustling Center Street, La Cascada serves up a zesty gourmet twist on burritos and throws in a juice bar.
There is more of the same as one heads on to Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley's downtown. Noodle houses and Starbucks' are ideally suited to the movie crowd (more than 20 screens distributed within four blocks) that surges through the district at night. The brick garden court of the Jupiter brew pub attracts sun worshipers in the day and music lovers at night.
Pasand, Viceroy and India Palace , all found within blocks of each other downtown, only hint at Berkeley's surplus of Indian restaurants and chaat houses.
Berkeley's culinary eclecticism is carried west by the main artery of University Avenue. Long Life Vegi House , Au Coquelet , and the mellifluous Plearn Thai Restaurant all offer satisfying if casual sit-down meals.
West Berkeley & Fourth Street
Below Sacramento Street, one enters the commercial center of Indian Berkeley, and finds among the sari stores a number of Indian restaurants like Rice N Spice , all with a $7.99 lunch buffet. Chaat, which means snacks, more or less, in Hindi, is becoming a hot trend among world foodies here. Hence the long noon-hour lines at Vik's Chaat House , a big blue warehouse at 724 Allston Way around the corner from lower University Avenue, (try the Masala Dosas, served only on weekends). A few blocks down from University on San Pablo is Breads of India, whose inventive cuisine and lack of table space at dinner make for long lines in the cold outside.
Skirting the freeway ramp at the end of University Avenue and turning right, one comes to Fourth Street , with its yuppily bustling new restaurants and shops. Standing at the corner of University, however, is the redoubt of Spenger's Fish Grotto , a Berkeley tradition that has served up shark steak and other no-nonsense seafood standbys since the 1930s. More of the moment is the Asian-fusion spot O Chame in the heart of commercial Fourth Street. Nearby Cafe Rouge serves a continental/Californian menu in a casually glamorous setting. Bette's Ocean View Diner , not open for dinner, does breakfast and lunch—sit-down or take out—all week. It is an almost prohibitively popular weekend brunch spot.
The Elmwood Shopping District 's mighty little commercial district, hugging the intersection of College and Ashby avenues, sports more good restaurants than many American cities. Italian and Chinese cuisine is particularly well represented here: there are three Chinese restaurants in the space of about a block—innovative and popular Shen Hua drawing the biggest crowds—and Italy holds its own with Trattoria La Siciliana and stylish deli A.G. Ferrari .
Other culinary traditions have their say in the Elmwood, too. Filippo's is a cozy and inexpensive Italian restaurant with live musical entertainment. Next door is the always crowded La Mediterranee . The hungry movie-goer late for the 7p show at the Elmwood Cinema can get a tasty burrito in about 45 seconds across the street at Gordo's.
Chez Panisse , that landmark of contemporary American cuisine, looks regally out over North Shattuck and beyond to Solano Avenue. More and more nearby restaurants have been sharing its culinary glory, however. Besides Chez Panisse (two restaurants in one: Chez Panisse Upstairs and the more expensive, prix-fixe Chez Panisse Downstairs), there is Cesar next door, serving up tapas with a Californian accent; and Kirala, felt by many to be the best Japanese restaurant in the Bay Area. Quirky and wildly popular Cha Am is a first choice for Thai. Around the corner on Rose Street, the vegetarian potstickers and sweet and sour fried walnuts have a devoted following at humble Vegi Food China .
Among the many dining choices on Solano Avenue (a seemingly endless stretch of restaurants) are standouts like Rivoli —its courtyard is a favorite on late summer evenings. Nearby, on Gilman, Lalime's treatment of the California-Mediterranean theme rivals that of Chez Panisse, and Pyramid Brewery & Alehouse is a popular pub with a tradition of outdoor summer cinema.
The spectrum of unfused Asian foods is well represented on Solano, too. Ajanta, a creative departure from usual Indian fare, Thai stalwart Sweet Basil, and Muyiki are among the favorites. A taste of Italy, meanwhile, can be had quickly and inexpensively at Filippo's and Zachary's Chicago Pizza .
Faster and cheaper still, the Cal-Mex cuisine of Cactus Taqueria is but one of dozens of options for diners on the go.
Berkeley offers a variety of things to do for both visitor and local alike. From the scholastic to outdoorsy to culinary and, of course, shopping, Berkeley has something for every kind of person and to suit every fancy.
University of California Campus While there is much to see and do in the city of Berkeley, the Number One attraction is the University of California campus. Cal's most recognizable landmark, the Campanile, offers a panoramic vista from its viewing platform. One of the country's largest collections of fossils awaits you at the Museum of Paleontology . Another university museum worth taking a look at is the Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Kroeber Hall . Across Bancroft Way is the Berkeley Art Museum . Grab a bite to eat at Caffè Strada or nearby at Cafe Milano , both popular student hangouts.
Telegraph Avenue Stroll the four blocks between Bancroft and Dwight and you will encounter graying hippies inside La Mediterranee . Grab a quick lunch at Cafe Intermezzo or Blondie's Pizza . Telegraph Avenue offers unique street vendors who sell jewelry, candles, knitware, art and y-shirts. On weekends in December, these four blocks of Telegraph are closed to motor traffic and given over entirely to street merchants for the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Fair .
Tilden Regional Park Tilden Regional Park is one of the jewels of the vast East Bay Regional Park District. One can easily spend a day in Tilden , whether swimming at Lake Anza , marveling at nature in the Botanic Garden , teeing up at the Tilden Park Golf Course , or hiking (or mountain biking) the miles of trails which roll over hill and dale into Contra Costa County. Centennial Drive levels off at the Lawrence Hall of Science , a hands-on science museum par excellence. Dine at the nearby Adagia .
Fourth Street Berkeley's Fourth Street Shopping District features all kinds of shopping, from clothes at A La Folie and Anthropologie, to makeup at Mac and Benefit, you are sure to work up an appetite here. Good thing too as Fourth Street is home to some incredible restaurants, such as Bette's Ocean View Diner and O Chame . Stroll a little ways further, towards the water and you will find yourself in the Berkeley Marina .
Walking Tours University of California at Berkeley (+1 510 642 3175 / http://berkeley.edu/visitors/free_tours.html) Berkeley Historical Society (+1 510 848 0181 / http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/histsoc/) Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (+1 510 841 2242 / http://www.berkeleyheritage.com/) Berkeley City Club (+1 510 848 7800 / http://www.berkeleycityclub.com/)
Boat Tours Think Escape Yacht Tours (+1 800 823 7249 / http://www.thinkescape.com/)
Culinary Tours Naomi's Market Tours (+1 510 525 7093 / http://www.cookingwithnaomi.com/markettours.html) In the Kitchen with Lisa (+1 415 806 5970 / http://www.inthekitchenwithlisa.com/excursion.htm#nberk)