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
University of California Campus
Perennially ranked among the top three universities in the country, the
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.
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
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
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
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
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
At the geographic and spiritual center of North Shattuck street's famed
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,
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.
Choosing a hotel in Berkeley is a good deal easier than choosing a restaurant. We have made it even simpler by breaking Berkeley accommodations down by neighborhoods.
Telegraph Avenue & South Berkeley
Hotels near campus, the Bancroft Hotel and the Hotel Durant foremost amongst them, have been around since the 1920s or 1930s. As much to celebrate their survival as their exclusive location so near the The University of California, these hotels tend to be run with a bit of pomp and circumstance. Other campus area hotels include the smaller Beau Sky Hoteland The French Hotel. Slightly farther down Telegraph, but often serving the same clientele and in any case has many of the same attributes, is the quaint Rose Garden Inn.
Downtown Berkeley offers many accommodations in an incredibly central location, making access to most parts of the city easy. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza is about as central and convenient as you can get, while still preserving its Victorian charm. Slightly farther down you will find the Nash Hotel, whose close proximity to many of the great things Berkeley has to offer makes it a prime choice for those who want to be in the thick of things.
The area around Fourth Street offers plenty to its visitors. In addition to its thriving shopping district, it is also home to the Berkeley Marina and several comfortable hotels. The Berkeley Marina Hotel offers spectacular views of its namesake, as well as a convenient location to both the rest of Berkeley as well as San Francisco. Also abundant in the Berkeley Marina area are big name, well trusted hotel chains such as The Radisson and DoubleTree.
The Elmwood is home to what is probably Berkeley's most famous hotel, the large and popular Claremont Resort and Spa. Just at the base of the hill, the Claremont offers countless tennis courts and pools, spa facilities and the like. It is a favorite with locals, whether for wedding receptions, business meetings or weekend getaways. The ever popular Sunday brunch is always a favorite.
Even more hotels have converged near the freeway on rapidly emerging Emeryville to the south: a Holiday Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, the renovated Sheraton Four Points and the towering new Woodfin. These hotels all come equipped with meeting facilities, computer hook-ups, copiers, fax service and other business necessities.
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.
Any large college town worth its salt features a constant variety of things to see, hear and do. Mix in the particular multicultural soup that is Berkeley, and you have a world-class entertainment scene, both on campus and off. Failing all else, of course, San Francisco's right across the Bay. But trust us, the traffic is a killer on Saturday night.
A founding member of the Pac 10 Conference, Cal fronts teams in every major sport played at the American collegiate level, or at least those sports not requiring the presence of ice or snow.
The California Golden Bears, as its teams are known, play football at Memorial Stadium and basketball at the Haas Pavilion. Pac 10 competition includes big names like UCLA, Washington, Arizona, USC and, of course, hated rival Stanford.
During Cal's long history, just about every team has won an NCAA championship at one time or another (or in the case of the football Bears, the Rose Bowl). There is one sport, however, in which Cal has always been dominant: water polo.
The East Bay is also home to several professional sports teams, including the Oakland Raiders football team, the Golden State Warriors for basketball, and the Oakland Athletics for baseball. All three teams play in the same sports complex, where you will find the McAffee Colisseum as well as the Oracle Arena.
The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra is one of the best-kept musical secrets in the country. Conducted by rising star Kent Nagano, the Berkeley Symphony puts on an adventurous program of works by contemporary composers like John Adams, leavened with Brahms, Beethoven and Bruckner. Nagano's reputation attracts the highest echelon of soloists. The Berkeley Symphony performs at Zellerbach Auditorium and Hertz Halls on the U.C. campus, as well as in San Francisco. Further information can be found at www.berkeleysymphony.org/.
The Berkeley-based Chamber Symphony of the West performs a classical and baroque repertoire, often in conjunction with the San Francisco Choral Society and other area choruses, at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way. The First Congregational Church also regularly plays host to other top-notch regional ensembles, like San Francisco's noted Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Sonos Handbell Ensemble.
Emeryville's Kimball's East features soul-jazz, R&B and blues legends like Jimmy McGriff and Nancy Wilson. The Ivy Room (in Albany, just to the north of Berkeley) also books great local blues talent. Downtown Berkeley jazz clubs Jazzschool and Jupiter pack 'em in on weekends. Jupiter, with its garden court, is particularly popular on summer and late autumn evenings.
Berkeley has long been a mecca for folkies. In West Berkeley, The Starry Plough and the Freight and Salvage clubs feature acoustic talent from around the country. Nearby on San Pablo Avenue, Ashkenaz goes a bit more in the folk-rock direction, while Blake's On Telegraph offers the full range of rock, jazz-rock and folk-rock. La Pena Cultural Center books an eclectic mix of Latin rhythms, blues, and uncategorizable but always danceable sounds from all over the world.
Rock headliners play the Berkeley Community Theatre or the Greek Theater.
Many critics consider the award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre (or Berkeley Rep, as it is commonly known) to be the finest theater company in the Bay Area (some feel it is the best outside of New York). Since 1968, the Rep has been rewarding audiences with challenging, contemporary drama, and has become possibly the largest performing arts organization in Northern California.
Other, smaller ensembles round out the Berkeley theater scene: in North Berkeley, the Actors Ensemble Theater plays at the Live Oak Park Theater. The Aurora Theater's polished productions regularly sell out the Aurora Theater in the dowdy Berkeley City Club—the Aurora plans to move to a new theater of their own at 2071 Addison, near the Berkeley Rep, for the 2001-2002 season; newcomer TheaterFirst's recent stagings of Death and the Maiden and The Ladies of the Camellias have drawn good notices at the Julia Morgan Theater in the Elmwood; and the scrappy Shotgun Players have moved their high-energy repertoire out of cramped LaVal's Pizza and into new digs at Adeline and Alcatraz. U.C. Berkeley's Dramatic Arts Department stages student productions every year, as well.
The Pacific Film Archive at the Berkeley Art Museum on Bancroft puts together often obscure but consistently riveting programs at their 234-seat theater, and has a great little cafe.
Berkeley is one city where downtown movie houses are thriving. The Fine Arts, the Landmark's Act One and Two, the California, the Shattuck, and the UA Berkeley form a four-block, 25-screen phalanx, but it's still not enough to keep shows from selling out. Quick and fun downtown eateries make it a great scene for a cheap date.
The Oaks Theatre and the Landmark Albany Twin are reliable old favorites for North Berkeleyites. The Elmwood Cinema has slightly cheaper tickets for last month's best movies and is located within a stone's throw of a dozen restaurants. The Dolbyized neo-Deco Emery Bay Stadium 10 , right off the freeway in nearby Emeryville, provides movie-goers with a mulitplex of dinner choices in the Emery Bay Market's international food court.
For a more unique cinema-going experience, the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland, and its sister theater, the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater offer up a selection of pizzas, salads and sandwiches along with draft beer as well as comfortable couches to watch your movie from, not to mention ticket prices being half what they are anywhere else. However, don't try to bring the kids along, these theaters are for ages 21+ (except certain showtimes, check website for details).