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 fill the bill for soups, salads and 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.
In the beginning, there were cows.
Where the University of California campus and the City of Berkeley now stand, the cattle of the Peralta Rancho land grant once roamed, more or less unobstructed. That lasted until 1873, the year that the first 191 students of the newly minted University of California moved from temporary quarters in Oakland into the campus' two not-quite-finished buildings.
The University of California Berkeley grew and flourished, accompanied by the kind of growing pains peculiar to universities, enterprising students knocking over trolley cars to create an excuse for missing lectures, and, in 1879, the suspension of the entire sophomore class over their "obscene parody" of the Junior Class Day program. The city of Berkeley grew with the campus; a downtown appeared and prospered. The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, which left Berkeley unscathed, attracted thousands of stability-seeking immigrants from across the Bay. Residential neighborhoods spread out from the campus. University Presidents Benjamin Ide Wheeler and Robert Gordon Sproul presided over the expansion of the university to its present size, securing its prestigious faculty and international reputation.
The university and the surrounding community grappled throughout the post-World War II years with the usual litany of student discontent, from a housing crisis to complaints about the "dehumanization of education". It was without a doubt the Free Speech Movement, however, that thrust Berkeley into the national consciousness of the tumultuous 1960s.
In the autumn and winter of 1964, a new and increasingly political student activism ran head-on into University policy, and university administrators, from an earlier era. Inspired by the struggles of southern civil rights workers, organizations like SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (The Congress on Racial Equality) began to recruit students on campus. Attempts to enforce University restrictions on political organization on campus led to tense stand-offs and sit-ins. At a December 2, 1964 demonstration, Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio stood on the steps of Sproul Hall (now called The Mario Savio Steps) and gave voice to the passion of a generation:
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even tacitly take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machines will be prevented from working at all."
The unrest, sit-ins and demonstrations continued for the rest of the year and into the next two years with Eldridge Cleaver sit-ins and "Free Huey" demonstrations.
The Free Speech Movement was able to wring some concessions for its cause out of the U.C. administration, but the times they were a-changin'. By 1969, with five years of Vietnam and domestic unrest behind them, both student activists and administration figures were of a more militant disposition. For many, the atmosphere in which People's Park became the flashpoint for a political and cultural conflict is synonymous with the Berkeley of the late 1960s and 1970s.
People's Park was nothing more than a scruffy little lot between Haste Street and Dwight Way purchased by the University two years before. In the spring of 1969, it became the focus first of community organizers, who wanted to create a public park, and then of police, highway patrolmen and the National Guard, who were ordered to fence the lot off. In the riot that ensued on May 15, 1969, one man was killed with a shotgun and another blinded. Tear gas, rocks and bottles were thrown, and billy clubs were wielded. 128 people went to the hospital. Further riots took place in the ensuing weeks—at the park site, on campus and in between. Helicopters dropped tear gas onto crowds.
Sporadic, violent protests flared up at People's Park throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s over issues as diverse as Apartheid and the installation of a volleyball court in the park. The latter, in 1991, sparked 12 days of rioting during which a homeless woman attempted to attack Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien with a knife. She was shot and killed by police.
Today, People's Park is still a unique place with a basketball hoop and a free clothing box, and is likely to remain so in the future. Leased by the University to the City of Berkeley, no one seems eager to do anything with it.
Today's Berkeley is a quieter place. Its politics are still remarkably fractious, but student protests are not the volatile factor they once were. Business majors cowed by academic pressure no longer have the energy to "smash the state" (note that after receiving enough "express deposits" of bricks and incendiary devices, the once glassy Bank of America branch at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Durant Street is now a windowless, concrete fortress).
In spite of itself, Berkeley society seems to have reached a strange point of balance. The interests of commerce, the University, the progressive left and NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) property owners and preservationists all counter each other over a fulcrum of political correctness so stifling that radical change seems impossible.
On the threshold of the 21st Century, Berkeley stands ready to be a full participant, if not a leader, in the New Economy. Its Internet and high technology businesses are as successful as they can be. The city's retail economy is booming. The arts are thriving, supported by the community. While bitter complaints are heard about the Cal football team, everyone agrees that the University of California should be in good shape for years to come.
And there are still cows, too. (Don't believe us? Pick up a quart of Berkeley Farms milk.)