Peace, Love and Happenings: When it comes to counterculture cool and a diversity of things to do, see and be, Berkeley, CA has a groovy thing goin’ on.
Berkeley, CA, the counterculture city that became notorious for the 1960s “Hell No, We Won’t Go” university sit-ins and an outright rejection of 1950s establishment values, is taking itself a little less seriously these days. It’s transitioned into a vibrant and culturally intriguing city, making it a hot weekend getaway spot for Southlanders—particularly those looking for a change of pace from crowded freeways and celebrity culture run amuck.
Fittingly, the city’s transformation from Protest Central to Curated Hip Haven mirrors the reincarnation of the iconic VW “hippie” van. In 2022, the automotive symbol of the “Make Love, Not War” era (Berkeley once boasted more VW buses than beatniks) will romance us again in the form of a snazzy retro-futuristic model—sans flower decals and “No Nukes” stickers. Berkeley too, has undergone a cultural makeover—one that celebrates the best of the new while embracing the old.
Welcome to Berkeley 2019—the city that has something for everyone.
A Foodie’s Paradise
Gastronomical options abound in Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto”—the foodie district with the iconic farm-to-table Chez Panisse at its epicenter. Explore on your own or stroll with award-winning writers and chefs on the “Berkeley Food Tour” through the neighborhood’s more popular food destinations. Here are just a few fabulous foodie finds: La Note—a truly authentic French restaurant with breakfast fare such as brioche pain perdue and omelette de pommes de terr (easier eaten than said). For all-American food, you’ll hit the mother lode at Eureka! Best bet is their 28-day dry-aged, carrot-fed angus burger. These cows had it good, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t either. Gulp your environmentally conscious burger down with libations from their inventive rotating beer and craft bar or any one of their famed small-batch whiskeys. This whiskey is so woke, it’ll make you want to throw a Wake—even if you’re not Irish. Other above-standard eateries include Standard Fare—a sunny lunch spot that offers tasty treats such as a sausage and butternut sandwich with herbs and spices, roasted cabbage and sautéed leeks. For breakfast, try their stone-cut oats, millet and amaranth topped with crispy quinoa and sesame, chia and pumpkin seeds. Fresh, healthy and hip—that’s the Berkeley way. Oh, and don’t forget to “say cheese!” Not for selfies, but for the one place in “Bizerkely” where cheesy communal love is a going concern. At The Cheeseboard Collective you can sign petitions, break out in song to a jazz funk folk piece and pat a patio-friendly dog—all while enjoying the best gourmet pizza this side of the picket line. They only serve one type of pizza per day, but who cares? Yes, their sourdough crust and secret green sauce is that good.
Walk This Way
All that food will need to be burned off and there’s no shortage of ways to do that in one of California’s top-rated walkable cities. And there are plenty of destinations worth pounding the pavement for. Trek through the Downtown Arts District and enjoy art galleries galore while building those calf muscles (the BAMPFA, aka Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, is a must-see). For escape-from-the-city nature hikes, head to the hills and enjoy the magical Tilden Regional Park with its spectacular vista views and numerous hiking trails. Stop and smell the wildflowers, enjoy a refreshing mist from the waterfalls and stand in awe of the towering Redwood and intoxicating Eucalyptus trees. Kids can let off steam by taking a ride on the park’s steam train followed by a merry-go-round and petting zoo right in the middle of a forest setting.
UC Berkeley: Bells, Bones and Botanical Must-Sees
Another popular setting for nature lovers is the UC Berkeley campus. Its 178-acre nature preserve is a destination within a destination—designed in part by the co-architect of New York’s Central Park. Of special note is UC Berkeley’s Botanical Garden which boasts an exceptional collection of more than 13,000 plants from nearly every continent. For architectural gems, visit the neoclassical Hearst Greek Theater—a beautiful 8,500-seat outdoor venue used for a variety of performances, including the Berkeley Jazz Festival. And no visit to UC Berkeley would be complete without visiting The Campanile—a historic landmark and the third tallest bell and clock tower in the world. Be soothed by the sound of the tower’s ringing carillon bells (rings twice daily), then enjoy a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Berkeley and beyond, from its observation deck. Also worth viewing is a vast collection of tar pit fossils rehomed in the tower for preservation since 1914—including 20 tons of 23,000-year-old Pleistocene fossils from LA’s own La Brea Tar Pits. (Admission was free for those old fossils … for regular folks it’s $4.) For a complete guide to touring this sprawling campus filled with hidden gems and other must-see spots in Berkeley, be sure to download the indispensable Berkeley microguide found at www.visitberkeley.com.
After seeing the sites, you’ll be ready for a change of pace. For watersport lovers, options abound. From stand up paddle boarding (SUP) to sea kayaking to sailing to windsurfing, Berkeley is an ideal place to launch out onto the bay. You can enjoy these seafaring adventures (as well as land sports such as rock climbing and rappelling) on the cheap through UC Berkeley’s Cal Adventures. It’s not just for students! Check out all their classes, clinics, custom trips and more at recsports.berkeley.edu/cal-adventures.
Happening Historic Hotels
Of course, every explorer needs a landing pad—preferably a luxurious one. On that score, Berkeley offers some of the Bay Area’s finest accommodations—combining convenience with curated comfort. Here are a few of the more popular places to stay: Hotel Shattuck Plaza, a historic yet forward-thinking luxury hotel located in center of the city, close to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Lounge lizards will love the bar with its large range of specialty cocktails. Bancroft Hotel is a 22-room boutique bed and breakfast (more quaint than luxurious) that’s close to the UC campus and super environmentally friendly—ensuring that you’ll “dream clean and green.” And because little things mean a lot when it comes to memorable hotel stays, the Bancroft will even provide you with a picnic lunch and blanket (after fueling your day with their homemade granola). For the most refined hotel experience, you can’t beat The Berkeley City Club, where 1930s meets modern sensibilities. A history and architecture lover’s dream, this stunning and comparatively quiet hotel affectionately dubbed “The Little Castle” is unique, if a bit cramped (non-suite rooms are tiny). The upside is that it offers plenty of lovely sitting areas, and its Olympic-sized swimming pool will definitely channel your inner Esther Williams. Choose an intimate TV-free room with either a stunning view of the bay or a pastoral view of the Berkeley Hills. Keep in mind that these hotels either don’t offer parking or charge a fee, which is yet another reason to make your Berkeley weekend escape a car-free one! Thankfully, BART and Uber make that easy.
Berkeley offers a rich and diverse history, stunning architecture, fabulous eateries, as well as funky and fun places to visit—making this reimagined city on the other side of the Bay a must-visit destination. If you’re an outdoor-loving, culturally-minded Southlander seeking a little more diversity and depth to your weekend getaway—along with the requisite California “good vibes”—then “