When someone mentions Berkeley, the name conjures up images of hippies, tie-dye, progressive politics, and protests. While the city remains a hotbed of social change, Berkeley has evolved dramatically since the 1960’s. Today, you can find a myriad of restaurants, historical buildings, parks, and beautiful vistas of the Bay Area when you visit this neat city. Don’t forget to visit oddball locations such as a psychic or an antique store while you are at it. School may be in session (and I recommend you visit then), but the city of Berkeley is so much more than a university town. It is one of the most politically liberal cities in the country. During weekdays, it is not uncommon to see homeless people (although the streets have been cleaned up since my college days), do shopping in ethnic stores and buy from street vendors selling hand-made products such as jewelry and t-shirts. It is truly one of the culturally vibrant places I have been in California.
Last Saturday, I made a plan with a friend of mine to visit my Alma Mater. University of California, Berkeley is located in the heart of city of Berkeley. Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Anglo-Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills, which is a very posh area.
We made our way up the 880 North from Fremont and observed beautiful greenery during our drive. After parking our car in a parking garage (parking is a nightmare here so either Bart it or park in one of the garages) and made our way to one of my favorite cafes in town, Café Milano on Bancroft Avenue. I remember spending many evenings here during college with my books and a cup of mocha. The prices were reasonable and it was open on weekends as well unlike Julie’s, which serves halal food, but was closed when we checked it out.
After lunch, we walked parts of Telegraph Avenue and I bought a pair of evil eye earrings from a street vendor for less than $10 dollars! I think if you want a souvenir then street vendors on Telegraph Avenue are the cheapest and most memorable way to shop compared to the overpriced stores that line the street. Here you will find homeless people, smell pot, and observe bright tie-dyed t-shirts everywhere. There is a plethora of restaurants you can also eat in also. Blondies is a popular local destination.
After making your way up Telegraph Avenue, you enter Sproul Plaza and then also see Sather Gate. This is the most happening place on campus. On a weekday, hundreds of students walk this plaza and it is tough to avoid people passing out flyers, protests, skateboarders doing tricks or swing dancers swing dancing! You can easily spend some time just sitting on the steps of the Sproul Building and watching people go by. Sather Gate is another point of interest. It is hard to miss it as you continue walking inside the campus. There is a neat creek that runs by it which is quite beautiful in the winter during rainy season.
As you make your way further inside the campus, on the right hand side is the Campanile Tower also known as Sather Tower. It still rings its chimes every hour and it reminds me of the time I used to rush to classes in college. Even though I have never been on top, you can actually go up there and overlook the campus from its height. There is also a free campus tour that starts there at 10 am on Saturdays (please check for any changes). After you take some creative photos of the Sather Tower, make your way to the vast Memorial Glade. This is another central location of the campus where many beginning of the school year events occur welcoming the new classes. Get coffee from the numerous cafes on campus and just sit and relax under a tree in this vast space of grass. Do check out the Doe Library on the south end of the glade from the inside. It is truly beautiful. Although the libraries are closed to non-students, it is actually worth taking a peek inside this one.
Another memorable building is the Life Sciences Building. There is an actual replica of a T-Rex skeleton which kids and adults alike will love. It is quite beautiful from the outside as well. Not to mention, the area around is covered with trees and it is easy to spot playful squirrels in trees and pavements. Further west is University Ave, which you can drive through, but I don’t recommend spending much time here since most of the stores here are for Indian clothes, grocery and DVD’s.
After an hour on campus, we made our way back to our car (not before a Bubba drink from Tea One on Telegraph) and started our car part of the trip. We drove up to the North Berkeley area, which is quite nice and quieter than the rest of the city. A surprising point of interest that is worth a stop is The Thornburg Village/Normandy Village. As you drive up the street, you will notice suddenly a series of old and European looking buildings erected among the trees. The architecture is quite interesting and looks lovely in pictures.
One vista point in Berkeley Hills area is Tilden Park; another is the Lawrence Hall of Sciences building. Before I used to use the south end of the campus as my driving route to the latter location, however, because of The Thornburg Village stop, the GPS took us through the northern hills. And let me tell you, it is beautiful! Unlike the busy campus life, this hilly neighborhood is a serene part of town lined with expensive houses. I would highly recommend you take this route. Once you reach Lawrence Hall of Sciences, you need to pay for parking (again!) and either go inside the building where there are a lot of fun things to do for science nuts or just enjoy the incredible views of the Bay Area for free. From here, you can overlook the campus, squint your eyes to see the Golden Gate Bridge glistening in the distance, and admire the small downtown area of Oakland. I am sure on a clear day you can see San Francisco too. Highly worth the trip up the hill in my opinion.
Another fun thing to do is the Berkeley Botanical Garden. It is about 5 minutes from the Lawrence Hall of Science building and a fun stop for garden enthusiasts. We didn’t go here this time, but I have been here before and it is quite cute. On the way down the hill from Lawrence Hall of Sciences Building, you can also spot the outside part of the Greek Theater which hosts a variety of events such as concerts and graduations. I, myself graduated in there. Once you come down the hill, turn left and (try!) to find parking on Claremont Avenue for some delicious coffee or dinner. It is a cute little area and you can also look at the beautiful white-washed Claremont Hotel and Spa from there.
Other parts to explore in Berkeley are the Tilden Park, and the waterfront area. There is no way you can cover all this in one day so it is advisable to stay overnight here and really soak in the culture by enlightening all the senses in this vibrant city. Berkeley has a lot to offer for everyone and anyone. Happy Traveling!