Centered around one of the University of California’s most recognizable and oldest campuses, Berkeley exists just across the bay from its sibling city, San Francisco. Before the college settled in the city, it was merely just an amalgamation of small farms and ranches, but before long both a transcontinental railroad terminus and the campus arrived in the area, and by the beginning of the twentieth century, Berkeley had electricity and telephone grids. Today, the city is perhaps best known for its progressivism and free, liberal bent, best aided by the prevalence of college students in its population. But it is also home to dazzling nature reserves, and a wonderful independent business scene. Here are ten things to do in Berkeley.
10. Telegraph Avenue
Stretching from Oakland to Berkeley, California, Telegraph Avenue is a relatively long street, but the bulk of the delight is actually concentrated between Dwight and Bancroft Way on the University of California’s campus. A vivid counterculture central during the Vietnam War, Telegraph Avenue is a place for intellectuals and tourists alike to congregate all times of the day. The 1960s vibe is still pretty strong here, with plenty of panhandlers and weird, small shops. While it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it is certainly worth figuring out if it is.
9. University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley
This botanical garden was established over 120 years ago, in 1890. Since then, it has served as a non-profit horticultural research center for students at the University of California, while remaining open to the public throughout. The garden has an enormously diverse collection of plants, with over 13,000 different species, one of the largest in the US. While most of the plants on display are from similar climates around the world, the garden manages to have representative species from Asia, Central America, African, and Australian lands. The garden is open daily and admission is $10 per adult.
8. Berkeley Repertory Theatre
This theatre is a well-established, Tony-Award-Winning theatre that houses two stages, and an acting school. For over forty years, the Repertory has been putting on top-notch shows, sending seven to Broadway in the past as many years. If you can nab tickets for one of their performances during your stay, you should take advantage of it. A small theater results in an intimate experience you and the family won’t soon forget. There is a pretty accessible bar and lounge that you can utilize before or during intermission.
7. Lawrence Hall of Science
Serving as the University of California’s public science center, the Lawrence Hall of Science (named after UCB’s Nobel Laureate) is an educational facility best suited for kids between the ages of 6 and 12. The center has plenty of interactive exhibits that showcase and promote learning about subjects such as environmental change, earth and space, design and engineering, live animals, and plenty more. The Hall of Science is open from 10AM to 5PM Wednesday through Sunday and admission is $12 per adult and $10 per child.
6. Adventure Playground
This is not your typical playground. The biggest difference between an average playground and the Adventure Playground is that children are in charge here. Most of the structures can be manipulated by visitors – whether that means participating in a fun fort-building activity, painting, and other activities that promote working with friends and creative solutions. It should be noted that parents are expected to pay fairly close attention to their children while they are here, so if you’re looking for a bit of a break, you can always sign-up for their drop-off services.
5. Sather Tower
Perhaps the most iconic structure of the University or the city of Berkeley itself, Sather tower stands at over 300 feet tall and has been standing for over 100 years. Also referred to as the Campanile after a similar structure in Venice, the clock tower houses a number of bells that are employed throughout the year to tell the time or to perform songs. Interestingly enough, the tower also houses the University’s collection of fossils from the Le Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Visitors can ride the elevator to the top floor and treat themselves to one of the best views of the city and surrounding valleys and bays.
4. Fourth Street
Fourth Street was originally being developed to be a brand new industrial park in the 1960s, but when the city failed to drum up the interest of outsider companies, much of the area lay dormant for the next two decades. During the 80’s however, revitalization efforts led to the redevelopment of the area and the inclusion of shopping and dining areas – all with a focus on unique design. Today, the strip includes art galleries, cafes, restaurants, unique stores and plenty more, the majority of which are independently-owned businesses.
3. Indian Rock Park
Located in the northeastern portion of the city, Indian Rock Park features two large rock outcroppings formed from volcanic rhyolite, barren when compared to the surrounding forest. There are steps carved into the rock for easy access to the top of the main outcropping, although more adventurous visitors can choose to boulder their way around. From atop the main outcropping, hikers are rewarded with a vast view of the surrounding area, from which all three bay bridges can be seen. Additionally, the rocks have a few indentations in them that are remnants from the indigenous people, who used them as mortars for crushing acorns.
2. Day Trip to San Francisco
Although this one might be a tad obvious, any stay in the bay area should be sweetened with a trip to the Paris of the West. Consider taking a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to downtown San Francisco and after grabbing some street food, head to the Piers for some people and sea-lion watching (where there is a wonderful aquarium), book a day trip to the island of Alcatraz, ride some cable cars, enjoy a romantic late night dinner, or walk through the infamous bustling Chinatown. San Francisco is nearly impossible to explore in even just one weekend, so no matter which way you head, there will be plenty of excitement in store.
1. Tilden Regional Park
With over 2,000 acres, Tilden Regional Park is one of the area’s largest. There are plenty of hiking trails available, some of which are paved and fairly level, making them attractive for biking upon. Of particular note is Inspiration Point, a summit that allows for grandiose views of the sprawling and soft California hills and even the San Francisco Bay on clearer days. The park also includes a nature center, a golf course, an antique merry-go-round, a small zoo, and many other attractions scattered throughout.
Thanks to the nearby San Francisco Bay, Berkeley benefits from a relatively cool, steady climate, resulting in steady temperatures throughout the year, which make it enjoyable to visit at any time. Home to many progressive students and post-docs, the campus caters to an alternative culture that many visitors will find agreeable and distinct. With many festivals occurring throughout the year, including the Kite Festival, the Arts Festival, and the Himalayan Fair, there will never be enough places to visit in Berkeley.