Home to a bustling university and quirky shops, Berkeley is a fabulous travel destination
If you’re looking for a U.S. destination appealing to families of varied ages and interests, Berkeley, California can be just the ticket.
Located directly across the bay from San Francisco, it offers a wealth of history, charm and neighborhoods with appealing bookstores, quirky shops, cafes and restaurants.
Home to the famed University of California (UC Berkeley), founded here in 1868, it has earned a worldwide reputation as an imaginative center of academic freedom, literary talents, free speech and foodie movements. In the 1960s it became a lightning rod for political awareness and activism, leaving the Free Speech Movement as its legacy. Today it enjoys a reputation as a most interesting town, ideal for an exploratory visit by family members of all ages.
Approaching the campus along Telegraph Avenue, you’ll want to stop at Moe’s Books, still a landmark of the ‘60s with its red and white awning and home to 200,000 new and used books on four floors. At the next corner, you’ll find People’s Park, created in the ‘60s during the political activism of the times. Today it has been returned to the university for student housing.
Continuing past record stores and unique shops, you’ll be at the Sather Gate entrance to the campus. Note the Free Speech Monument embedded in the concrete: “This soil and the air space above it shall not be part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity’s jurisdiction.”
On university property there are a number of sites to enjoy: the Campanile (Sather Tower) for the view and Zellerbach Hall, a multi-venue performance facility for music, dance and theater events such as the Joffrey Ballet or Peking Acrobats. The Berkeley Art Museum and Lawrence Hall of Science are other fine public museums at UC Berkeley.
CAFES GALORE. LET’S EAT
If tired and hungry, it’s time to try any one of the city’s many cafes and restaurants. Across from campus, Caffe Strada is just the place to linger over a latte for an hour or two. Or for a different experience, the cafe at International House, up the hill on Piedmont Avenue is the place to mix with visiting students from around the world (I should know; I met my Argentine husband here).
But, if serious dining is the order of the day, you may wish to head for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, pioneer of the organic food movement. Other interesting spots with varying menus are Rivoli, Saul’s Deli, Bette’s Oceanview Diner, and my personal favorite at the other end of town in the Elmwood District, the Trattoria La Siciliana.
The Cheese Board on Shattuck Avenue is a great place for tasting and advice from quirky knowledgeable individual owners. Hint: Some of the best (and less expensive) restaurants can now be found in neighboring towns like Albany and El Cerrito where newby restaurateurs are opening unique Asian specialty spots.
AND FOR SLEEPING?
The grand oldie, Claremont Club and Spa, is still perched high on a hill overlooking the Berkeley Tennis Club and the city below, but is now gussied up for its new affiliation with Fairmont Hotels. Other properties can be found up and down University Avenue to the Bay, including Travel Lodge, DoubleTree by Hilton at the Berkeley Marina and even a modest YMCA hotel.
Unique lodgings you might like to know about include the Rose Garden Inn on Telegraph – a collection of five former homes and buildings, all rolled together into one interesting property. Another is the centrally located 100-year-old property now known as the Shattuck Plaza Hotel, beautifully re-envisioned and close-by to the rapid transit (BART) should you wish to make a quick trip across the Bay into San Francisco.
Berkelely can be an ideal overview with your promise to return another time. Or it can be a more in-depth stay to truly appreciate all that this unique city has to offer. Enjoy!
Marty Sarbey de Souto is a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) with a long history in the travel/tourism industry. She has been a tour operator, worldwide trip leader, college tourism instructor and textbook author. Her consulting firm is Sarbey Associates (sarbeyassociates.com)