Superb dining, performing arts, and a bastion of liberal thought
WORLD-FAMOUS as a historic center of free speech and 1960s counter-culture, Berkeley, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, has morphed into a foodie destination and unique arts and shopping mecca. But it’s still Berkeley, proudly offbeat, quirky and fun to visit, especially now.
The Downtown Arts District on Addison Street showcases the Aurora Theatre Company and the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse—which is both a performance venue and folk music learning center—and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Berkeley Rep will host the world premiere of Indian director Mira Nair’s stage musical adaption of her hit film Monsoon Wedding, May 5-June 25.
Two more major venues opened downtown in 2016: the 83,000-square-foot Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), at 2155 Center Street, and the handsome renovated UC Theatre, a 1917 cinema-turned-music space that features a lively and diverse mix of performers, at 2036 University Avenue just west of Shattuck Avenue. North Berkeley along and near Shattuck is the city’s Gourmet Ghetto, with its jewel in the crown, Chez Panisse, founded by the doyenne of fresh, local, seasonal California cuisine, Alice Waters. The 1966 original Peet’s Coffee and Tea shop is right nearby, as are excellent food markets, the Cheese Board cheese shop/bakery and fine restaurants such as the organic, artisan-minded Mission Heirloom eatery.
One-of-a-kind shopping abounds on Fourth Street, north of University Avenue in West Berkeley; standouts include Miki’s Paper, which features hand-made Japanese stationery and wrapping paper. Also on Fourth, chef/owner Shotaro Kamio brings sophisticated Japanese technique and fresh California ingredients to cuisine inspired by his native region, Tohoku “snow country.”
Gorgeous brown-shingle wooden homes and public buildings by celebrated architects Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan—who adapted Arts and Crafts design to form the Bay Region style in the early 20th century— enrich the city. Maybeck’s serene 1910 First Church of Christ, Scientist, just east of Telegraph Avenue and south of the UC Berkeley campus, is an architectural hymn to silence.
On campus, Cal Performances brings international headliners to Zellerbach Hall. You can toast the artists and debate the true meaning of art in a plentitude of craft microbreweries near campus and beyond. Let’s not forget cocktails; they’re original and inspired at Tupper & Reed, located downtown. Got golf? Certainly. You can tee it up at the 18-hole Tilden Park Golf Course, in the woodsy Berkeley Hills above the bay. Specifics are available from the Visitor Information Center, 2030 Addison St.
SATHER TOWER marks the University of California Berkeley, above; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), below.