Sample the campus life of America's most passionate university
It's a minor mystery-some locals might even call it a conspiracy: Why isn't Berkeley better known as a destination for travelers? Perched on the edge of San Francisco Bay, this midsize city ab ounds with delights: fascinating and free lectures, savory, affordable food at ethnic restaurants, historic architecture, heart-stopping vistas, tranquil parks, and a vibrant cafe scene. Add to that world-class museums, concerts, theater, dance productions, and perhaps the top public university in the country, and it's a wonder travelers don't spend more time in energetic and progressive Berkeley. Perhaps Berkeley's fiercely independent politics have kept away some potential visitors. Known in some circles as the "People's Republic of Berkeley," the city was a hotbed of social activism in the 1960s. The Free Speech Movement was born here in 1964, when campus officials tried to crack down on antiwar protests. The movement spread to campuses across the country, fueling a national outpouring of sentiment against the Vietnam War. While protest still simmers, the fires of the 1960s have given way to embers of intellectual ferment. Today, Berkeley is better known for its Nobel laur eates and alternative shopping (used and collectible books, vast music stores, imported crafts from around the world) than for its demonstrations.
Approaching campus, stroll along the university's key location, Telegraph Avenue, to get a sense of what makes Berkeley special. Outdoors, the avenue has the feel of an exotic market-the smell of incense merges with the aroma of coffee and curries. Fat Slice and Blondie's sell hefty slabs of pizza by the slice. Street vendors hawk hemp necklaces, Che Guevara T-shirts, and bumper stickers declaring: "If you're not outraged you're not paying attention." Between Dwight Way and Haste Street, you'll find three literary bookstores: Moe's, Cody's, and Shakespeare & Co. On the same block is Caffe Mediterraneum, where beat poet Allen Ginsburg allegedly wrote part of his epic poem Howl. Continue north on Telegraph to two expansive music stores, Amoeba and Rasputin's, where you'll find thousands of used and new CDs and some good, old vinyl LP s.
A campus free for all
Situated on 1,232 acres in the heart of Berkeley, the University of California at Berkeley was founded in 1868 as a public campus, a radical idea in the less-than-egalitarian nineteenth century. A good first stop is the Public Affairs office at 101 Sproul Hall, where you can pick up a map listing top campus attractions. Also grab a copy of the Daily Californian, a student newspaper that lists events and lectures. For more information, stop by Visitor Services (2200 University Ave., 510/642-5215), just west of campus, where helpful staffers can assist or give you a brochure for a self-guided walking tour.
Campus highlights include the 9,000,000-volume Doe Library, and because Berkeley is a public institution, all 9,000,000 are available for your perusal (but you can't take anything out of the library without a card). Near the reference desk is an Internet-connected computer you can use for free for ten minutes.
Near the top of the steeply ascending Centennial Drive is the Lawrence Hall of Science, a hands-on museum that's an essential stop for families, with interactive exhibits for kids of any age.
Feed your head
Every night of the year brings a new attraction to Berkeley: Recent lecturers have included author Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) and politicos of every outlook. To find out about events before visiting, see berkeley.edu/calendar-and note that the main page lists highlights only; for a comprehensive list of events, use the calendar on the left side of the page and click on a date to see everything taking place that day. Another good site is berkeley.edu/visitors, which has updated information about free campus tours (offered Monday to Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.).
The Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, 510/642-1412, bampfa.berkeley.edu; $8) screens art films by legends like Akira Kurosawa and recently hosted a program entitled, "The Sixties, Spirituality, and P sychedelia," featuring the "visual music" of the period. Adjacent to the Pacific Film Archive is the Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way, 510/642-0808; $8), open Wednesday through Sunday, which houses exhibits ranging from early Buddhist ink paintings to modern photography.
Zellerbach Hall (510/642-9988, calperfs.berkeley.edu), on the south side of campus, welcomes internationally famous musicians such as Senegalese guitarist Youssou N'Dour and dance productions from Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, and more (tickets start at $18). The off-campus Berkeley Repertory Theater (2575 Bancroft Way, 510/647-2949, berkeleyrep.org) is known for such provocative works as its recent staging of Salman Rushdie's fable Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
Berkeley's diversity of ethnic cuisines enhances any visit. Naan 'n' Curry, on Telegraph near Durant, features platters of tender tandoori chicken and veggie curries starting at $4. A plate-size loaf of naan (Indian bread) costs only $1. Cafe Intermezzo (2442 Telegraph Ave.) usually has a line out the door waiting for its heaping $5 salads piled high with avocado, eggs, garbanzo beans, and tomatoes. Le Petit Cheval (2600 Bancroft Way) serves bowls of steaming Vietnamese noodle soup with meat or veggies for $4 to $5.
If you're in Berkeley on a Sunday, visit an Asian temple called Wat Mongkolratanaram (1911 Russell St., 510/849-3419), which serves the most authentic Thai food this side of the Pacific, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's a grand place for lunch after shopping at the sprawling weekend flea market near the Ashby BART station.
A room of one's own
Where to stay at an affordable price? Best value near the Berkeley campus (about six blocks away) is the Capri Motel (1512 University Ave., 510/845-7090), with comfortable and clean rooms starting at $65. Or you might try the Berkeley Travelodge (1820 University Ave., 510/843-4262), just four blocks from campus and nicely furnished. Singles cost $79, doubles $89-but rates may be slightly higher on crowded weekends, especially at graduation time. Two alternatives in the budget category: The YMCA (2001 Allston Way, 510/848-6800) has singles starting at $39, doubles $50; bathrooms are shared. And the Ramada Inn (920 University Ave., 510/849-1121) has rooms for $79. The latter is far from luxurious and a hike or bus ride to campus, but the rooms are serviceable.
Moving up in price, to $99 single, $109 double including Continental breakfast, you may want to splurge at the quaint and centrally located Beau Sky Hotel (2520 Durant Ave., 510/540-7688). On the hotel's ground floor is a Thai restaurant with rice plates starting at $4. Another well-decorated and conveniently located upscale option is the Bancroft Hotel (2680 Bancroft Way, 510/549-1000), with rooms starting at $129. But bear in mind that all 22 rooms at the Bancroft have one queen-size bed apiece.
The easiest air access is via Oakland Internatio nal Airport, 14 miles from Berkeley. Board an AirBART shuttle (runs every 15 minutes; $2 adults, 50> for kids and seniors) to the Oakland Coliseum BART station. From there it's a 15-minute train ride to Berkeley for $1.65. Plenty of taxis and rental cars are also available at Oakland's airport. Parking in Berkeley is a challenge; consider this before renting a car. AC Transit buses can haul you to the Lawrence Hall of Science and other attractions around Berkeley. For more advice on attractions, dining, shopping, events, and transit, see visitberkeley.com or call 800/847-4823.