Travel + Leisure recently released their list of the best college towns and cities in the US, and Berkeley is the only California city to make the cut! The magazine references Berkeley’s “energized activist scene” and “plentiful green spaces” as places where students can learn both inside the classroom and out.
As a Cal alumna, lifelong Golden Bear, and an ex- tour guide campus ambassador, this author can’t help but agree… and then add a few more! Here’s my insider scoop about what makes both the UC Berkeley campus and the surrounding city such a memorable place to spend your college years.
Must-see campus buildings
UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 as California’s first land-grant university and first campus in the UC system. The city of Berkeley grew from this point, meaning that the campus continues to serve as a nexus of the city. As such, the campus remains open for the public to enjoy and is a point of pride for many Berkeley residents, whether or not they were students. Here, we’ll start with a painfully brief tour of the most iconic campus buildings worth taking a peek inside:
- Doe Library: The main library positioned in front of the grassy Memorial Glade, featuring two stunning high-ceilinged reading rooms flooded with natural light, plus the smaller Harry Potter-esque Morrison Reading Room.
- Campanile: A.K.A. Sather Tower, this is the third-tallest clock-and-bell tower in the world at 307 feet tall. Students can take the elevator to the top for free, but everyone else must pay the $5 fee.
- East Asian Library: This stunning library built in 2008 holds over 900,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
- Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB): This building is mostly worth a visit for Osborn the T. rex, which one of the most complete such skeletons in the world.
Restaurants and bars
It’s damn near impossible to round up Berkeley’s unparalleled food scene, but here are just a few of the most popular student haunts.
- Shattuck Avenue: Jupiter for pizza and craft beer, Cornerstone for concerts and comfort food, Toss for endless noodles, Ippuku for high-end izakaya, Cinnaholic for gourmet cinnamon rolls, Triple Rock for Monkey Head Thursdays, Chez Panisse for gourmet cuisine from Alice Waters, and Cheese Board for the best veggie pizza ever. The north end of Shattuck is where you’ll find “Gourmet Ghetto,” the district known for some of the best food in the Bay Area.
- Telegraph Avenue: Taiwan Professional Tea for boba; Abe’s, Blondie’s, or Sliver for pizza; Mezzo or IB’s for massive sandwiches; CREAM or Yogurt Park for ice cream; Raleigh’s or Tap Haus for craft beer. Nearby Durant Food Court (also known as “Asian Ghetto”) has majority Asian food and a newly-remodeled seating area. While you’re at it, stop in for vinyl at Amoeba or Rasputin, vintage shopping at Mars, and books at Moe’s.
- On-campus: One of my favorite things about Berkeley was the fact that the campus is not overrun by chain restaurants. Students can use their meal points at independent eateries open to the public including the historic Free Speech Movement Cafe and family-owned Yali’s. Berkeley also recently welcomed Cafe Ohlone, the world’s only Ohlone restaurant, to the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.
Entertainment, art, and experiences
- Greek Theatre: A historic one-of-a-kind 8,500-seat amphitheater hosting world-famous performances and concerts. It’s hosted the likes of the Dalai Lama and Theodore Roosevelt.
- Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA): See rotating contemporary art exhibitions and films at this pioneering museum, which Berkeley students can visit for free.
- Cal Performances: Berkeley’s best minds in music, dance, and theater perform at this large auditorium on campus. Cal students get 50% off all performances.
- Astro Night: Students and members of the public can get free access to the astronomy department’s telescopes and rooftop observatory at Campbell Hall on Thursday nights.
- Athletics: Cal sends talented athletes to the Olympics and world competitions every year. Students and Bay Area residents alike turn out in droves to watch them compete on Bear Territory during lively football games, soccer matches, swimming competitions, and countless other riveting competitions.
Hikes and nature
- Big C: There’s a giant concrete letter “C” in the hills by Lawrence Lab, which is a fairly quick, steep hike with great views as payoff.
- Fire trails: Check out spectacular views right near campus on the 1.5-mile Claremont Fire Trail or the 6.8-mile Strawberry Canyon Trail.
- Tilden Park: At over 2,000 acres, this lovely green park near the Berkeley Hills has a lake you can swim in, hiking trails, a golf course, and more.
- Berkeley Rose Garden: A historic rose garden with over 1,500 rose bushes and 250 varieties.
- Indian Rock: A rock park ideal for amateur rock-climbing and Bay views.
A few more hidden gems
- Berkeley Bowl: An independent supermarket with the most extensive produce selection in town, and possibly the nation.
- Wat Mongkolratanaram: A Thai Buddhist temple near Berkeley Bowl serving a delicious Sunday brunch.
- Berkeley Lab Guest House: The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has a little-known guest house with 57 rooms overlooking the city of Berkeley and the Bay.
- Tool Lending Library: Berkeley Public Library runs a tool-lending program that’s perfect for when you don’t want to spend the big bucks on a new tool for one-time use.
Of course, Berkeley is much more than a bullet list, and fellow Golden Bears will surely have more suggestions beyond what’s listed here. But whether you’re a future student or you simply live nearby, this Bay Area gem is worth getting to know. Go bears!