Best things to do in Berkeley
Originally unveiled in 1903, the Greek Theatre is the longest-running outdoor amphitheater in the country. A century later, the open-air theater remains an electric place to catch a show. In the 60s, the amphitheater earned a groovy reputation, hosting musicians like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and The Grateful Dead (The Dead played the Greek no less than 29 times over the span of a dozen years). Today, the spot is a popular venue for indie rock bands like Now Arcade Fire, The National, Death Cab for Cutie, LCD Soundsystem.
Trek through Tilden Regional Park to discover panoramic views. Start at Inspiration Point—get there early, the parking lot fills up fast—and take the 8.2-mile Nimitz Trail. The paved route weaves through Berkeley’s hills, revealing glimpses of San Francisco across the bay and Orinda to the east, crossing from Tilden into Wildcat Regional Park. The trail also traverses a range of landscapes, from pines, sequoias and scrubland to eucalyptus groves and grassy hills. If you’re seeking a similarly awe-inspiring payoff with a bit less effort, drive up to the top of Grizzly Peak. The steep, winding road leads to various pull-outs and overlooks—an ideal place to watch the fog roll in at sunset.
The restaurant-packed strip of Shattuck Avenue bordered by Rose and Hearst is affectionately dubbed the Gourmet Ghetto. Its most beloved resident, perhaps, is Cheese Board, which offers a rotating selection of nearly 400 types of rare cheeses from around the world, as well as a fresh-baked breads and pastries. A couple doors down, Cheese Board also has a pizzeria where they bake a different sourdough-based pizza each day, five days a week. Typical (gtough unusual) combos include peaches, mozzarella, arugula, and Dunbarton Blue cheese or corn, pasilla pepper, onion, mozzarella and Valbreso feta cheese. Just down the street, you’ll come across the legendary Chez Panisse. Chef Alice Waters is an icon in her own right, serving dishes that are unwaveringly seasonal, sustainably sourced, and organic. If the four-course prix fixe is too splurgy, head to the Chez Panisse cafe upstairs, where you can order a la carte dishes for lunch or dinner.
Legendary public university UC Berkeley had a lot to offer visitors. Sign up for a free campus tour, which begins every day at 10am to get an overview, or explore the massive grounds for yourself (you'll find everything from a running creek to a eucalyptus grove among the historic buildings). Before you leave, make sure to take in the view from the top of the Campanile, the world's third tallest bell and clock tower.
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive encompasses more than 16,000 films and videos and over 19,000 works of art. The original 1939 building got a sweeping expansion and upgrade in 2016, melding the old museum with a new 35,000-square-foot addition. The new portion includes two film theaters, a performance space, a cafe, an art-making lab, a reading room, and more. The art collection spans old and new, from Ming and Qing dynasty Chinese paintings and old master prints to modern works by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Moe Moskowitz, a native New Yorker, moved to Berkeley in the throes of the Beatnik era. Moe’s Books, his four-story store, is a Berkeley icon, stocking over 200,000 new, used, and rare titles. It’s known for hosting readings by luminaries like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem (who worked at the store in his youth), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as oddball events, like a Thomas Pynchon-themed release party or an arty indie film screening. Though Moe himself passed away in 1997, his legacy lives on.
Ogle more than 1,500 rose bushes and 250 varieties of blooms from around the world at the Berkeley Rose Garden. The terraced amphitheater spans nearly 4 acres and affords scenic views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. It’s crowned by a redwood pergola and dotted with benches for lounging. The best time to visit is in May, when the vibrant blooms are at their peak.
Lawrence Hall of Science partners with engineers and scientists from UC Berkeley to make science fun for kids. The exhibitions are innovative and expansive, from the planetarium to the 3D movie theater. Kids can learn about (and pet!) snakes, lizards, amphibians, Syrian hamsters, chinchillas and more in the Critter Corner. Then head over to the Ingenuity Lab, where you can design and build inventions, launch rockets, or learn how to earthquake-proof buildings. Consider it the incredibly cool, considerably less crowded version of SF's Exploratorium.
Vintners Jared and Tracey Brandt of Donkey & Goat Winery source their grapes from vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino, and the Sierra Foothills, but they operate their cellar and tasting room back home in Berkeley. The couple has been making so-called “natural wines” since before it was trendy—practicing sustainable and biodynamic farming methods and bottling their wines without stabilization, fining, or filtration. The weekend-only tasting room is unfussy and inviting. You can purchase wines by the glass, tasting ($15), or bottle—there’s cheese and charcuterie, as well—then head out back to claim the bocce court or cornhole set.
A must-see market? Trust us: Berkeley Bowl is no ordinary grocery store. The indie market first opened in 1977 as a small neighborhood shop. Now it covers 40,000-square-feet (and has a second location across town). The vast bulk selection encompasses beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, rice, seeds, tea, and spices. But it’s the insanely bountiful produce section that makes the Bowl destination-worthy. The array of organic fresh fruits and vegetables, most of it sourced locally, is the largest in the Bay Area. On any given day, you’ll find 15 different kinds of apples, 10 varieties of pears, and half a dozen styles of artichokes.