By DENNIS WYATT
BERKELEY — The vibe is definitely different in Berkeley.
And nowhere is it clearer than the eclectic four-block stretch of Telegraph Avenue that runs between Bancroft Way and Dwight Way by the University of California campus.
Between dining options, shops, street artists and vendors as well as “characters” you won’t find in another downtown in the Bay Area that matches it.
A roughly 90-minute drive via freeway, Berkeley offers a somewhat fun alternative to pleasant mixtures of food, fun, and shopping than you can find in born again downtowns such as Pleasanton, Livermore and Lodi. That is due in no small part to Berkeley catering to the student body of one of the world’s greatest institutions of higher learning as well as an enclave of artists and others with different takes on commerce and food.
Try to find a book seller that matches Moe’s Books — a sprawling four-story vault of the printed word from new to used books and even rare books. It’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and alone is worth the trip.
If books aren’t your thing there’s plenty of unique shopping and/or browsing options. They run the gamut from the trendy to the vintage. There are even funky options at places such as the Berkeley Hat Company as well as honest-to-goodness music shops that are an effective modern cutting edge take on Tower Records of yesteryear.
And while San Francisco offers every type of cuisine imaginable, it arguably doesn’t have as many unique choices within such a compact area that you don’t need to float a loan to dine at.
Where else within blocks of each other can you enjoy places like the Mount Everest Restaurant featuring Nepalese and Indian cuisine, the Finfine Ethiopian Restaurant, Thai Basil Cuisine, Kiraku Japanese tapas and others. Berkeley has a whole host of other offerings that range from traditional Italian and Chinese fare to unique takes on continental and sustainable dining that await in its downtown or its dining option rich area known as the “Gourmet Ghetto.”
If you think you won’t like Berkeley because it sounds like a day of strolling shops and dining, you protest too much.
Berkeley is much more.
At the base of Berkeley is the city marina with a view of the Bay that gives off a different vibe than the San Francisco waterfront or even Tiburon in Marin County.
There is the 178-acre University of California campus that is open to the public for self-guided tours (there are guided tours available through the Berkeley Visitors Center). It has been described as Berkeley’s “Central Park” due to its extensive wooded walking paths, elaborately landscaped grounds and tranquil setting. The campus connects with Telegraph Avenue, downtown Berkeley, and the Gourmet Ghetto or North Shattuck.
My favorite places in Berkeley are in the hills. Simply driving through the windy neighborhood streets approaching the ridge line is a visual treat.
And what awaits you in the hills is impressive.
Topping the list is the University of California’s Lawrence Hall of Science, the celebrated science, technology, engineering and math learning decades before the acronym “STEM” was coined. It offers hands on experiences to get you up close and personal with technology and science.
It offers an outdoor play structure for kids including a simulated massive strand of DNA. Inside the halls there are permanent and rotating scientific and technological exhibits including a planetarium and theater.
The drive to the top of the campus is worth it even if you opt not to venture into the Lawrence Hall of Science.
That’s because of the stunning views of San Francisco, the Bay, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate, and Berkeley below that can be seen from the panoramic vista from the hall’s deck. Time it with the sunset and you’ll see a view of The City and San Francisco Bay that will forever be etched into your mind.
A day trip for me is never complete without hiking.
Crest the ridge line above Berkeley and you’ll find yourself taking in the most stunning overlooked attribute of the Bay Area — wilderness.
The East Bay Regional Park District carved out 2,079 acres of that wilderness to create Tilden Regional Park.
While it’s not the same as hiking the expansive Ohlone Wilderness stretching in the East Bay from south of Livermore, past Sunol to the northeastern reaches of San Jose or the massive, rugged, and lightly visited Henry Coe State Park out of Morgan Hill it is still a nice treat even if you prefer to stay away from crowds. There are 39 miles of hiking trails including plenty of peaks where the numbers do thin out.
But don’t think that Tilden Park is designed for hikers.
It has a lot of kid, family and “relaxation” friendly activities including Lake Anza that is pleasant to walk around or relax on its sandy beach. You can also swim in the lake at the designated swimming area.
There’s a nature area, a “little farm” that is of the petting zoo genre, admission free botanical gardens as well as rides such as a classic merry go-round and a scaled down steam train.
The park is ideal for picnicking.
Some argue the perfect way to top off the day is to head to Grizzly Boulevard to take in the sunset for a view that makes the stunning one from the deck at The Lawrence Hall of Science pale in comparison. Sunset from Grizzly Boulevard is one of — it not the most — spectacular views in the Bay Area.
And if for some reason exploring a city that is the most unique in the East Bay isn’t enough you can always stop in adjacent Emeryville and combine shopping with what qualifies as a mini-tourist attraction by visiting IKEA.
No matter how many times you wander through an IKEA you can’t resist thinking you’re on a modern-day anthropology excursion judging by the store’s offerings right down to how you can equip a viable living space of 390 square feet for two people.
IKEA’s take on retailing — although in the much dissed chain vernacular that many Berkeley activists loathe — is a mass production extension of the merchandising philosophy you’ll find on Telegraph Avenue when it comes to unique styles.
For more information on what to do and see in Berkeley go to visitberkeley.com.