Renowned for its prestigious university, diverse culture, and Bohemian spirit that heavily flourished in the 1960s, the city of Berkeley sure is unique. If you can imagine beautiful parks/outdoor spaces, interactive museums, and a bustling food scene, then you’re thinking about Berkeley right.
From the vibrant Downtown Berkeley to the storied history of Telegraph Avenue, from its foodie culture to its sustainability culture, there is something to see/do for every type of traveler. All of these factors make Berkeley, CA a super fun place to visit either for a day trip or a weekend trip!
Whether you’re exploring the city for the first time or looking for some new activities to do, I’m here to help!
Aside from the fact that I spent many of my college years living here, I actually currently live in Berkeley, CA. That means I’m going to be including a few recommendations that might be a bit off-the-beaten-path (but who doesn’t want more of that).
Here is your ultimate guide to Berkeley sightseeing, with details about where to eat, shop, enjoy the outdoors, and learn more about the Bay Area. Continue reading for my list of the top things to do in Berkeley, CA–from a local’s perspective!
Forewarning: There will be lots of food recommendations.
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
OVERVIEW OF BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA
Berkeley, California is a city on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay in northern California. The city was named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north.
Berkeley is probably best known as the home to UC Berkeley, the oldest campus in the University of California system. While most people come just to spend an hour or two walking around the campus, there’s so much more this city has to offer. Just take a look at this map of all the different neighborhoods worth visiting!
Berkeley, CA boasts some of the best food, history, and activities that the Bay Area has to offer, but it’s not like any other Bay Area city you’ve experienced.
It comes with its own unique blend of Berkeleyan culture–you’ll begin to understand this culture once you’ve set foot into the city. It’s a melting pot of students, philosophers, environmentalists, and bread/cheese-lovers.
Whether you resonate with all of these personas or none at all, Berkeley is a unique city worth exploring.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA
Because the city is situated near the San Francisco Bay, the weather in Berkeley is consistently pleasant throughout the year, making it a true year-round destination. The climate is mostly mild and dry, so for the most pleasant exploring weather, we recommend any time from April to November.
If you’re looking to spend a lot of time outside, you’ll get the warmest weather in the months of July, August, and September–and even then, it’s not unbearable heat like you’d experience in other parts of the USA! During these warmer months, you will see highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50s.
From the months of December to March, it’s still very possible to explore Berkeley and be outdoors. There’s no snow and rarely will there be rain. You can expect highs in the low 60s and lows in the 40s. Just be prepared to bring layers and/or a puffy jacket!
Humidity is usually low in the Bay Area so temperatures will feel very nice most of the year, excluding some abnormally hot weeks in late summer and some cold weeks in the winter (with very low chances of rain or snow throughout the year).
And unlike the weird weather in San Francisco, fog and wind are a lot less prevalent on this side of the bay! So if San Francisco looks foggy and cold, you can’t assume you’ll be getting the same type of weather once you get to Berkeley, CA!
HOW TO GET TO BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA
Berkeley, CA is located directly east of San Francisco, CA, separated by the San Francisco Bay and connected by the Bay Bridge. Berkeley is flanked by Albany, CA to the north and Emeryville, CA to the south. Oakland, CA is just ~10 minutes away.
If you’re coming to Berkeley from San Francisco, simply drive across the Bay Bridge, or hop on our local train, the BART.
Here’s a map of the BART lines. Before you get on, make sure the train (always specified by its destination city) will pass through Berkeley. Easy peasy.
Coming from the SF Peninsula and beyond? There is an Amtrak line you can consider taking up to Millbrae BART (then take BART to Berkeley), but the easiest way to get to Berkeley, in this case, is to drive.
Coming from the South Bay (Silicon Valley)? The BART extends to Berryessa/North San Jose, so if you’re in this area, you can hop onto BART. If you’re further south, chances are you will need to rent a car and drive.
If you are taking BART, depending on where you want to start your adventure, the main stops you’ll likely get off at are: Ashby Station, Downtown Berkeley Station, and North Berkeley Station.
HOW TO GET TO BERKELEY: OAK OR SFO?
If you’re flying in from out of state, the city is served by three major airports you can choose from (OAK, SFO, SJC).
In my opinion, Oakland has one of the best, hassle-free airports in all of California. Not only is it conveniently located to the freeway, accessible by train, and uncrowded inside, but also because of the fact that you can snag some really great travel deals going to and from OAK.
OAK is both an international airport (so there are lots of direct flights) and it’s a hub for budget airline flights. Even if you were solely trying to visit San Francisco, the Oakland Airport would be the way to go.
If you’re debating between flying in from the San Francisco Airport (SFO) or Oakland Airport (OAK), there are many reasons why I recommend OAK.
First, it’s the closest to Berkeley, CA. Next, there are fewer delays from OAK. SFO is always dealing with fog and weather-related delays, but because Oakland doesn’t have any of that, you’re bound to deal with fewer hassles.
It’s also a smaller airport, which means you’ll deal with less traffic congestion both at the airport and as you leave the airport.
You’ll also have the potential to save a lot of money, both on flight prices and car rentals once you land in the Bay Area (in my experience, car rentals from SFO are always at least $50 more than from other Bay Area airports).
GETTING AROUND BERKELEY, CA
Berkeley is a mid-sized city, with stuff to do all over its many unique neighborhoods (West Berkeley, Downtown Berkeley, North Berkeley, Berkeley Hills, even nearby Kensington).
While you can certainly see and do a lot on a bike or via public transportation, I would still recommend coming in a car, especially if you plan to explore the outskirts of town, plan to go hiking, or plan to visit neighboring towns.
That way, you won’t need to walk for miles to get to the next neighborhood/district you want to see. With a car, you’ll also be able to do a lot more of the outdoor activities listed in this post if you have a more reliable means of transportation.
If you’re flying into the Bay Area, your best bet is to rent a car straight from the airport. The most convenient option is renting from the Oakland International Airport, followed by SFO. Rental cars tend to be cheaper at OAK.
We like to rent from Hertz. With their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive.
If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, I definitely recommend using Priceline’s rental car search. Not only does the tool allow you to compare rental car prices between a bunch of rental companies, but most of the time you can book with no prepayment and no cancellation fees. You won’t even be charged if you forget to cancel your reservation!
Having said that, public transportation is really common around these parts. Here are a few other forms of travel available to you.
You can get all over Berkeley using public transit. BART trains will take you to the general areas in Berkeley, while AC Transit buses will get you everywhere else.
- For BART: Find out schedule information from Downtown Berkeley Station here.
- For AC Transit: Use the convenient route planner here.
Ridesharing anywhere within Berkeley is relatively inexpensive (unlike San Francisco). However, if you do end up high in the Berkeley Hills for a hike, you could be faced with a lack of phone service which could impact your ability to order that car. Everywhere else, you’ll be just fine!
Biking is a fantastic way to explore Berkeley’s many neighborhoods because this city is super bike-friendly. I mean, it’s a college town! There are plenty of bike lanes to keep you safe from traffic and many places to park your bike. Best of all, you don’t even need to bring your own bike! The Bay Wheels bike share stations are literally everywhere.
The Bay Area’s bike-share program, called Bay Wheels, is operated by Lyft. If you’re traveling to other Bay Area cities, you will only need one membership, because this program and these bikes are also available in the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Emeryville, and Oakland.
Bay Wheels bikes and e-bikes are available on the Lyft app, starting at just $2 per ride. The bikes are available for use 24-7, 365 days a year and riders have access to all bikes in the network when they become a member or purchase a pass.
Yes, electric scooters have popped up like crazy over the past few years. This is a formidable method of traveling throughout Berkeley as well! Simply download one of the scooter apps, sign up, unlock the scooter, and have at it.
MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN BERKELEY, CA
42 BEST THINGS TO DO IN BERKELEY, CA
There’s literally so much to do in and around Berkeley, CA. Since it’s as much of a residential, family town as it is a university town, there’s really something for everyone here (and something for all types of budgets). Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Berkeley!
1. WALK AROUND CAMPUS
When in Berkeley, you can’t miss the opportunity to take a stroll on the UC Berkeley campus. UC Berkeley is the oldest university in the University of California system, known for its academically gifted students and renowned faculty.
In fact, Berkeley was ranked the #1 public national university by US News for 19 straight years (until 2019 when UCLA beat us).
Come see some truly beautiful architecture and get a taste of the impactful history Berkeley’s made on society (Free Speech Movement, the Black Panther Party, the Occupy Movement, and more).
Start at Sproul Plaza and enjoy the main campus entrance, bustling with student activity on any given day. Continue walking to see the famous Campanile (Sather Tower), the third tallest bell and clock tower in the world and a favorite symbol of the university. Make a stop at the Valley Life Sciences Building to check out dinosaur exhibits, including a freestanding mount of Tyrannosaurus rex at the center!
As you walk along, notice all the historical buildings and grassy pastures such as Observatory Hill and Memorial Glade. Nature is a big part of why I’m in love with the campus–you’ll find Strawberry Creek runs through the center of campus, leading to the Eucalyptus Grove in the eastern part of campus.
For football fans, take a walk to the famous Cal Memorial Stadium that hosts the Cal Bears’ games, located on the west side of campus on Piedmont Avenue.
2. EXPLORE TELEGRAPH AVENUE
Welcome to the counterculture hotspot of Berkeley, CA. Telegraph Avenue is the best way to get a feel for that down-to-earth college culture. With its many eclectic shops, Telegraph has retained some of its Bohemian vibe from the 1960s.
Here, you’ll find classic Berkeley thrift shops, half-off bookstores, Tibetan gift shops, college apparel shops, boba shops, and affordable food joints.
If you’re into music, don’t miss Amoeba Music, the world’s largest independent record store. Bongo Burger and CREAM are two very popular establishments among college students. Jealous of all the locals donning their Cal gear all over town? Telegraph Ave is a great place to get some Cal gear of your own (and often at discounted prices)!
Go about a mile further down Telegraph Ave for one of the best burgers and garlic fries ever at A+ Burger! I mean, just look at that… drool.
3. GRAB FOOD AT THE “ASIAN GHETTO”
Veer off Telegraph Ave. for a moment to head onto Durant Ave, the food mecca of the Southside. On one end, you’ll find Yogurt Park (frozen yogurt shop since 1977) and Riceful (yummy onigiris of all kinds).
On the other end, you’ll find a whole other world of cheap eats. My favorite casual eateries include Thai Basil Cuisine, Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiano, Steve’s Korean BBQ, and Sweetheart Cafe.
The cool and crazy thing is, all of these restaurants were here back when I attended college at UC Berkeley, almost 10 years ago. And they’re all still thriving!
Cross the street to find other wildly popular spots like Top Dog and House of Curries.
4. EAT IN NORTH BERKELEY (GOURMET GHETTO)
While the “Asian Ghetto” is popular for cheap and affordable eats, the Northside is known for its true foodie culture. The “Gourmet Ghetto” as locals call it, is rich with cuisines from around the world at a range of prices. On the higher end, you will find the prestigious Chez Panisse by Alice Waters, an upscale restaurant featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Another more affordable but equally as iconic spot (and one of my all-time favorite Bay Area food joints) is The Cheeseboard Collective. Cheeseboard is a worker-owned cooperative that is equal parts cheese store, bakery, and pizzeria.
Many other restaurants in North Berkeley were inspired by Chez Panisse, so what you’ll find in this neighborhood (along Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street) is an influx of excellent restaurants.
Some other local favorites include Grégoire (delicious French bites), Masse’s Pastries (exquisite European-style cakes and macarons), Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen (traditional Jewish cuisine), and Love At First Bite (yummy cupcakes and the best rugelach ever invented).
If you’re looking for a quick and relaxing refreshment, grab some tea at the Imperial Tea Court and enjoy a few moments in the tranquil outdoor patio.
5. EAT CHEESEBOARD PIZZA
As mentioned above, Cheeseboard is equal parts pizzeria, cheese shop, and bakery–and a quintessential Berkeley experience. The cheese shop features almost 400 different cheeses you can try, while the pizzeria next door offers affordable, life-changing pizzas of the day and live music.
I swear, their pizzas are to die for. They will serve only one type of vegetarian pizza each day, made fresh daily, on a homemade sourdough pizza dough. As an added bonus, you’ll usually get extra smaller-sized slices with your order!
Don’t start digging into your pizza without adding some of that Papi Chulo sauce (delicious spicy green sauce).
6. TAKARA SAKE MUSEUM
Sake museums are pretty common in Japan, but not so much here in the USA. However, Berkeley actually has one of its own, the only one like it in the country! The Takara Sake Museum showcases tools from the 19th and 20th centuries used for making sake, as well as various information about sake culture and history. You can visit the tasting room after the museum.
Some history on Takara for those of you interested: The Takara Sake Company traces its roots back to Kyoto, Japan (established in 1842) and started its USA headquarters in Berkeley in 1982. By 1990, Takara was the United States’ biggest sake producer. The Berkeley museum opened in 1998, as a tribute to its Berkeley roots!
7. CATCH A SUNSET AT INDIAN ROCK PARK
In the mood to climb some rocks? Located in the hills of Berkeley, you’ll find massive rock formations featuring pits left in them by their original inhabitants, the Ohlone people. Indian Rock not only boasts fun rocky trails to explore but also super spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay!
Indian Rock is one of my go-to spots whenever friends or family are in town. Sitting atop Indian Rock immediately takes you out of the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area and gives you a place to stop, reflect, and just breathe. Don’t forget to bring a picnic!
Please note that Indian Rock is located in a residential neighborhood, so please be mindful of those who live nearby.
8. GET A MAI TAI WHERE IT WAS INVENTED
Did you know Trader Vic’s, the famous Tiki Bar chain, actually originated in Oakland in 1934? It’s a pretty random fact, but yes, the mai tai cocktail drink was invented right here in the Bay Area! Now revered as one of the nation’s first Tiki bars and home of the Mai Tai, Trader Vic’s restaurant is currently located in Emeryville, CA.
Back in the 1930s, Vic “The Trader” Bergeron built a cozy little saloon on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, California called Hinky Dinks. After embarking on an adventure to Cuba to refine his skills as a bartender and learn more about rums from around the world, Vic transformed Hinky Dinks into a tiki retreat, named it Trader Vic’s, and put into practice his research on rums.
Years ahead of its time, Trader Vic’s quickly became one of America’s first fusion restaurant concepts. The Emeryville, CA location (the one you see today) replaced the Oakland one in 1973.
Come grab a Mai Tai where it was invented and say you did it! Their other specialty tiki drinks are also equally as creative and delicious. The interior of this restaurant must be experienced for yourself–it’ll transport you right into your Polynesian dreams.
9. GO BIKE RIDING
Given the hilly, green terrain that surrounds the city, biking and cycling are super popular activities in Berkeley. There are so many great places to ride your bike in Berkeley.
Some of my favorite spots include the Berkeley Marina Loop Trail, Berkeley Aquatic Park Loop, McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, and the Ohlone Greenway, all offering car-less bike riding experiences!
On warmer days, we love riding alongside the water, starting around McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, biking south towards Trader Vic’s, Chevy’s, and Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood. After grabbing tiki drinks or a meal, we’ll ride back home! (Total mileage is about 7 miles.)
If you’re more into mountain biking, there are some local favorite routes here.
10. TRY THE BREWS AT SIERRA NEVADA TORPEDO ROOM
Sierra Nevada has been a pioneer in craft beer in the USA for decades. Its main brewery is in Chico, so we’re super blessed to have this location here in Berkeley. It’s a calm, relaxing, and beautiful place to have a beer.
The Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room, located close to the Fourth Street Shops, can be found away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. It’s on the smaller side but it never feels too crowded. Food and snacks are available for purchase.
11. GRAB A DRINK AT WESTBRAE BIERGARTEN
We’ve only recently stumbled upon Westbrae Biergarten, and we’re so glad we did. This little neighborhood Biergarten is one of the most perfect ways to spend a sunny afternoon in Berkeley. They feature a series of eight rotating beer taps, so there’s always something new to try. They also carry a selection of local hard ciders, wine, and mead, along with seasonal specials like house-made sangrias or mulled wine.
Bring your babies and your dogs if you want, too. There are tons of great outdoor lounging/seating for everyone. And if you’re hungry, grab some food at the Brazil Cafe food truck located on the property.
After relaxing at Westbrae Biergarten, walk a few streets over to Acme Bread Company for always-fresh bread and pastries.
12. SHOP AT THE NORTH FACE OUTLET
Discounted outdoor gear? Yes, please! The prices here for North Face items just can’t be beaten! Instead of going to the crowded outlets in Livermore or Vacaville, this spot offers locals a convenient place to shop (without the hassle of driving to the outlets).
They have a wide assortment of items, ranging from backpacks to jackets, from kids to adult apparel. They always have great sales and additional discounts on the clearance racks.
13. BRUNCH AT LA NOTE
If you’re looking for a place to brunch, look no further than La Note. The food is on the pricier side, but everything is just so darn delicious. The decor on the inside (as well as the food) is what keeps me coming back–this restaurant is just so charming and so very French!
If the weather is good, be sure to ask for a table in their backyard patio. The brunch vibes could not get any better out there. And order a basket of pastries, pancakes, or french toast for the table!
14. BERKELEY FLEA MARKET
The Berkeley Flea Market is a one-of-a-kind market that brings together various cultures and products all in one place. Every weekend, the flea market provides space for local and international vendors to sell their crafts. You can expect to find textiles, jewelry, drums, bags, art, antiques, incense, body oils, and much more.
Come get a real taste of the Bay Area’s culture! This weekend event is easily accessible, located right by the Ashby BART station in Berkeley. Market hours are from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
15. GROCERY SHOP AT BERKELEY BOWL
I usually don’t include supermarkets on to-do lists, but Berkeley Bowl is what grocery dreams are made of. Berkeley Bowl is an independent, full-service supermarket committed to bringing you the highest quality groceries at the lowest possible prices.
This is the market that all markets should strive to be. I mean, the selection is unbeatable. Literally, choose any recipe that requires fresh ingredients and chances are you’ll be able to find everything you need at Berkeley Bowl.
Need apples? There are about 50 kinds to choose from. Avocados? About 10 different kinds, all with varying price points. Want fresh bread from two different local bakeries? No problem, Berkeley Bowl’s got you. The bulk bins are the best part; you can get spices, granola, and grains for a fraction of the cost compared to traditional supermarkets.
There are two locations–one in West Berkeley and one near downtown Berkeley. Don’t forget to bring your own grocery bags!
16. GRAB BRUNCH AT THAI TEMPLE
We locals love Wat Mongkolratanaram. Why? Well every Sunday, a fun backyard brunch is served there! A little bit about Wat Mongkolratanaram–they’ve served the local Thai community (including students) by offering religious services as well as open-to-the-public cultural events, language classes, and even a festive Songkran (Thai New Year) celebration each April.
However, they are best known for their Sunday morning event– a casual and delicious brunch served right after the service. When you arrive, you’ll join a line to trade your cash for tokens. Don’t worry about how many tokens to get—you can return after your meal to exchange tokens back for cash. Or better yet, save them for the next weekend!
A typical dish costs about $7-8 USD. On any given day, you can expect curries, soups, and noodles served on disposable plates. Since the portions are relatively big, you can bring your own Tupperware for use–it’s totally normal.
Once you get your food, head over to the picnic tables or pick a spot on the lawn to enjoy your food. Then, enjoy your brunch at the long tables laid out on the lawn! Don’t forget to save room for the mango sticky rice. It’s so tasty here!
The brunch is served Sundays from 10am to 1pm and is cash only.
17. GET A REAL IZAKAYA EXPERIENCE AT IPPUKU
Ippuku is a hidden gem located smack dab in the middle of Berkeley. Walking down Oxford Street, if not paying attention, you’d absolutely miss this place. But if you find it and decide to walk in, you’re in one heck of a treat.
Ippuku serves up some of the most authentic tasting yakitori in all of the East Bay. You can’t go wrong with the yakitori here! The food’s got that charcoal/smokiness about it, just like the yakitori places in Japan. Not only is the food absolutely delicious, but the ambiance is also on point.
Make reservations, show up early, or be prepared to wait a while. Locals in the know love it here!
18. BERKELEY ART MUSEUM AND PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley’s renowned visual arts center, is a venue that equal parts a combined art museum, movie theater, and archive associated with the University of California, Berkeley. If you’re looking to see some art in Berkeley, this is a great jumping-off point.
Overall, it’s a great space with lots of art galleries and rotating exhibitions. BAMPFA is open Wed-Sun with more than 20 exhibitions, 450 film screenings, and dozens of public programs each year. The building is located just a block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.
19. HANG OUT BY THE BERKELEY MARINA
The Berkeley Marina is perfect for those days where you want to spend a few hours out in the sun. César Chávez Park, located to the north, features really wide, expansive, and grassy lawns, perfect for picnicking, flying a kite, or reading while sunbathing.
On clear days, this is one of the best places for views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz! Do bring a jacket though, because it can get quite breezy over here (especially if you plan to ride a bike). This is hands-down one of my new favorite picnicking parks!
If you’re exploring Berkeley with children, don’t miss the chance to take them to Adventure Playground. This super unique playground features wild structures such as a zip line and other cool things to climb on like boats, forts, and towers.
Past the boat docks from the playground is Skates on the Bay, a restaurant serving up fancier brunch, lunch, and dinner. They’re known for their seafood, so make sure to get a taste of that. If you don’t feel like eating, it’s still a great place to grab drinks (people definitely come here for the view of the bay).
In addition to the marina, there is a hotel, a yacht club, several restaurants, a fishing pier, and biking/walking paths in the area.
20. GRAB DIM SUM BY THE WATER
From the Berkeley Marina, head 3-4 miles south over to nearby Emeryville, CA for some delicious dim sum at Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood Restaurant! This is a full-service restaurant, so you can expect a bustling atmosphere with food carts being pushed around all the time.
The best part about this restaurant? It’s located right next to the water, boasting those awesome Bay views!
There is also a walking trail right next to the restaurant, perfect for when you accidentally overeat and realize that you need to walk it off a bit. This is one of my favorite sit-down dim sum spots (especially when I’m in the mood to relax, enjoy views of the Bay, and splurge a little).
21. GET HOTDOGS AT TOP DOG
Top Dog serves up the only hotdogs you’ll ever need to eat in your life. They are incredible. From the texture of the casing to the flavor of the meat to the toastiness of the bun–Top Dog is perfection. Highly recommend the Kielbasa and Chicken Apple. Another plus? The dogs are super cheap and affordable!
They are open late at night so when that midnight craving hits and you find yourself in Berkeley, why not give them a try? We absolutely adore Top Dog and can’t say enough good things about this place!
Fun Fact: Usher loves Top Dog, too.
22. GO BAKERY-HOPPING FOR CROISSANTS
It’s no secret that the Bay Area knows how to do pastries. When I lived in Los Angeles, that was what I missed most about the Bay–the variety of establishments that made delicious and artfully-produced baked goods. I’m so glad I live up here again so that I have the ability to sink my teeth into flaky pastries on any given day!
Two of my all-time favorite bakeries for croissants are located in Berkeley: Patisserie Rotha and Fournee. Flaky, buttery perfection. Need I say more? The way these places make them–it’s an art form, no joke.
If bread is more your thing, do not miss Acme Bread Company (fresh, affordable, top-notch quality). And if you’re in the mood for some of the best butter mochi donuts and butter mochi muffins in all of the mainland USA, please pay Third Culture Bakery a visit!
Can you tell that I’m obsessed with baked goods yet?
23. STAY AT THE CLAREMONT CLUB & SPA
The historic Claremont Club & Spa is one of, if not the nicest hotels in the East Bay. The Claremont is no Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton, but it’s the closest you’ll come to it in the East Bay! It recently underwent a long-overdue remodel and now sports a fresh and sophisticated new look. For those of you looking for a weekend staycation, this is the hotel you need to stay at.
Hotel out of your budget? Come instead for high tea, a spa day/massage treatment, or grab lunch, dinner, and drinks! Sometimes, I’ll just walk around the property, just because I feel like it!
This hotel is located on the border of the Berkeley and Oakland Hills, making it especially convenient if you happen to be parents visiting your children studying at Cal. There’s also easy freeway access to Highway 13.
24. HIKE AROUND CLAREMONT CANYON REGIONAL PRESERVE
This area is one of my favorite spots to get a casual morning or quick weeknight hike in. The main trail (Stonewall-Panoramic Trail) is short but very steep at times! Do you know what that means? A great heart-thumping workout!
Despite the struggle, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with beautiful views of downtown Oakland, the Bay, and the Oakland Hills.
The terrain at Claremont Canyon is varied and includes rolling hills, forestry, and rocky terrain. There are several nice benches along the way that make for excellent stopping and viewpoints! If you’re looking to extend your hike a bit, I’d recommend going up Stonewall-Panoramic Trail and coming down Clark Kerr Fire Trail (you’ll get to explore a few parts of the UC campus while you’re at it).
25. EXPLORE THE KENSINGTON NEIGHBORHOOD
Kensington is a small, unincorporated town near Berkeley, CA. It’s so pleasant to just spend some time taking a stroll in the picturesque residential streets. Colusa Circle (the main shopping/dining area) has expanded quite a bit and has actually become a small-scale hotspot for great food, activities, and services.
In true Berkeley fashion, start with a baked goods run at the original Semifreddi’s, offering delicious carbs for the breakfast and afternoon-snack crowd. The Kensington Circus Pub is also definitely worth a visit, even if you’re traveling with kids–it’s a very kid-friendly pub, offering toys, chalkboards, and more for the little ones.
On Sunday mornings, come to the farmers market to stock up for the week on fruits, produce, jam, granola, seafood and more. The Kensington’s Farmers Market takes over Colusa Circle from 10am-2pm, rain or shine.
26. FOURTH STREET SHOPS
If you’d like to spend a few hours shopping, look no further than Fourth Street. This four-block-long area in West Berkeley features various independent and locally-owned boutiques including shops that sell sustainable vegan clothes, Japanese stationery, handmade jewelry, and artisanal homewares.
You’ll also find chain store favorites such as Anthropologie, Apple, Sur La Table, Lululemon, and even an Amazon 4-Star store.
Before you complete your shopping trip, make sure to grab some good food. In between all the shops are a good mix of cafes and restaurants, including longtime Berkeley favorite Bette’s Oceanview Diner, home of the fluffy and filling soufflé pancake. Pollara Pizzeria is my all-time favorite food joint here, serving up incredibly crispy Roman-style pizzas.
Another very popular option is Vik’s Chaat (located slightly further south of the main shopping area), serving up authentic Indian comfort food. While the inside of the restaurant is pretty large, it’s always packed due to its popularity.
27. GOLDEN GATE FIELDS
Calling all horse-racing lovers! You’re in luck, because Golden Gate Fields is located right here in Berkeley off Eastshore Highway. Even if you’re not interested in betting on races, Golden Gate Fields is a lovely venue for people watching, horse watching, and most importantly, eating.
Take advantage of Dollar Days every Sunday at the race track, which offers dollar admission, dollar parking, dollar hot dogs, and dollar beer. If you’re looking for something more than a hot dog, The Turf Club offers American pub-style cuisine.
The race track is huge and it’s always fun to just walk the length of the track to check out all the food stands, TV screens, and people dressed in their fancy Kentucky Derby-esque garb. Golden Gate Fields is conveniently located right by Fourth Street Shops.
In the late-summer months, look out for Foodieland, an Asian-inspired night market food festival, held at the Golden Gate Fields Racetrack.
28. GO FOR A JOG AROUND AQUATIC PARK
The Aquatic Park is another popular attraction near the Fourth Street Shops, offering many recreational activities including non-motorized water sports, disc golf opportunities, and birdwatching. If you’re looking for a place to take a morning jog or ride your bike without having to worry about cars, this is a great option. Once around Aquatic Park will garner you almost 2.5 miles.
29. HIKE GRIZZLY PEAK
Grizzly Peak, located in Tilden Regional Park, is truly a local favorite and a very popular hike among the students of UC Berkeley. Grizzly Peak, located just behind the UC Berkeley campus, was named after a California grizzly bear that lived in the area until the late 19th century.
Complete Grizzly Peak in the daytime and you’ll be rewarded with stunning aerial views of Berkeley, Oakland, SF, and the Bay. Come at night and catch the glimmering city lights from above!
At Grizzly Peak, there is a basketball court, a picnic area with a BBQ grill, and a children’s play area with a steel slide and sand area.
30. BERKELEY FARMERS MARKET
There are three main open-air farmers markets in Berkeley: Downtown Berkeley (Saturdays), North Berkeley (Thursdays), and South Berkeley (Tuesdays). The markets feature and celebrate sustainable agriculture and products that are brought in by small-scale farmers.
All of the products you’ll find will be locally grown and produced. Expect amazingly fresh baked goods, cheeses, flowers and other plants, fruits and vegetables, jams and preserves, olive oil, vegetables, and much more.
31. GET ZACHARY’S CHICAGO PIZZA
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza will make your cheesy pizza dreams come true. Literally, anyone that’s gone to school at UC Berkeley knows about Zachary’s. There is always a line because the pizza really is that good (many say it’s even better than the pizza you can get in Chicago)! They’re so good that they have five Bay Area locations within Oakland, Berkeley, San Ramon, and Pleasant Hill.
Not too into deep-dish like me? Zachary’s actually offers 2 styles of pizza: a Chicago-style stuffed pizza and a traditional thin crust pizza. There’s a pizza type for everyone!
32. TILDEN REGIONAL PARK
Tilden Regional Park is home to numerous hiking and biking trails as well as lookout points, including Grizzly Peak, listed above. If it’s a sunny and warm day, take advantage of the beautiful weather by going on a scenic hike, walking around (or taking a dip in) Lake Anza Beach, taking a trip to the nearby botanical garden, or hitting a few golfballs at the Tilden Park Golf Course.
Traveling with kids? The Little Farm, merry-go-round, and steam train here make Tilden Regional Park the perfect destination for kids. You’ll also find large grassy lawns, perfect for picnics and games!
33. GET AN OLFACTORY EXPERIENCE AT THE AFTEL ARCHIVE
Learn and experience the history of natural fragrances. Yes, this is a museum dedicated to smells–who knew such a fun and quirky museum could exist! In 2017, perfumer Mandy Aftel converted her garage into the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. Since then, people have visited to sample more than 300 natural scents ranging from flowers to leaves, fruits to trees, and more. You’ll even be able to take home three samples!
This museum is one of the coolest things to do in Berkeley, but plan ahead because it’s only open on Saturdays.
34. EXPLORE ELMWOOD
Elmwood is a cute, charming, and all-around good time type of neighborhood. This stretch of College Avenue plays host to many cafés, shops, and restaurants. You’ll find over 80 independently-owned boutiques and restaurants set in a friendly, neighborhood environment. In the mood for donuts? Gotta get Dream Fluff Donuts. Looking for some NY-style bagels? Boichik Bagels is the only spot you need to consider.
Don’t miss a quick browse of Tail of the Yak–it’s like no other shop you’ve ever been to. This one-of-a-kind gift shop has goods on display that are ever-changing: imagine paper products, wrapping paper, French soaps and glassware, and even peace and love doves!
And if you’re looking for affordable secondhand fashion, head to Crossroads Trading Co., one of my favorite places to find one-of-a-kind pieces! If you really start digging, you might need an hour or two here!
35. EXPLORE THE ROCKRIDGE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Rockridge, Oakland neighborhood is another fun one to stroll around. This clean and adorable neighborhood features many blocks of stylish shops and upscale restaurants along College Avenue, between Florio Street and Bryant Avenue. Don’t miss the artisan coffee shops, casual American-style cafés, trendy Italian restaurants, and casual ethnic eateries.
If you’re looking for a spot to eat here, I’d recommend Zachary’s Chicago Pizza. For something a little fancier, sit down and dine at Belotti Ristorante E Bottega. For breakfast or brunch, I’d hands-down recommend Kitchen Story (everything is good, but you definitely need to order a side of the Millionaire’s Bacon).
36. EXPLORE TEMESCAL NEIGHBORHOOD
Technically also a part of Oakland, the Temescal neighborhood borders Berkeley enough that I thought I’d include it. The Temescal neighborhood caters to a diverse group of people including foodies, hipsters, techies, and young families.
Starting on Telegraph Avenue, head to the area around 48th Street to 52nd Street, where you’ll find blocks packed with ethnic restaurants, pizza joints, and charming pedestrian alleyways featuring cute boutiques and artisan shops.
If you’re looking for a spot to eat, I recommend a cozy yet bustling little restaurant called Burma Superstar. In the mood to grab one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in town (with a side of chicken pot pie and strawberry shortcake)? Bakesale Betty is not to be missed!
From there, head to Temescal Alley, a tiny street that’s lined with historic buildings that were once horse stables and carriage houses. You’ll find a quaint ice-cream parlor, various high-end boutiques selling clothing and handcrafted jewelry, and an old-fashioned barbershop.
Temescal also has a popular Sunday farmers market from 9am to 1pm year-round.
37. UC BERKELEY BOTANICAL GARDEN
The 34-acre UC Botanical Garden is known for its large collection of plants, many of which are rare or endangered plant species. It’s yet another fun activity to do in Berkeley on a nice day.
Established in 1890, the garden contains over 20,000 plants that represent more than 300 different plant families, including cacti, ferns, lilies, and orchids. The garden is organized by geographic regions: African, Asian, Australasian, and more. There are also several greenhouses that feature carnivorous plants (my favorite area to explore).
There are also picnic tables in four different areas of the garden, so don’t forget to pack some food! The UC Botanical Garden also hosts a summer concert series in the Redwood Grove (such a scenic place to enjoy live music).
38. LAWRENCE HALL OF SCIENCE
UC Berkeley’s public science center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, is a fun spot for children to explore and learn more about the sciences. The hall features hands-on exhibits covering a span of topics including engineering, animals, dinosaurs, and astronomy. There are other cool features there including 3D film screenings and planetarium shows.
Regular admission is $12, but there are discounts for children and seniors. The Lawrence Hall of Science is located near Tilden Regional Park and the UC Botanical Garden, so why not make a whole day out of it in the Berkeley Hills?
39. BERKELEY ROSE GARDEN
The Berkeley Rose Garden began in 1933 as a WPA project, created in the shape of a terraced amphitheater. You’ll see exactly that–an absolutely beautiful amphitheater filled with thousands of rose bushes, a pond, and tennis courts.
The garden contains more than 3,000 rose bushes that represent 250 varieties of roses. With all these rose varietals, the garden becomes a dazzling spectacle of color during bloom season starting in mid-May.
Be sure to visit in early spring for maximum blooms! The garden also offers stunning views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Bring a snack to enjoy under the pergola, or better yet, bring lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing and soaking it all in.
Can’t get enough of the roses? Check out Morcom Municipal Rose Garden in the neighboring town of Oakland just 6 miles away (pictured below).
40. VISIT OAKLAND
Done exploring Berkeley? The adventure isn’t over, because there are some other really cool East Bay cities to explore afterward! Case in point: Oakland, CA. Even as a direct neighbor to Berkeley, the cultures, sights, and sounds you’ll find in Oakland are quite distinct and worth experiencing for yourself.
From a stroll around Lake Merritt to a visit to The Oakland Zoo, from First Fridays to the Laney College Flea Market–there’s something here for all types of travelers.
There’s simply way too much to do in Oakland, so much so that I dedicated a whole post to the best things to do in Oakland here.
41. GO TO FIRST FRIDAYS
First Fridays is a free monthly event featuring art, food, street vendors, musicians, dancers, poets, and DJs. You can always find us there because it’s so much fun and the energy this event brings is unparalleled!
By definition, First Fridays is the Oakland Art Murmur gallery walk, held on the first Friday of every month. More than 30 galleries in West Oakland and Jack London Square participate in Art Murmur by opening its doors to the public from 6pm to 9pm.
It’s a great experience, and if you happen to be visiting on that first Friday of the month, you’re in for a treat. In fact, you can turn it into a whole night excursion. You can easily grab dinner at a few of the many food trucks featured, then spend a few hours exploring the art galleries. After the event, the most logical thing to do is go bar hopping in the area!
To get there, take BART to 19th St/Oakland, stroll a few blocks up Broadway to West Grand and turn left, the main entrance is two blocks down at Telegraph Avenue.
42. BUY DISCOUNTED GEAR AT THE COLUMBIA EMPLOYEE STORE
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast like myself, you’ve probably heard of the following brands: Columbia Sportswear, prAna, SOREL, and Mountain Hardware. Well, did you know that there’s a Columbia Employee Store just minutes from Berkeley that sells gear from all these brands?
The Columbia Employee Store is located in nearby Richmond, CA and features 40-50% off in-season outdoor gear. We’re talking really good deals here, people! If you’re able to snag an invitation or an employee discount pass (there are a number of ways to get one), be sure to check it out!
Wondering how to get into the Columbia Employee Store? This post will reveal it all to you.
LOCAL/ANNUAL EVENTS IN BERKELEY, CA
- Berkeley Restaurant Week (January) – features restaurants across Berkeley that offer special-priced prix fixe menus
- Cal Day – UC Berkeley’s annual open house, welcoming prospective students, kids, families and the community to explore the beautiful campus and enjoy hundreds of free events
- Bay Area Book Festival (May) – one of the premier literary events in the nation where tens of thousands of book lovers meet hundreds of acclaimed authors over the course of one weekend
- Sunday Streets (June) – every Sunday in June, streets close to automobile traffic so that people may use the space for anything they’d like (showcasing art, playing music, dancing, walking, biking, and more)
- Berkeley World Music Weekend (June) – a free, world music and cultural weekend that features musical genres
- Juneteenth Festival (June) – held annually in south Berkeley, this festival acknowledges contributions African Americans have made to the USA
- Berkeley Kite Festival (July) – see some of the finest kites and witness some truly amazing kite flying skills at the Berkeley Marina, backdropped by the Golden Gate Bridge; free kite making, music, food vendors, kite flying competitions, candy drop for kids
- Foodieland Night Market (July to October) – a foodie-inspired event where family and friends gather together for food and drink, shopping, and entertainment.
- Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival (August) – taste chocolate while the sidewalks of North Berkeley get redecorated with both aspiring and professional artists
- Solano Avenue Stroll (August) – Free festival held on Solano Avenue; this mile-long block party is the oldest and largest free street festival in the East Bay!
- Alameda Point Antiques Faire (First Sunday of every month) – Located in Alameda (nearby), this is the largest antique show in Northern California, boasting over 800 dealer booths. All items are 20 years old or older, it’s the ultimate place to shop for all things vintage and antique!
WHERE TO STAY IN BERKELEY, CA
Berkeley, CA offers a great selection of places to stay while you’re enjoying the many things to do in the city or across the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether you are visiting UC Berkeley, attending a conference, or just in the Bay Area to explore, the city of Berkeley’s got you covered.
The best hotel in Berkeley, CA for luxury travelers:
- The Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel – The ultimate luxe hotel in Berkeley! This iconic hotel features 22 acres of landscaped gardens and a rejuvenating spa. The hotel also features 4 on-site dining options, 2 heated pools, a children’s pool, and 10 tennis courts. The University of California Berkeley is a 10 minutes drive away.
The best hotels in Berkeley, CA for budget travelers:
- Graduate Berkeley – A very chic hotel with an upscale vibe, located just 1 block from the University of California Berkeley
- Berkeley City Club Hotel – This historic Berkeley, California hotel is elegantly kept. An indoor swimming pool with high ceilings and big windows is featured; the daily free breakfast includes fresh fruit, pastries, tea and coffee.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Berkeley Marina – Features spacious, modern rooms; the property also features an indoor family pool and indoor lap pool and offers free shuttle service to the BART.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: BERKELEY + SF BAY AREA
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk!
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | If hiking, make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the Bay Area, which tends to get pretty cool nights. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. Even when I’m not hiking! It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
Having moved back to the Bay Area from Los Angeles recently (we’re living in Berkeley now), we’re still rediscovering our city. So much has changed over the years since I last lived here during my college days. There’s really so much to see and explore in this incredibly diverse city! What are some of your favorite spots in Berkeley or the East Bay?