ANYONE who thinks that Berkeley is just a hotbed of political radicalism is in for a surprise. College Avenue, the town’s main drag, is packed with more hipsters with BlackBerrys than hippies with beards. The city’s revamped shops can compete label-to-label with SoHo’s sophisticated boutiques, and its restaurants match its bigger neighbor across San Francisco Bay. But the spirit of 1969 hasn’t completely gone away. Walk down Telegraph Avenue and along one block you’ll find activists for Free Tibet, patchouli-scented advocates of homeopathic medicine, and crusty purple-haired free-love followers, still eager to convert you to their cause.
1) BOOKMARK THIS
Old and new Berkeley, activists and high-tech workers, all head to Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Avenue; 510-849-2087; www.moesbooks.com). Founded in 1959 and piled high with used books, Moe’s is a reminder that
2) COMFORT SOBA
Berkeley’s food scene has blossomed well beyond student hangouts. Take, for example, the local favorite O Chamé (1830 Fourth Street; 510-841-8783). Its classy Japanese fusion fare is decidedly un-college-town, but the slightly beaten-up tables and unpretentious crowd make you feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. And dishes like onion pancakes, soba platters and grilled eel are as satisfying as Japanese comfort food gets. Reservations suggested. Dinner for two about $70.
3) CINEMA PARADISE
The Pacific Film Archive (2625 Durant Avenue; 510-642-0808; www.bampfa.berkeley.edu), at the Berkeley Art Museum, offers one of the most eclectic moviegoing experiences in the Bay Area. At the archive’s theater across the street from the museum, you might find a French New Wave festival, followed by a collection of shorts from West Africa. The archive is particularly strong on Japanese cinema — and grungy-looking grad students.
4) INTO THE WILD
This is California, so you’ll need to get up early to have prime walking paths to yourself. Wander through the main U.C. Berkeley campus, quiet at this time, and into the lush Berkeley hills overlooking the university. You’ll pass sprawling mansions that resemble Mexican estates, families walking tiny, manicured poodles, and students running off hangovers along the steep hills. It’s easy to get lost, so bring a map; Berkeley Path Wanderers Association (www.berkeleypaths.org) offers one of the best. If you want a longer walk, try nearby Tilden Park, a 2,000-acre preserve that includes several peaks and numerous trails open for mountain biking. Or head to the University of California Botanical Garden (200 Centennial Drive; 510-643-2755; botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu), which has more than 12,000 species of plants, including some rare flora.
5) VEGGIE BOUNTY
It’s tough choosing from the many farmers’ markets in the Bay Area, but for the real deal, head to the Saturday Berkeley Farmers’ Market (Center Street at Martin Luther King Way; open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). The Berkeley market is run by actual farmers and has a workingman’s vibe. Afterward, stop by the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace (2020 Oregon Street; 510-843-6929; www.berkeleybowl.com) for a comparison. A veritable fruit-and-vegetable heaven, the Bowl offers a staggering array of peaches, apples and rows of heirloom tomatoes — pudgy, lumpy, flavorful. Grab a roasted chicken and fresh beet salad at the deli counter, and snack on it while arguing with the various activists who congregate outside the Bowl’s doors.
6) SNAKE PIT
Skip the Berkeley Art Museum, which has only a middling collection, and head instead to the East Bay Vivarium (1827-C Fifth Street; 510-841-1400; www.eastbayvivarium.com), perhaps the city’s strangest attraction. But don’t come with a fear of snakes: the massive gallery and store, which specializes in reptiles, amphibians and arachnids, is like a living nightmare. Strolling through the Vivarium, you’ll pass gargantuan boas and more scorpion species than you’d ever imagined.
7) ROCK OUT
The best views on campus aren’t from the 10-story Evans Hall, but from Indian Rock Park. Wedged in a residential neighborhood along the city’s northeast, the park has large rock outcroppings that offer 360-degree views across Berkeley and Oakland, and over the Bay into San Francisco. For more spectacular sunset views, bring some rope and carabiners: the main outcropping, Indian Rock, is a practice site for rock climbers.
8) GLOBAL STEW
International Boulevard in Oakland, 15 minutes south of Berkeley, certainly lives up to its name. In just a few blocks, you’ll pass Salvadoran wedding shops, taco trucks that could have driven from Mexico City, and vendors selling fresh pineapple covered in salt. There’s no end to the Mexican restaurants, but El Huarache Azteca (3842 International Boulevard; 510-533-2395) ranks among the most authentic. Specialties include moles, marinated cactus, tortas and even huitlacoche, a kind of mushroom that grows on ears of corn. A feast for two will come to less than $35.
Blakes on Telegraph (2367 Telegraph Avenue; (510) 848-0886; www.blakesontelegraph.com) was founded in 1940, when Berkeley was still known for jazz, not acid rock. The venerable nightclub is still kicking. And the live music performances are as eclectic as ever, with genres as diverse as punk and ska, to the jazz that got it all started. But first, make sure it’s not sorority or fraternity night, unless your idea of fun is watching college kids pound shots and scream at the top of their lungs.
10) BOOKISH BARISTAS
Like many college towns, Berkeley consumes caffeine and alcohol with equal gusto, so rest assured, Cole Coffee (6255 College Avenue in Oakland; 510-985-1958; www.colecoffee.com) takes its java very seriously. Besides having one of the largest coffee selections in the Bay Area — you can order up to 25 different types — its baristas talk about the latest Italian roast or African blend as if it were a Sonoma red. A warning: their attitude sometimes crosses the line from knowledgeable to know-it-all.
11) FOURTH AND LONG
Fourth Street is not far from Telegraph, but it’s miles away in style. This trendy shopping district has become a chic, open-air mall with funky home décor, local art and designer fashions. Visit the Stained Glass Garden (1800 Fourth Street; 510-841-2200; www.stainedglassgarden.com) for elegantly curved glassware, funky dangly jewelry that resembles Calder mobiles, and kaleidoscope-like lampshades, with many products made by local artisans. After blowing too much money, reward yourself again with a double scoop of chocolate ice cream at nearby Sketch (1809A Fourth Street; 510-665-5650; www.sketchicecream.com) — ranked by many local foodies as the best dessert shop in the Bay Area.
The closest airport to Berkeley is Oakland, about 16 miles away.
The Claremont Resort and Spa (41 Tunnel Road; 510-843-3000; www.claremontresort.com) is by far the fanciest hotel in the area. Built in 1915 in the manner of an English estate, the hotel has a full-service spa, a lap pool and 279 rooms starting at $189.
For a historical alternative, stay at the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Avenue, 510-848-7800; www.berkeleycityclub.com), a social club built in 1927 and designed by Julia Morgan, the same architect who built the Hearst Castle. Rooms start at $125.
Cheaper rates can be found at the Rose Garden Inn (2740 Telegraph Avenue; 510-549-2145; www.rosegardeninn.com), housed in five buildings and decorated with every tchotchke imaginable. Rooms start at $129.
For coming campus activities to see (like concerts and speakers) or events to avoid (like parents’ weekend), visit U.C. Berkeley’s online calendar at events.berkeley.edu. For other activities, check The Daily Californian (www.dailycal.org), the university student paper, or The East Bay Express (www.eastbayexpress.com), a free weekly.