Historically, Berkeley has been a center for American arts and a hotbed of activism and progressive thinking. The free speech movement was born here, as were many of the counter-cultural trends of the 60s and 70s. Most social action emerged from UC Berkeley, one of the country's venerable public research universities. The city's lively entertainment, hip recreational activities, and thriving food scene are made possible by the region's mild climate and gorgeous natural surroundings. It all works to keep this destination lively and young at heart.
More than a few pioneers of rock climbing in the US got their start on the beginner walls of this urban park. But the scenic vistas offered here are accessible to all via stairs cut into the stone face. If you're a climber and have already conquered Indian Rock, take a look at some of Berkeley's other outdoor climbing walls, including Contra Costa Rock Park, Cragmont Rock Park, Great Stoneface Park, Mortar Rock Park, and Grotto Rock Park.
UC Berkeley is the home of many activist movements. Highlights of the 178-acre campus include Sather Tower, which rises 307 feet to an observation deck with 360 views of the San Francisco Bay area. You can also visit ground zero of the Free Speech Movement, Sproul Plaza. The beautiful neoclassical outdoor Hearst Greek Theater hosts musical performances, lectures, and university graduation ceremonies.
The area along Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street in North Berkeley is known as the Gourmet Ghetto. The name stuck not just for the concentration of restaurants in the area, but also because it's here foodie pilgrims will find Chez Panisse. Still serving the most elevated farm to table food in the country after almost 50 years, Alice Waters' iconic resto is justly famous for revolutionizing American cuisine.
Nestled in the expansive Berkeley Art Museum, PFA's collection has more than 16,000 films, from the largest archive of Japanese films outside of Japan to a vast cache of West Coast avant-garde work. Screenings regularly showcase rarities from the vault, as well as film series that augment and enhance the visual art exhibits at this respected cultural institution just adjacent to UC Berkeley.
In a university town, it makes sense to follow the student body to discover atmospheric places to hang out and dine inexpensively. In Berkeley, that strategy will lead you to Telegraph Avenue, just outside the campus gates. Here you can get a sense of what it must have been like in the 60s by scouring vintage record and book stores, and grabbing a quick and cheap sandwich or coffee.
One of the coolest kid's playgrounds in the country was built by, well, kids. Like much that's special in Berkeley, Adventure Playground first opened in the 70s, and features kid-built wooden buildings and installations, plus a zip line. Conceptually, it follows a well-considered early 20th century Danish model by architect by C. Th. Sorensens. The idea is that giving kids a chance to contribute to the design and to draft the terms of play will help them learn to think for themselves.
Berkeley rests along the San Francisco Bay, so you might as well head to the marina for some nautical entertainment. Berkeley Marina is a lively zone, but much of it parkland. Nature lovers will want to visit the Shorebird Park Nature Center for background intel on the region's sea and birdlife. Accessed from a pedestrian bridge, the Aquatic Center provides non-motorized aquatic sports and room for strolling and bird-watching.
Not far from downtown and campus, this 2000-acre nature park is a world away from urban chaos and milling crowds. Spend the day cycling or riding horses on miles of forest trails, or play a round or two on the 18-hole golf course. There's also a botanical garden and an antique carousel dating from 1913. Grab some ice cream and hop aboard the park's miniature steam train with to go for a ride around the grounds.
Berkeley is home to North America's only museum devoted to the traditional Japanese alcohol known as sake. Here you can learn about how Takara uses California rice to produce sake in the US since the 1980s. Sake is also a culture, and the fiery beverage needs to be prepared and served with respect. For that reason, there's a tasting room attached to the museum for learning how to enjoy the culturally-significant drink.
Every weekend, vendors with unique antique or hand-crafted items to sell congregate near the Ashby BART stop in downtown Berkeley. Flea markets are not for everyone, but this one always pulls a crowd with programmed entertainment like open mics and fashion shows. In continual operation since 1973, the market has been challenged in recent years by the fallout from California wildfires, yet it still manages to encapsulate the community-minded spirit of Berkeley.