The Top 12 Things to Do in Berkeley, California

Overlooking the of Berkeley with the water in the background

 constantgardener / Getty Images

Just over the bay from San Francisco, Berkeley is a world unto itself—a land of progressive thinkers, impressive architecture, unique attractions, and life-changing cuisine. Whether it's for a quick day trip or an extended stay, Berkeley's offerings are endless.  

01 of 12

Spend an Afternoon in Tilden Regional Park

Tilden Natural Area in Tilden Regional Park

 Gado Images / Getty Images

Address
2501 Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Orinda, CA 94563, USA
Phone
+1 510-544-2747

Known as the jewel of the East Bay Regional Park system, 2,079-acre Tilden Regional Park has a little something for everyone: a botanic garden of plants native to California, including a spectacular collection of manzanitas; a hand-carved antique carousel from 1911; and Lake Anza, a reservoir with its own sandy beach and lifeguarded swimming May through September. The park is also home to a 18-hole public golf course and plenty of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. There's even a small-scale steam train that kids love. Trek (or drive) up to the park's Grizzly Peak for fantastic sunset views, or embark on a portion of the 31-mile East Bay Skyline Ridge Trail, a continuous path connecting Tilden with five other East Bay parks and preserves—including Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and Redwood Regional Park. 

02 of 12

Explore Art and Movies at BAMPFA

Facade at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, near UC Berkeley in downtown Berkeley, California
Gado Images / Getty Images
Address
2155 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
Phone
+1 510-642-0808

Delve into a world of celluloid heroes, exquisite paintings, photography, and more at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, UC Berkeley's own visual arts center. BAMPFA houses one of the largest Japanese cinema collections outside of Japan, as well as a rotating selection of artworks that have included pieces by such iconic figures as Jackson Pollock and Paul Kos. Exhibits run the gamut from the recent art and anthropological based "About Things Loved: Blackness and Belonging," to "Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein," while film programs (more than 450 of them annually) highlight topics as varied as Italian Neorealism and actor Gregory Peck. There's also an onsite all-ages art lab that offers changing hands-on projects, including drawing and collage. Admission to BAMPFA is free every first Thursday of the month. 

03 of 12

Dine to Your Heart's Content in the Gourmet Ghetto

Address
Gourmet Ghetto, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA

Travel north on Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue to reach the restaurant hub where Californian Cuisine got its start. The Gourmet Ghetto—a name first coined in the late 1970s—has been a breeding ground for culinary and caffeine frontrunners for decades, from Pete's Coffee to the Cheese Board Collective. It's also where you'll find the legendary Chez Panisse, Chef Alice Waters's bastion of organic, locally grown foods and social consciousness. This world-renowned restaurant still remains one of the hottest tickets in town, though the eatery's upstairs cafe is both more affordable and accessible. There's also the Cheese Board's pizzeria, another worker-owned institution—this one serving up thin-crust pizza pies with toppings (like artichoke heart, baby spinach, and Berkeley-made ricotta cheese) that change daily. 

04 of 12

Go Waterside at the Berkeley Marina

regular and enormous kites flying at the Berkeley Marina

Kevin Frates / Getty Images 

Address
Berkeley Marina, Berkeley, CA, USA

Get your bayside fix with a visit to the Berkeley Marina, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. You can picnic by the water, let dogs run off-leash, or head over to the Shorebird Park Nature Center to learn more about local marine mammals and birds. There are several restaurants where you can while away an afternoon, and plenty of opportunities to try your hand at some water-sports through the UC Aquatic Center, which hosts workshops in sailing, paddle-boarding, and sea kayaking. If the wind starts picking up, try kiteboarding—or kite-flying at the marina's Cesar Chavez Park—instead. A portion of the still-developing Bay Trail, an eventual 500-mile multi-use Bay Trail connecting all 9 Bay Area counties, runs through the area as well. 

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05 of 12

Sniff Around at an Olfactory Museum

Dozens of small perfume vials arrange neatly of a wooden stage with five levels. Abover the structure is a small, colorful portrait of a woman

 Courtesy of Aftelier Perfumes

Address
1518-1/2, Walnut St, Berkeley, CA 94709-1513, USA
Phone
+1 510-841-2111

Delight in a delicious olfactory experience with a visit to the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, a small museum of more than 300 natural fragrances. Artisan perfumer Mandy Aftel first opened this small, interactive space in 2017, offering visitors a first-hand chance to explore the wide world of perfumery. Browse books on the age-old subject, explore of cabinet of scent-related curiosities, and smell side-by-side comparisons of natural and synthetic scents. You can even take home sample aromas from the archive's “perfume organ,” multiple rows of stand-alone scents such as coffee, dill, and butter. The archive is just around the corner from Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, so you can easily make an afternoon of it. 

06 of 12

Enjoy the Views from Atop a Local Architectural Icon

The iconic Sather Tower on UC Berkeley's campus

Geri Lavrov / Getty Images 

Address
Sather Tower, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

It's one of Berkeley's most visible and beloved symbols: UC Berkeley's clock-adorned bell tower—a Gothic Revival structure that bears a striking resemblance to Venice's Campanile di San Marco on the corner of St. Mark's Square. Sather Tower, also known as “The Campanile,” is the third-tallest bell-and-clock-tower on the planet, and its interior also happens to be a perfect spot for storing dire wolf skulls, bird bones, and whale pieces belonging to the university's Department of Integrative Biology (they're not accessible to the public, but it's still a bit of cool local trivia). Ride an elevator up 200 feet to the top for stellar views of campus, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Carillon concerts take place three times daily on weekdays, including one that starts at noon. Find a shady spot beneath the Campanile, then bask in its melodic sounds. 

07 of 12

Stroll Berkeley's Legendary Telegraph Avenue

 WikiCommons 

Like the Haight-Ashbury is to San Francisco, Telegraph Avenue has long been Berkeley's hotbed of counter-culture. This iconic stretch is also home to some of the city's most iconic shopping institutions— like the original Amoeba Music, the largest independent record store on the planet, with a massive selection of CDs, DVDs, vinyl and even audio cassettes; and the four-story Moe's Books, selling bestsellers, rare titles, and used books since 1959. It's also a great place to catch authors like Dave Eggers and American poet Diane di Prima. Embark on an audio tour of this historic avenue, downloadable at TelegraphTour.com, or simply set up at a sidewalk table and do a bit of people-watching.

Telegraph continues south into Oakland, where it's home to the revitalized Fox Theater—a great spot for live music. 

08 of 12

Wander University of California, Berkeley's Campus

Statue of Grizzly Bear, UC Berkeley Campus

Peter Gridley / Getty Images 

Address
Berkeley, CA, USA
Phone
+1 510-642-6000

One of America's most legendary universities and a West Coast icon, UC Berkeley is well known for being a bastion of liberalism and independent thinking. In the 1960s the university became known for its Free Speech Movement, a 1000-student, Civil Rights-inspired sit-in that began at the campus's Sproul Hall and made headlines worldwide. Walking around its Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival campus is like taking a stroll through history. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack, "Star Trek" actor George Takei, and American costume designer Edith Head all graduated from here, and such luminaries as Susan Sontag, Pulitzer Prize-winning Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Timothy Leary have served as faculty members. Explore on your own, or attend one of the free, 90-minute, student-led walking tours tours that touch on everything from campus life to architecture.

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09 of 12

See a Show at “The Greek”

The National at Berkeley's Greek Theatre

 Matt Berninger / Getty Images 

Address
2001 Gayley Rd, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
Phone
+1 510-548-3010

One of the East Bay's most revered music venues, Berkeley's William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre is a 8,500-seat amphitheater on the UC campus. It has hosting everything from graduation ceremonies to in past days, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and even the Dalai Lama. President Teddy Roosevelt helped open the Greek to the public in 1903, and more than a century later this aptly named theater (it's actually designed in the style of of Ancient Greece's Theater of Epidaurus) is still going strong. Reserve a spot along the concrete bench seating, or opt for open admission in the amphitheater's upper grass—just bring along a picnic blanket and some seat cushions and get ready for a night beneath the stars. 

10 of 12

Peruse a Farmers' Market

Address
1947 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704, USA
Phone
+1 510-548-3333

Purchasing fresh foods and locally-grown fruits and veggies directly from their producers is the undisputed way to go in this home of California Cuisine. Thankfully, Berkeley's Ecology Center operates three stand-alone farmers markets from which to choose—depending on day and location. Whether it's Tuesday's South Berkeley Farmers' Market, a Thursday market in North Berkeley, or downtown's beloved Saturday market, you'll always find a wide selection of delicious eats like olive oil, almond milk, honey, and fresh peaches. Need a new plant or a bouquet of flowers to brighten up your home? These year-round markets have those, too. 

11 of 12

Take a Drive Through the Berkeley Hills

View of Berkeley and the golden gate bridge from Tilden Park's Vollmer Peak

Silentfoto / Getty Images 

Address
7087 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94611, USA
Phone
+1 888-327-2757

Embark on a lazy afternoon excursion exploring the Berkeley Hills, one of the city's most scenic and laid back areas. Its eastern slope is filled with numerous parks and preserved wilderness areas. This is where you'll find Tilden Regional Park, as well as the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, with its wealth of rare plants, and the towering trees of Redwood Regional Park—home to the East Bay's largest remaining natural stand of coast redwoods. The residential areas of the hills include a variety of architectural styles, including Tudor manors, Craftsman bungalows, and the works of such celebrated 20th-century architects as Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. If rock climbing and/or bouldering are your things, be sure and stop at Indian Rock Park. Serious climbers love using its volcanic rock formations for some serious practice runs. 

12 of 12

Indulge in the Luxury of the Historic Claremont Hotel

White exterior facade of the Claremont Hotel

tcp / Getty Images 

Address
41 Tunnel Rd, Berkeley, CA 94705, USA
Phone
+1 510-843-3000

A Berkeley landmark that recently celebrated 100 years, the Fairmont-owned Claremont exudes relaxation and luxury, from its three swimming pools to its afternoon tea. For day visitors, the spa is where it's at: a space to indulge in self-cafe offerings like brightening body scrubs, Tibetan sound vibrating massages, and eucalyptus steams. Take some time and pamper yourself. This is the place to do it and quite simply, it's exactly what you deserve. 

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The Top 12 Things to Do in Berkeley, California