Western Living Magazine
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Welcome to the other city by the Bay.
If Berkeley evokes only memories of Alice Waters and outtakes from The Graduate, it might be time to revisit. These days, there’s more to the city than Frisco-fleeing hippies. Updone historic hotels, mid-century architecture aplenty, achingly local restaurants (and cheese shops, and butchers, and candlestick makers), a revitalized downtown arts scene, craft breweries and distilleries, the second-densest botanical garden in America—this ain’t your Aunt Alice’s Berkeley.
The Graduate Hotel
A reverence for its history (modern Berkeley dates back to the late 19th century) means hotels here get revamped, not replaced. Add in unending gentrification pressures from San Francisco, aggressively hip Oakland and the swath of unreality that is Silicon Valley, and the reboot of the storied Hotel Durant, five minutes from the UC Berkeley campus, makes perfect sense—as does the reboot’s theme as the Graduate Hotel Berkeley, complete with a library wall of National Geographics and cute details like student ID cards for room keys. Similarly respectful, and just down the street, stands the Berkeley City Club, a historic landmark built by local architect Julia Morgan (UC Berkeley class of 1894). Still a private club but no longer just for women, it has 38 members’ residences redone as hotel rooms, and the city’s finest indoor swimming pool.
Berkely City Club pool (Photo: Trevor Johnson.)
UC Berkeley is the city’s heart (a related campus founded the modern town) and focus. Walk its leafy streets—or use the guest bikes if you’re staying at the Graduate—and you’re likely to encounter drum circles, student protests, campus tours for anxious parentals and a parade of hothouse high achievers en route to class—all within one block. Check the calendar: if you can swing a performance at the campus’s Zellerbach Hall, do it. A recent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony included a conductor talk about the composer’s radical anticipation of the Me Too movement—a very Berkeley moment.
Zellerbach Hall. (Photo: Monika Rittershaus.)
Berkeley is home to many firsts: recycling started here in 1970, it hosts the country’s oldest still-running marijuana dispensary, and Alice Waters and friends revolutionized American cooking when she opened Chez Panisse in 1971. Learn all about the interconnections of food, social justice, community, sustainability and deliciousness on Edible Excursions’ Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto Tour, which walks you by (and sometimes takes you into for snacking) city stalwarts like Chez Panisse, Saul’s Delicatessen, Alegio, Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and the über-hippie Cheese Board Collective.
Food is a big deal in Berkeley, as it is across the East Bay. Suppers might see you staying in (both Julia’s at the City Club and Henry’s in the Graduate are serious rooms with great bars), but make time for other area spots, like Gather, a high-end locavorium with a shorts-and-sandals vibe (and clever cocktails like The Resistance!, a mezcal sour that nods to the Resistance Report by UC Berkeley prof and general shit disturber Robert Reich). In the morning, grab a coffee from Peet’s or eggs at égalité-minded La Note. And when the sun’s shining, there’s nothing like pizza and a house-brewed Quasar ale on the Jupiter patio.
You could take BART into San Fran, but you’ve got all you need right here. Want art? BAMPFA (UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive) hosts engrossing visual art and film shows, with an extra sizzle monthly when Full hosts special programming the night of each full moon. Nature? UC Botanical Garden is one of the most diverse gardens anywhere: 34 acres of the world’s plants (10,000 of them, organized by geography) a 10-minute Lyft from downtown. Music? Freight and Salvage has been hosting the greats since 1968. The blues go incandescent with a night of barrel-aged whiskies from local Mosswood Distillers.
UC BotanicalGardens (Photo: Yoni Mayeri) BAMPFA (Photo: Elizabeth Daniels.)
Still curious (and need to walk off that night at Chez Panisse)? Robert Johnson and Janet Byron’s Berkeley Walks is a 288-page treasure map of rambles featuring parks, monuments, residences and more.
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