Last Updated on December 11, 2023

Berkeley has shed its 60s hippy town image, and I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant new identity this city, just across the bay from San Francisco, has embraced. During my visit, I discovered that people now plan their vacations to Berkeley to soak in the stunning ocean views, explore parks adorned with majestic redwoods, and indulge in the ever-expanding culinary scene.

Getting to this evolving city is a breeze—whether you prefer a scenic boat ride from downtown San Francisco, a drive across the iconic San Francisco-Oakland Bridge, or the convenience of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). For optimal convenience, I highly recommend using BART’s ‘Trip Planner‘ to streamline your journey.

However, to ensure you can easily explore all the fantastic locations Berkeley has to offer, it’s suggested to either arrive by car or consider renting a vehicle for the duration of your stay. This way, you can make the most of your Berkeley experience and seamlessly navigate to the various captivating spots the city has in store for you.

Berkeley Marina’s Unique View

A lovely park greets you as you turn into the Berkeley Marina. Ample parking makes it easy for you to scamper out and enjoy the view of San Francisco Bay.

There is nothing better than standing on the water’s edge and observing the skyscrapers competing for your attention with their angular shapes and iridescent colors. In the distance, the world landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, stretches before you.

After lunch at Skates on the Bay, it might be time for you to head out on one of the area’s trails with your bike or your good walking shoes. There are seven miles, many of them with stunning views. If you have a four-legged friend, he will be thrilled to scamper through a 17-acre off-leash park.

Urban Wineries Thrive in Berkeley

Vinca Minor Winery - Berkeley
©Kathy Condon

Six urban wineries line a block of the industrial area of Berkeley. Urban wineries, by definition, are facilities where grapes grown in the countryside are brought to the city for crushing, fermentation, and aging. These wineries focus on grapes grown by dry farming, which uses very little water to irrigate the vineyards. Emphasis is on organic and biodynamic philosophy, which replenishes the earth’s soil with natural elements.

The San Francisco Chronicle named Vinca Minor one of the Top 25 Wineries to Visit During the Summer of 2021. Like the other wineries on the row, they are open for wine tasting on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. First, however, it is essential to make reservations.

Berkeley Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens - UCSF
©Kathy Condon

The University of California Berkeley Botanical Gardens in the hills above the main campus is a place that draws you in and tugs at you for you want to keep learning. Linger in the gardens with floral scent wafting through the fresh ocean air.

This 34-acre grounds comprise nine regions and contain over 10,000 identified and dated plants when they found their home here. Plants from throughout the world are brought here and provide researchers with opportunities to study how to make them grow and thrive.

Golfing in Berkeley Hills

As you wind your way higher into the Berkeley Hills, you discover Tilden Park. This dog-friendly park consists of 2,079-acres filled with lush vegetation and fragrant eucalyptus trees. Trails meander through the hillsides and offer numerous extraordinary views of the Bay and San Francisco. Hikers of all skills levels and bicyclists have multiple places to explore.

At one point, you turn a corner and spread out before you is Tilden Park Golf Course.

View From the Top

Berkeley Lab in the Berkeley Hills
©Kathy Condon

One of the most spectacular views in Berkeley Hills is from the expansive courtyard of the Berkeley Lab. This courtyard is often used for outdoor events. When not reserved for events, it is a great place to have a picnic and let children run and scamper over the gigantic art installations calling out to be climbed on and through.

The Lab’s futuristic-shaped building provides the perfect visual to help one understand what is happening within its walls. By gathering researchers from various disciplines, teams research and create advances for the environment, health, and computers science arenas.

Bring Out the Child in You

One of the last things you would expect to find up a winding road is an antique merry-go-round. The Tilden Park Merry-go-round’s journey to the park is a long one.

The Herschell Spillman Company built it in New York in 1911. It was first showcased in Urbita Springs near San Bernardino, California. Its next home was Ocean Park, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and was showed cased in the movie, So Ends the Night.

The artisans’ craftsmanship is brilliantly displayed, not only in the menagerie of animals but in the vignettes on the carousel’s canopy. Today, it is housed within a building. The beautifully restored merry-go-round can accommodate visitors of all ages.

The Shopping District May Surprise You

Berkeley is known for its many avant-garde shops, independently owned and operated by residents proud to call Berkeley home. In addition, art galleries can be found on practically every block. With stunning views of the Bay and ever-changing sunsets, it is easy to see why artists are attracted to the area.

Many people will be surprised when they discover Fourth Street. This tree-lined street has a plethora of major brand retails stores. One of the very few Amazon-4 stores where you can come in and physically see some of the popular items sold on their site is prominent on the street. In addition, Lululemon, Sephora, and numerous interior design stores’ beautiful window displays help make a leisurely walk down the street an enchanting experience.

A Focus on Helping People with Disabilities

Ed Roberts was the first student with significant disabilities to graduate from the University of California Berkeley. In addition, he led the movement of independent living for people with disabilities.

When he passed away in 1955, many organizations, including the City of Berkeley, created a way to honor his efforts. Thus, the Ed Robert Campus began its road of prominence as one of the premier non-profit organizations focusing on the needs of people with all types of disabilities. The facility showcases many innovations developed. Seven non-profit organizations are housed within the grounds and share their knowledge.

Relax at the End of the Day

Berkeley is a place with many surprises. One of them is in a downtown establishment called Jupiter. This two-story venue was purposely designed with a Gothic theme. Reclaimed church pews and antique church lights add a sense of mystery to this bar and restaurant established in 1992.

Keep moving straight through the building, and you find yourself in a beautiful garden-like atmosphere. The fountain with the refreshing sound of water is a welcome feature when you visit on a hot Berkeley day and a space with a profusion of flowers.

There is plenty of room for outside seating and a stage that hosts live music three days a week. Truly a lovely place to relax at the end of the day.

Where to Sleep in Berkeley

With Berkeley so spread out, finding a central location to stay can be a challenge. The newly open Aiden Hotel is a good choice. Located on University Avenue, it provides a place that allows easy access to the various street arteries that take you throughout the area.

Amenities include a rooftop view and happy hour with wine and local IPAs. The staff is superb and ready to meet your special requests.

I fell in love with exploring Berkeley. Frankly, I had no idea all the treasures that waited for me to discover and explore. Who knew you didn’t have to go farther north in California to see redwood groves? If you love Universities, you instinctively know there are many unique places to explore. You will not be disappointed.

Berkeley understands it needs to work hard to overcome its image because of the location in the shadows of San Francisco. However, it appears it is up to the task.

Author

  • Kathy Condon

    Kathy Condon specializes in writing about cities located in the shadows of metropolitan areas and luxury hotels and resorts. A journalist and travel writer with immense curiosity that has taken her to 29 countries, 16 islands, and 49 states (Alaska on the bucket list). Her motto: Let me help tell your destination’s story to people throughout the world.