This City Called Berkeley

Amongst many books and articles that have been written about Berkeley, Don Pitcher’s introduction in his book “Berkeley Inside Out, captures the essence of the city with clarity and humor:

“What is this city called Berkeley? The news media view Berkeley (“Bezerkeley”) with a bemused and condescending attitude. They snicker at the shenanigans of its politicians (“the only city with its own foreign policy”), rave over its restaurants (“Gourmet Ghetto”), and search out its inconsistencies. If your only knowledge of Berkeley came from the media, you might expect a city obsessed with radical ideas; its streets lined with psycho-babbling new age types; its stores stocked with nothing but sun-dried tomatoes; while Nobel Laureates wax eloquent on the extinction of the dinosaurs. The stereotypes of Berkeley do have a basis in reality, and the city does sometimes come perilously close to slipping off the edge of societal norms, but it is this proximity to chaos that keeps Berkeley so alive and creative…

Berkeley’s contributions to society have ranged from research that led to the creation of atomic weapons to culinary developments that revolutionized American cooking, from discoveries in genetic engineering and superconductivity to a radical activism that sets off political seismographs far beyond the city’s borders. Berkeley’s international reputation as an intellectual mecca and a dynamic social center continues to make it a magnet for inventive people and new ideas.”

With an eclectic and vibrant population of approximately 103,000, Berkeley is one of the most famous and inviting cities in the country; indeed a city full of vitality and contrasts. With a rich architectural history, you will find many beautiful properties for sale in Berkeley.

Nestled between thousands of acres of parklands and the San Francisco Bay, the topography of the different neighborhoods is as diverse as its population and architecture. Architectural contrasts range from modern to Craftsman homes and from Brown shingle to stucco Mediterraneans. With numerous parks and wonderful walking paths, it invites its population to explore and enjoy its environs and rapture over the unforgettable sunsets. The temperate climate appeals to those who prefer something warmer than San Francisco and at the same time not as hot as the cities east of the Tunnel, such as Walnut Creek and Danville. Berkeley captures the fog in a most picturesque manner; sometimes being completely enshrouded by it, sometimes allowing it to disappear like mist through the canyons and other times just watching it sit only on the Bay.

Famous for the Free Speech Movement of the 1960’s, it is home to the University of Berkeley, one of the nation’s premier public universities. Always encouraging the new and innovative, Berkeley is where you’ll find Alice Waters, Chez Panisse and the food revolution; based on a cuisine that savors fresh, organic, local produce. One of the projects she initiated is an organic garden at King Middle School, called the Edible Garden, which is part of the school curriculum.

Berkeley is a wonderful town in which to walk, and offers many hiking and cycling opportunities as well. The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, who publish a map of these pathways, maintains the 150 footpaths, which were designed before the age of the automobile, for pedestrians to get to the main transit thoroughfares. Tilden Park, a wildlife habitat of over 2,000 acres of open meadows and forests, has numerous trails for pedestrians, cyclists and horses. It has a lake, a golf course, an international botanical garden, a carousel, a miniature steam locomotive railroad, a petting farm and grazing cattle and goats.

Berkeley has 3 BART stations, comprehensive AC Transit bus service and easy freeway access. A handsome new 30-foot long bicycle, pedestrian and wheelchair-access bridge over the freeway connects the city to the waterfront.

Its many architectural styles, from Victorian to Arts and Crafts, from Prairie style to Colonial Revival, from Tudors to Mediterranean, from Mid-century to Modern from small Berkeley bungalows to large traditional homes, can be found throughout the various distinctive neighborhoods. Representations of Berkeley’s most famous architects, John Hudson Thomas, Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, John Galen Howard, Wm. Ratcliffe, and many others can be found throughout these neighborhoods.

Cultural Life abounds in Berkeley, from the Berkeley Repertory and Aurora Theatres downtown to the Zellerbach on the campus, from Ashkenaz and night clubs to the Pacific Film Archives. There are many street fairs and festivals throughout the year; the Solano Stroll, The Spice of Life Fair, Oak Park Fair, How Berkeley Can You Be, and the kite festival on the waterfront, just to name a few.

The University, the city’s intellectual center, is of course the 1,232 acre University campus that mirrors the city that surrounds it; with Redwood groves, majestic live oaks, grassy meadows, creeks, and a variety of different architectural styles spanning the century since it was founded. Bells chime at various times from the Campanile, (or Sather Tower, its official name) which is always prominent in photos of the campus and which has become a symbol of the University and the city. As you enter through Sather Gate at the southern end of the University, you can feel the tempo watching the students in Sproul Plaza, where demonstrations frequently occur.

Telegraph Avenue, which is lined with shops almost entirely devoted to the student population still retains its 1960’s character for which Berkeley was famous during the Free Speech Movement. It is sometimes referred to as the Haight Ashbury of Berkeley, with its homeless people and their dogs, craft stalls, and panhandlers. World-class international venues – dance, music, and theatre – perform year round at the Zellerbach Hall through Cal Performances. The open air Greek Theatre is a popular venue for concerts and graduation ceremonies. The Lawrence Hall of Science, an interactive science museum with wonderful programs for children and the Botanical Gardens, sit further up the hill in their own spectacular settings, as does the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The University Art Museum is close to Sather Gate, on Bancroft Way and close to Telegraph Avenue.

Southside, the neighborhood from Telegraph Avenue west tends to have a lot of apartment buildings, especially closer to the campus, where a lot of students are housed. Berkeley Bowl, a large grocery store at Shattuck near Ashby, offers a wide variety of select produce and is always busy. A new branch in west Berkeley has recently opened and has eased some of the crowding. There is also a Whole Foods Store next to Alta Bates Hospital.

The Elmwood, with its Berkeley Brown shingles and tree lined streets, with College Avenue and its unique shops, cafes, theatre and restaurants at its heart, and with its proximity to Ashby and Rockridge BART, has somehow kept its small town feel. Alta Bates Hospital is a big presence in this neighborhood.

The Claremont, adjacent to the Elmwood and named for the beautiful hotel and spa built in 1915, allows for quick access to freeways and Tilden Park. The Berkeley Tennis Club, which has been in existence for 100 years, is adjacent to the hotel at Domingo and Tunnel Road and looks like it is part of the hotel, though it isn’t. Claremont Canyon Preserve, behind Clerk Kerr Campus, offers hiking trails all the way up to Grizzly Peak and beyond to join other parks. The houses in this district, eclectic as in other neighborhoods, tend to be large. Many houses up in the hills above the Claremont were burnt to the ground in the 1991 firestorm, and so there is a lot of new housing stock, mostly larger modern homes in Berkeley and in Oakland, with little vegetation but with wonderful San Francisco Bay views.

North Berkeley, north of the campus, bounded by Grizzly Peak in the east, Sacramento Street in the west, and Kensington in the north, is probably the largest geographical neighborhood in Berkeley. It incorporates what is referred to as “Gourmet Ghetto,” where Chez Panisse, Cesar’s, the Cheese Board, Peet’s, Poulet, the Epicurian Garden, Masses, Saul’s, and many other food establishments reside. The farmers market on Shattuck, every Thursday between Rose and Vine has a village atmosphere. The Rose Garden, built as a WPA project in the mid 1930’s, is a natural amphitheater filled with roses, with Codornices Creek at the bottom is a popular place to watch the sunset, to picnic and to hold weddings. It sits adjacent to public tennis courts on Euclid Ave. and across the road (or through a tunnel) from Codornices Park. There are many apartment buildings and condominiums closer to the campus but mostly single-family homes further north and east up the hills. Most of the houses built before 1923 were burnt in a huge fire that swept down the hill, but some remained. The architecture in the north Berkeley homes is particularly diverse, both in size and style, as there were still large tracts available in the 1950’s and thus it spans most of the 20th century. Many of the houses have beautiful views of the S.F. Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. North Berkeley BART on Sacramento Street has a large parking lot and a casual car pool lane for those working in S.F.

Panoramic Hill is in many ways a quintessential Berkeley hillside neighborhood, yet with its own unique character, particularly because of its physical relationship to the rest of Berkeley. Bounded by open space on 3 sides, and therefore cut off from North and South Berkeley, it has a sense of remoteness and feeling of being in the country. With winding narrow streets, meandering pathways and houses set close to these narrow streets, it feels like an Italian hill town. Close to U.C. Berkeley, it is defined by its natural beauty, its spectacular views and its tight knit bond between nature and culture. The residents of the hill love living here.

The Park Hills Neighborhood east of Grizzly Peak Dr., from Shasta Rd. to Kensington, has a more suburban feel and was mostly developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many of the houses have serene views of Tilden Park.

Thousand Oaks is north of Solano Ave and adjacent to Kensington, and has smaller bungalows at its western side and grander houses further uphill. Live Oak trees and boulders abound in this neighborhood, where you will find many notable houses designed by famous architects from the 20’s and 30’s to the 60’s. The top (or eastern) part of Solano Avenue, a busy commercial street, is in Berkeley and is filled with a variety of ethnic restaurants, coffeehouses and shops, all of which reflect the diversity of the surrounding community. Five streets radiate from the Marin Circle Fountain, Berkeley’s first public art installation, completed in 1911, damaged and rebuilt in 1996. John Hinkel and Indian Rock Parks, east of the Arlington, are the northernmost parks of North Berkeley. Indian Rock, a volcanic outcropping, allows the climbers the reward of spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, as well as a practice area for the art of bouldering. In the neighborhood around these parks are notable houses designed by Bernard Maybeck, John Hudson Thomas and Gerald McCue.

Northbrae, the neighborhood between Hopkins and Marin Ave., with mostly smaller bungalows, has the feel of the Berkeley hills without the risks of the Earthquake and seismic zones, and is also close to the Solano Ave. and “Gourmet Ghetto” amenities. Monterey Market, a grocery store similar to Berkeley Bowl, but on a smaller scale, draws a large group to the surrounding stores and café.

Westbrae is the neighborhood near Café Fanny and Kermit Lynch, east of San Pablo Avenue and north of University. Most of the houses in this area are small bungalows.

Ocean View is west of San Pablo and is the neighborhood closest to the 4th Street Shopping Mecca. This is a mixed-use area, with small bungalows, lofts and commercial buildings. West Berkeley includes Ocean View and encompasses the area west of San Pablo Avenue, between Ashby Avenue and Albany at its north. In this area, which is very different from other parts of Berkeley, is an odd mixture of industry, working class neighborhoods and retail businesses. Here you will find Victorian houses and churches built in the mid 1850’s, warehouses, plant nurseries, salvage yards and stores, modern lofts, bakeries, laboratories, a furniture manufacturer, schools, artist studios, light industry, a skateboarding park, restaurants, auto repair shops, and a variety of commercial stores, including the new Berkeley Bowl.

The 4th Street shopping area encompasses a couple of blocks of unique shops and restaurants, which draw shoppers from all over the S.F. Bay area.

The Waterfront attracts many outdoor activities, from kite festivals at Cesar Chavez Park, sailing from the Berkeley Marina, rowing, kayaking and windsurfing at Aquatic Park, as well as in the S.F. Bay, fishing from the Pier or just walking along the water’s edge. Views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are awe-inspiring from this location and 4th of July fireworks emanate from here. You can also find restaurants, a Marriot hotel and houseboats.

City of Berkeley Website
Berkeley Unified School District