Shaded by eucalyptus, coastal redwood and pine trees, this city of about 100,000 exemplifies the Northern California ethos. It’s best known as the home of the prestigious UC Berkeley with its radically progressive legacy and flourishing campus. For a modest-sized city, Berkeley has a conspicuously global air to it, with its ethnic shops and eateries. It’s also the birthplace of California cuisine and the location of food pioneer Alice Waters’ legendary restaurant Chez Panisse. Here the most popular grocery store, Berkeley Bowl, boasts arguably the largest selection of produce in the nation. About 20 minutes from San Francisco via BART, Berkeley makes a convenient day trip from the city.
Start your day with a tea from one of the many teahouses, such as the traditional yet modern Asha Tea House on University Avenue. Or if you’re craving a hearty French breakfast, go down Shattuck Avenue and get a table on the back garden patio at La Note. Then head up toward the Berkeley Hills for a nature and view filled morning hike or a round of golf at the remote-feeling Tilden Park course. You’ll pass the university’s new state-of-the-art football stadium on the ascent. If kids are in tow, visit the hands-on Lawrence Hall of Science. Campus shuttles run up and down the hill.
Head back down the hill for Edible Excursions’ lunchtime walking tour of the famed Gourmet Ghetto, the original center for the local, organic food movement. Afterward, head to the west side of town for a tour at Pyramid or Trumer Pils breweries or a tasting at the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room. Or if you’d rather browse than drink, upscale and diverse boutiques line Fourth Street. Find bohemian-chic home goods and women’s apparel at Erica Tanov, imaginative and exquisite paper-related products at Castle in the Air and earthy jewelry at Melissa Joy Manning (a block away on Fifth Street).
Watch the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline while strolling the paths around the Berkeley Marina and Pier, where kite-fliers and sailboats add to the atmosphere. Then make your way back downtown for dinner at FIVE, a grandiose ballroom of a restaurant where the French chef melds his native style with California cuisine. Highlights range from orzo mac and cheese to chilled poached prawns in coconut milk broth. End your night with a performance at the revered Berkeley Repertory Theatre, whose productions often make it to Broadway.