The intellectual, literary, and political nexus of the San Francisco Bay Area, left-leaning Berkeley (pop. 112,580) enjoys an international reputation that overshadows its suburban appearance. The town grew up around the attractively landscaped University of California campus, which, during the 1960s and early 1970s, was the scene of ongoing battles between “The Establishment” and unwashed hordes of antiwar, “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll-crazed” youth. Today, while its antiauthoritarian traditions are less in-your-face, Berkeley still maintains a typical college town mix of cafés and vinyl stores, and its site is superb, looking out across the bay to the Golden Gate and San Francisco.
The square-mile University of California Berkeley campus sits at the foot of eucalyptus-covered hills a mile east of the University Avenue exit off the I-80 freeway. Wander along Strawberry Creek, admiring the mix of neoclassical and postmodern buildings. Berkeley’s cacophonous main drag, Telegraph Avenue, runs south from the heart of campus in a crazy array of tie-dye and tarot.
There are dozens of great places to eat and drink in Berkeley, including one of the best breakfast joints on the planet, Bette’s Oceanview Diner (1807 4th St., 510/644-3932), two blocks north of the I-80 University Avenue exit at the center of a boutique shopping district. Berkeley also has many top-rated restaurants, including world-renowned Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave., 510/548-5525, reservations essential), birthplace of California cuisine, located in the heart of Berkeley’s gourmet ghetto. Chez Panisse is, not surprisingly, très cher, so mere mortals may decide to take advantage of the more affordable gourmet cheese, bread, and out-of-this-world pizzas made and sold across the street at The Cheese Board Collective (1512 Shattuck Ave., 510/549-3183), where the California cuisine revolution started way back in 1967.
If you want to take the slow road north from Berkeley, follow San Pablo Avenue (Hwy-123), the old US-40-Lincoln Highway-Victory Highway route, which winds uneventfully along the bay front through El Cerrito (birthplace of 1960s pop group Creedence Clearwater Revival) and industrial Richmond, where the new Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park preserves the waterfront’s vital World War II-era heritage.