The Best of Berkeley
Posted on December 5, 2017
It was Benjamin Braddock who introduced me to Berkeley. I was a big fan of The Graduate and watched repeatedly as he pursued Elaine Robinson across the Cal campus and staked out Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. The movie is 50 years old this month, so it’s a good time to remember this iconic coming-of-age film and re-visit the city.
I moved to the rhythm of the legendary Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack from The Graduate as I walked across Sproul Plaza, entered campus through the Sather Gate, and took in the San Francisco Bay view from the top of the campanile. Berkeley still has a tie dye vibe, but these days it’s more academic than counterculture. Moe’s Books is still there, but UC Berkeley (now the top-ranked public university in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report) seems far more serious than in Elaine’s student days. The surrounding city has also grown up and is now home to some great restaurants and outstanding theaters.
Berkeley has two helpful information centers: Visit Berkeley is downtown and the Koret Visitor Center is located at the historic Memorial Stadium on campus. We joined a walking tour at the stadium that was primarily for prospective students, but provided a good overview. I loved the Doe Memorial Library, a grand Neoclassical-style building completed in 1911 that is on the National Register of Historical places. The Morrison Reading Room in Doe, with its stunning oriental carpets, and Doe’s historic North Reading Room look like settings for a British drama series. The Valley Life Sciences Building, the largest on campus, is home to a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Osborn. Sather Tower, the famous campanile that dates from 1914, is the third tallest clock tower in the world. visitberkeley.com, visit.berkeley.edu
Performing Arts & Events
In addition to loving The Graduate, I’m also a huge fan of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll. When I heard that a new musical about The Temptations was at Berkeley Rep, that clinched my tentative travel plans. Ain’t Too Proud, directed by Des McAnuff (La Jolla Playhouse) received great reviews and the run was extended twice. Watch for it on Broadway and, in the meantime, check out Berkeley Rep’s current season. berkeleyrep.org
In many ways, Berkeley is an ideal long-weekend destination, but the number of cultural options makes planning a challenge. During our last stay we were able to spend time at Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), the largest university art museum in the U.S., but we never made it to the ACCI Gallery, which showcases the work of local artists. We also skipped the 34-acre Botanical Garden this time.
I’m definitely allowing more time for the next visit and will make sure to be there on the first Thursday of the month for the poetry series founded by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, a Cal professor. At the lunch hour event, faculty and staff read favorite poems in the Morrison Reading Room. For the complete list of other tempting campus concerts, lectures, exhibits, and films, go to berkeley.edu/campus-life/events-attractions.
Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
Renowned chef Alice Waters was a champion of preparing meals with locally grown organic produce long before the rest of us were talking about “California cuisine” and “farm to table.” In 1971 she founded Chez Panisse, a neighborhood bistro where the finest sustainably-sourced seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, fish, and poultry could be enjoyed by friends in a relaxed setting.
The tradition continues today in North Berkeley where diners’ enthusiasm for Waters’ food is palpable. A three- to four-course fixed dinner menu is offered in the restaurant downstairs in her cozy Craftsman bungalow. Upstairs, the Café at Chez Panisse provides an à la carte menu for lunch and dinner. Reservations can be made up to a month in advance. chezpanisse.com
Chez Panisse is known for delicious dishes made with organic, locally-grown ingredients
Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton
We stayed at Hotel Shattuck Plaza, an attractive boutique property in a great location downtown and just two blocks from campus. The stylish hotel was built in 1910 and includes a chic little cocktail bar and the restaurant Five, which serves modern American cuisine. Some of the 199 rooms offer views of the Berkeley Hills, San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
After a day walking around the campus, I easily drifted off to sleep with “The Sound of Silence” playing in my head. Elizabeth Hansen
The observation deck in the campanile at UC Berkeley provides a wide view of San Francisco Bay
Observation deck, BAMPFA & Chez Panisse: Photography courtesy of Visit Berkeley, visitberkeley.com; All other photography courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS