The University of California at Berkeley, one of the state’s most beautiful college campuses, is an inspiring place to visit. The university’s Neoclassical buildings rise majestically from a wooded hilltop overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Berkeley is also well-known for its eccentric Bohemian spirit. The campus was the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and the 1960s renegade hippie counterculture, and the chaotic and bustling Sproul Plaza remains a hive of student activity.
Berkeley, in addition to being an intellectual centre, is a centre for entertainment and gourmet dining. The farm-to-table California Cuisine movement began here in the 1970s, with the opening of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, a cosy neighbourhood restaurant that forever changed American dining.
Tourists can dine on a fine meal before watching a world-class performance at one of Berkeley’s award-winning theatres.
Nature lovers will enjoy the tranquil outdoor spaces in Berkeley’s rolling hills and along the waterfront. The city’s beautiful parks and botanical gardens provide spectacular floral displays as well as breathtaking panoramic views. Sporty types can go kayaking in the bay or hiking along the trails at the picturesque Berkeley Marina.
Berkeley is rich in scenic beauty, interesting cultural attractions, and recreational opportunities. Read our list of the best things to do in Berkeley, California to help you plan your adventures.
The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, founded in 1890, has an exceptional collection of over 10,000 plants from nearly every continent, with a focus on Mediterranean plants.
The 34-acre garden is divided into sections that feature plants from California, the Canary Islands, Eastern North America, the Mediterranean Basin, Australia, Asia, Central & South America, the Americas’ deserts, and South Africa.
The botanical garden’s scenic trails meander through a variety of landscapes, making them ideal for leisurely nature walks. Picnic tables are also available in four different locations. Restrooms, a garden shop, and the Julia Morgan Hall are also available. A summer concert series is held at the Mather Redwood Grove & Amphitheater.
The Berkeley Botanical Garden is located in the Berkeley Hills and is best accessed by car or the Berkeley campus shuttle (the H line) Monday through Friday.
Berkeley, California, 200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley Marina encompasses the city marina and waterfront area, which totals more than 100 acres of parkland. The majority of the space is occupied by César Chávez Park, which provides panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay bridges, Angel Island, and Alcatraz.
The park has seven miles of trails, a 17-acre off-leash dog park, and a stretch of the Bay Trail walking/cycling path that circles San Francisco Bay. There are also a number of picnic areas with beautiful views.
The Adventure Playground, which is packed with fun children’s activities, art projects, and creative play spaces, is a popular attraction. This unique location is not your typical children’s playground, with its kid-designed forts and towers.
The Berkeley Marina’s Shorebird Park is a great place to visit if you enjoy bird watching and the environment. Hiking trails, a small shoreline beach, a children’s playground, an aquarium, and a Nature Center with educational exhibits about the local wildlife and ecosystem are all available at the park.
Berkeley, California, 201 University Ave.
Tilden Park, located between the Berkeley Hills and the San Pablo Ridge, is a beautiful natural space with numerous recreational opportunities. This 2,079-acre park has nearly 40 miles of hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, and Lake Anza, where swimming is permitted in late spring and summer.
Local families enjoy Tilden Park’s children’s attractions, which include an antique Herschell-Spillman Merry-Go-Round with a charming menagerie of animals; the Tilden Little Farm, which houses sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits; and a Children’s Garden, which teaches children how vegetables and fruits are grown.
The park’s small Steam Train, which travels along a picturesque hillside with spectacular views, is popular with both children and adults.
A snack bar near the Merry-Go-Round sells favourite carnival foods such as Coney Island hot dogs, pretzels, cotton candy, fresh-baked cookies, and ice cream.
There are also several lovely picnic areas in the park that can be reserved.
Orinda, California, 2501 Grizzly Peak Boulevard
The Berkeley Rose Garden is housed in a beautiful terraced amphitheatre surrounded by a 220 foot redwood pergola. The garden is a dazzling spectacle of colour and beauty, with 1,500 rose bushes representing 250 varieties, with peak season blooming in mid-May.
This hillside garden offers scenic overlooks with stunning views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, making it an ideal place to admire Berkeley’s famous views. There are also hiking trails and a picnic area in the garden.
The three-acre rose garden is next to Codornices Park, and a tunnel beneath Euclid Avenue connects the two, providing wheelchair access to the gardens.
Berkeley, California, 1200 Euclid Avenue
The 178-acre U.C. Berkeley campus is perched on a wooded hillside and is densely forested with shady redwoods, oaks, and other trees. Sather Tower, the city’s most prominent landmark, is located in the heart of the city (the “Campanile”). The campanile bell and clock tower was built in 1914 from Alaskan marble and stands 307 feet tall, making it the world’s third tallest bell and clock tower.
Visitors can ascend to the observation platform at Sather Tower’s 200-foot height to enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of San Francisco Bay. The bells of the clock tower chime every hour and perform a 45-minute recital of classical melodies three times a day.
Other notable landmarks on campus include Sather Gate, which serves as the main entrance to the campus; South Hall, which was built in 1873; and Sproul Plaza, which served as a gathering place for early free speech activists. Sproul Plaza is still a hub of activity, with social activists protesting and street musicians performing on the spur of the moment.
Head to the Free Speech Movement Café on the third floor of Moffitt Library for more information on undergraduate culture. This student hangout also has a display about Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.
Visitors will enjoy strolling up the well-worn marble steps to the main reading room, which features an intricate artesonado (carved wood) ceiling.
The beautiful 8,500-seat Neoclassical Hearst Greek Theater is used for a variety of performances, including world music concerts, the Berkeley Jazz Festival, and notable speakers. The Greek Theater also hosts the University of California, Berkeley’s graduation ceremony.
Visitors will enjoy exploring College Avenue, which runs alongside the campus. This neighbourhood is teeming with student cafés, eclectic boutiques, restaurants, and bookstores.
The Visitor Center is located at 2227 Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley, California.
Berkeley, a world-class cultural centre, has an excellent selection of theatre and music performances. Cal Performances presents a programme of exceptional artistic performances at Zellerbach Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Classical music, piano concerts, jazz, world dance, ballet, and theatre are some of the performance genres.
The Central Works Theater also performs on campus at the Berkeley City Club, a historic hotel and private club affectionately known as the “Little Castle” because its Gothic details echo those of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Berkeley’s downtown area also has a plethora of theatres and venues, the majority of which can be found on Addison Street. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison Street) is a Tony Award-winning theatre company that presents a wide range of shows throughout the year, including classics, Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, and musical premieres.
The Berkeley Poetry Walk, which features cast-iron plaques of more than 100 poems, is located on the same street as the Berkeley Rep. Poems by Allen Ginsberg, Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Walker can be found here.
Another award-winning theatre company is the Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison Street), which presents premiere performances in an intimate 150-seat theatre where no one is more than 15 feet away from the stage.
The California Jazz Conservatory, an independent music conservatory as well as a concert venue, is a must-see for jazz fans, and the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse offers a programme of traditional music from various regional, ethnic, and social cultures, including folk music, gypsy fusion, jazz, blues harmonica, and hillbilly songs.
Indian Rock Park is a popular destination for novice rock climbers. Those who are up for the challenge will also enjoy the pleasant picnic area and scenic views of San Francisco Bay.
Indian Rock is credited with being the first training ground for both Dick Leonard, a pioneer in modern rock-climbing techniques, and David Brower, whose climbing manuals assisted US forces in defeating the Germans during WWII.
There are several other good parks in Berkeley for novice rock climbers, including Contra Costa Rock Park, Cragmont Rock Park, Great Stoneface Park, Mortar Rock Park, and Grotto Rock Park.
Berkeley, California, 950 Indian Rock Avenue at Shattuck Avenue
Telegraph Avenue, located just outside the U.C. Berkeley gates, attracts a large number of students who come to hang out, do some shopping, or grab a quick bite to eat. Telegraph has retained some of the Bohemian vibe of the 1960s with its eclectic shops.
Vintage record stores and tie-dye-clad post-hippies wandering the avenue evoke Berkeley’s colourful counterculture heyday.
Most importantly, Telegraph caters to hungry students by offering low-cost sandwich shops, bagels, pizza by the slice, fast food, and casual order-at-the-counter restaurants. Other than that, bookshops and record stores are the main reasons students and locals visit Telegraph.
Berkeley landmarks include the legendary vintage record stores Amoeba Music and Rasputin Music, as well as Moe’s Books. Hair salons, clothing stores, computer supply stores, and other interesting specialty shops can also be found on Telegraph Avenue.
The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, is located above the main campus and provides the public with an opportunity to learn about science while having fun.
The Lawrence Planetarium offers interactive programmes and a superb digital projection system to provide a realistic representation of the constellations and our solar system, including the planets and their moons.
Bring your binoculars or telescope and head to Lawrence Hall’s Plaza for some of the best stargazing in the Bay Area. This vantage point allows viewers to see the moon, planets, and galaxies far away in space, even with the city lights of San Francisco on the horizon, in a clear night sky.
The interactive exhibits in the Animal Discovery Room will delight animal lovers. Visitors can hold gentle animals and learn about the habitats of more exotic creatures.
Budding engineers can collaborate with Cal Engineering students to build a prototype or solve an engineering challenge in the Ingenuity Challenges lab.
Little ones will enjoy the Young Explorers Area, which features activities designed specifically for kindergarten-age children and younger.
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is UC Berkeley’s visual arts research centre, housing over 23,000 artworks as well as 17,500 videos and films. BAMPFA presents temporary art exhibits as well as performances, films, and lectures.
The BAMPFA Film Library and Study Center houses books on cinema history, film publications, and taped conversations with filmmakers.
Visitors may also explore the gift store and have a bite to eat at the Babette café (no entry necessary), which serves breakfast and lunch as well as excellent coffee and handmade pastries.
Berkeley, California, 2155 Center Street