by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Think about the ‘60s era of peace and love in America, and images of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood come to mind with tie-died shirts and girls wearing colorful flowers in their hair. On the other side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, in Berkeley, another cultural phenomenon was stirring at that same time.
The Free Speech Movement of the 60s rapidly grew across college campuses nationwide. At first, outspoken college students focused on the struggle for civil rights; then when opposition to the Vietnam War developed, students at UC Berkeley ignited the spark that led to large scale protests and the nationwide Anti-War Movement.
UC Berkeley was a university campus that challenged the status quo back then, as it does now. The school serves as the flagship institution of 10 public research universities affiliated with the University of California system. It’s the anchor that allows the City of Berkeley to remain the free-spirited sanctuary where inclusion is second nature to a generation of open minded hipster intellectuals, and leftist baby boomers find contentment being surrounded by people who share their nonjudgmental approach to life.
The constant energy that seeps from academia is evident; serious discussions between professors and students can be overheard at local coffee shops; public events are scheduled frequently on a regular basis.
With more than 30,000 undergraduate students, about 70 percent of whom are from California, and more than 11,000 graduate students from around the world, UC Berkeley is a hub for thinking outside the lines in search of new and better ways to solve world problems. Its graduate engineering school is ranked #3 in the country (behind MIT and Stanford) by US News & World Report for 2020, luring some of the world’s brightest minds hoping to score a Silicon Valley dream job in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
Both technology and hippieism bubble beneath the surface of Berkeley’s social climate. The old and new seem to exist very well together. It’s a gentle yet edgy vibe amid the undertow of a bustling college community. The Greek Theater, an amphitheater located on the outskirts of campus, brings top name acts.
Telegraph Avenue, beginning at the south entrance to campus is lined with cafes, shops and music stores, and extends through the city and into Oakland. Shattuck Avenue is another of Berkeley’s main streets filled with shops and restaurants. For movies, you can enjoy current popular flicks on one of the big screens at the Regal Cinemas, or walk one more block to the Shattuck Cinemas for a thought-provoking indie film.
Fun for Foodies
Keep walking down Shattuck Avenue and you’ll smell your way right into the affectionately named Gourmet Ghetto with plenty of choices for any type of appetite. This is home to the legendary Chez Panisse, opened in 1971 by Alice Waters, whose organic, locally grown, seasonal ingredients sparked the term “California cuisine” way before the nation’s farm-to-table consciousness. Chez Panisse has maintained its status as one of the best restaurants in America, if not the world. Reservations are necessary – both for the main dining room and the lighter café. Reservations may be made up to one month before your preferred date.
Right across the street is The Cheese Board Collective, which is a bakery, a cheese shop, and a creative pizza restaurant where you can sit inside or out and get a dose of Berkeley’s local live music.
If you want to be seated and served at a restaurant, stick with Shattuck Avenue and places away from campus or one of the nearby hotel restaurants. Close to the school you’ll find an amazing variety of very affordable food choices, where you order at the counter and hope to find a place to sit before your meal arrives. From Chinese, Japanese and Thai to Korean barbecue, noodle bowls, pizza by the slice, hot dogs, burgers, salads, smoothies, two aromas permeate the air – Asian food and marijuana.
But Berkeley has its problems, too. The homeless rate is high. Maybe it’s because the weather’s decent, or there are plenty of places to eat for a low price, or that people are generally kind enough to occasionally spare some change. There seems to be a community among the down and out, and a feeling of compassion for people who have landed in this situation – war veterans, spaced out aging hippies, those who are estranged from families because of lifestyle or gender or those who have slipped between the cracks of the nation’s mental health system.
Getting to Berkeley
Crossing the Bay Bridge that leads from San Francisco to Oakland and neighboring Berkeley can take up to an hour by car if you’re stuck in daily rush hour traffic, or you can zip from San Fran to Berkeley in under 30 minutes when traffic is light. Locals don’t drive it at all. Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as the BART, is the San Francisco area’s underground metro system that takes you under the Bay into Oakland and Berkeley. It’s easy, clean, fast and the most affordable way to travel to Berkeley from both San Francisco and Oakland International airports.
If you happen to visit the Oakland and Berkeley area, consider a visit to the 34-acre UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to take it all in.
The landmark at UC Berkeley, which can be seen from across the bridge, is Sather Tower. Standing 300’ above sea level, the tower, or Campanile as it’s known, is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell and clock towers. For four dollars you get an adult ticket that takes you via elevator almost to the top, where you then 38 steps to the outdoor patio for a bird’s-eye view of the campus and San Francisco Bay. If you time it right or get lucky, you can hear a carillon performance at scheduled times each day. The carillon has 61 bells, weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds each.
And one more note… The Bay Bridge stretches across San Francisco Bay connecting San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley. The Golden Gate Bridge goes from San Francisco to Sausalito in Marin county. Both bridges lead to wine country.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional. She is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.