By Marguerite Richards
The University of California at Berkeley has been known to exert a sort of mythical power over people, and I am one of them. The first time I visited, I arrived on a holiday, at night, the campus empty. Even in the darkness, I was overcome by the impressive Beaux-Arts architecture, and felt the presence of great thinkers, inspiring professors, and burgeoning authors. It was a palpable tug.
While I’m not a student at the university the locals call “Cal,” I still visit the college grounds regularly to imbibe inspiration for my writing, hang out in the sun, and attend stimulating lectures and shows.
Just a few BART stops away from HI San Francisco City Center and HI SF Downtown, get off at the Downtown Berkeley BART for a very short walk to the edge of campus on Oxford street. You’ll find yourself quickly pulled into the little universe of Cal’s campus and its surroundings.
Students Are Visitors Like You
The folks you find on Cal’s campus come from all over the country and the world. They’ve probably learned their way around town just recently, and have had to navigate their new environment just like you. All you need is a smile to stop friendly faces on campus or even approach students sunning on the lawns to ask about their favorite spots around Berkeley. With some good questions, you’ll be surprised to find how easy it is to make friends. These students are curious too, and everybody likes a traveler!
Cafés & Hangouts
The great lawns around campus are so pristine that it’s surprising how many sunbathers and picnickers you’ll find casually sprawling out wherever the grass is green. Even in bikinis!
There are a dozen cafés and eateries on campus, like the Free Speech Movement Café, which has more outdoor seating than in. Here you find many students hard at work in groups, having lively discussions, or working alone. But when you’re ready to meet the locals on their downtime, take to Bancroft Way and Telegraph Ave. on the southern edge of campus, where you’ll find students coming from classes in droves to eat, drink, and be merry. Nearest favorites are Caffe Strada and Free House, two of those places that can make being a student in California difficult: after all, sitting outside in the perfect weather wasting the day away in conversation can often feel like a better idea than studying!
At Caffe Strada, you can get anything from a hot chocolate to a five-dollar burger or omelet, and any kind of coffee drink you could think up. Baristas are big on smiles and everybody hangs out for hours on the tree-shaded patio. Just across the way, Free House was recently revamped to create a more student-friendly hangout. The new menu boasts a good beer list and tasty pub grub. The patio gets full sun in the afternoon, so bring your shades.
Venture back towards the BART station on Shattuck to either Triple Rock Brewery or Jupiter, both big, student-friendly pubs, where you’ll be hard pressed to find someone zoning out behind a laptop.
Film, Performances, Science & Green Space
Cal is rich in events and activities that bring the student community and the locals together: think all manner of lectures, concerts, and performances. All of the following venues are on campus, nearby, or accessible by a campus shuttle. (Note: the campus shuttle only operates on weekdays). Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the many things to do around campus.
Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) and Pacific Film Archive (PFT) are both moving nearby to Downtown Berkeley in early 2016. While the main galleries are closed for the move, PFT still shows its full list of screenings. This means restored silent film, sometimes with live musical accompaniment, as well as rare and rediscovered releases, classics, and independent fiction and documentary screenings. Filmmakers, critics, or scholars often introduce shows and lead discussions with the audience. During the move, select BAM exhibits are featured off-site.
A public science center and interactive museum, the Lawrence Hall of Science, features a planetarium, a National Geographic 3D theater, and exotic (live!) animals to touch. Admission prices vary from $4 to $12 depending on the show.
For even more green than you’ll find on campus, walk about twenty minutes from campus to UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It’s a 34-acre non-profit research garden and museum with a notably diverse plant collection and many rare and endangered plants. Admission is $10 admission for adults, $8 for students, and first Wednesday of each month is free.
Looking for more ways to while away a day in Berkeley? Check out the school's full list of events and attractions, or better yet, just ask a friendly local when you get there!