Published April 2016
Peace, love, and happiness. It might sound like a ’60s mantra, but it was just what my husband, Steve, and I were seeking for a quick getaway. About 15 years ago BK (Before Kids), we would often escape to the Bay Area, where we’d eat and try to squeeze everything we could into a three-day weekend. For this trip, one of only a handful we’ve managed to pull off PK (Post Kids), we decided to recapture our adventurous BK spirit in the city where California cuisine was born, the first commercial craft coffee was brewed, and Steve Wozniak went to school: Berkeley.
We relished the walkability of the neighborhood around the University of California, Berkeley, a funky section where vestiges of the city’s counterculture history live on in the vibrant people and buildings along bustling Shattuck Avenue. Today, folks don’t gather to protest as much as to shop, listen to music, eat, and just hang out.
The city’s landmark 307-foot-tall Sather Tower, completed in 1912 and known locally as the Campanile, is poked in the heart of the UC Berkeley campus. The trip to the top of the tower offers supremely peaceful Bay Area views. A sweet ending to the afternoon was the brief miniconcert of the bells, which are played throughout the day by university carillonneurs via a pipe organ–style mechanism. Admission is $3. tinyurl.com/sathertower.
Last June, Berkeley hosted its first Bay Area Book Festival, a two-day event that spotlighted publishers, authors, artists, and poets, all gathered in and around Civic Center Park. The event offered everything from author talks to an art installation called Lacuna, made from 50,000 books where folks could take or leave behind tomes.
We chatted up publishers on the festival’s “Literary Lane,” found intriguing titles on “Radical Row,” and considered self-help ideas on “Mind and Body Boulevard.” Steve selected a cute cat book for our daughter, Kate, and an origami one for our son, Jack, in the kids’ section. This year’s festival will be June 4–5, 2016. baybookfest.org.
We paid homage to the craft coffee craze with a visit to the original Peet’s Coffee and Tea. The small museum in back reveals how Dutch immigrant Alfred Peet, horrified by the swill that Americans were consuming, opened his small shop here in 1966, when he started a caffeine revolution, a coffeehouse chain, and a following known in appropriate Berkeley vernacular as “Peetniks.” 2124 Vine Street. 1-510-841-0564; peets.com.
Vintage Berkeley, a wine shop tucked inside a 1930s former East Bay Municipal Utility District water-pumping station, specializes in small-production local wines that ring up for less than $25 per bottle. 2113 Vine Street. 1-510-665-8600; vintageberkeley.com.
Creative eateries: Berkeley is famous as the birthplace of farm-to-table California cuisine, courtesy of Chez Panisse and its chef and founder Alice Waters. That creative energy has ignited a lively food scene among this neighborhood’s eateries, known collectively as the Gourmet Ghetto. For guidance, we turned to Edible Excursions’ Gourmet Ghetto Tour, a three-hour walking trek that gave our palates a tasty overview, from the house-smoked pastrami sandwich at Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen to the famed potato puffs—imagine if a potato and a hush puppy had a baby—at the casual take-out Grégoire. At the Cheese Board Pizzeria, I ate a slice while listening to live jazz, as Steve perused the Cheese Board Collective’s more than 400 cheeses. Tours cost $92. 1-415-806-5970; edibleexcursions.net.
Boho brunch: The bohemian vibe at the tiny Venus Restaurant, with its bare-brick walls and open kitchen, drew us in for brunch. I sank my teeth into the butter-soaked French toast and stole a couple of Steve’s crisp home fries, which were topped with sour cream. 2327 Shattuck Avenue. 1-510-540-5950; venusrestaurant.net.
Meat there: At the Local Butcher Shop, Sean Kasmir creates “the daily sando” and carves meats while you watch. I pigged out on the house-brined and roasted ham (courtesy of pigs raised on nearby farms) that he paired with a thick slice of Brie and a stone fruit compote on a sweet deli roll. “Who knew you could put fruit on a ham sandwich?” Steve mused. 1600 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 120. 1-510-845-6328; thelocalbutchershop.com.
A peace sign inlaid in the marble floor greeted us at Hotel Shattuck Plaza. Built in 1910, the 199-room boutique hotel was renovated in 2009 and infused with such contemporary design elements as red Murano-glass chandeliers mixed with cool colors and elegant furnishings. Rates start at $209. 2086 Allston Way. 1-510-845-7300; hotelshattuckplaza.com.
©2017 Some information contained in this publication is time-sensitive. Offers, prices, event particulars, contact information, and other details mentioned in Westways articles are subject to change without notice.