Berkeley is home to UC Berkeley, one of the finest academic institutions in the world so it is no surprise that it is often referred to as the ‘Athens of the West’. Over the years, the city has served as a hub of innovation, philosophy, and social movements.
It is perhaps best known for serving as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement of the ’60s. Perhaps it is fitting then that the city is named after the famed Irish philosopher George Berkeley. So, without further ado, here is a list of the 25 best things to do in Berkeley.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Berkeley, CA
1. Berkeley Museum of Art and Pacific Film Archive
This museum is a staple of the Berkeley art scene and boasts an impressive 25,000 pieces of art alongside 16,000 films and videos across a wide range of areas. Transcending boundaries and historical periods, the museum offers a comprehensive insight into world history. It boasts a particularly strong collection of Qing dynasty Chinese Painting, Mughal dynasty Indian Paintings, and early American Painting.
The even more impressive film collection offers staples of Soviet cinema as well as the largest collection of Japanese films outside Japan. With the sheer size of the collection, it is impossible to display all works at the same time so they are rotated around on a periodic basis.
2. Indian Rock Park
One of the rock-climbing parks at the Northbrae area, the Indian Rock Park was donated to the City of Berkeley by the Mason-McDuffie Real Estate Company during the development of the area. More than a century onwards, the rock park offers some great early-level rock climbing capped off by some of the most stunning views of the San Francisco Bay Area at the top.
While you are there, take in the idea of you climbing the same rock-formations where Dick Leonard, ‘the father of modern rock climbing’ first honed his craft. The picnic area of the park is an amazing place to get a well-deserved rest after a long session of rock-climbing.
3. Lawrence Hall of Science
A premier location for scientists for over half a century, the Lawrence Hall of Science is UC Berkeley’s state-of-the-art science center. It is an awesome place to delve head-first into science by discovering something new and sparking your imagination. Some of the main features of the Hall of Science include the Planetarium, Bernoulli Blower, and the Augmented Reality Sandbox to name just a few.
It also offers some fascinating programming on a regular basis and is understandably an extremely popular location for school trips. Whether you are a child or an adult, it is unlikely that you will leave the Lawrence Hall of Science without being fascinated by at least some aspect of it.
4. Tilden Regional Park
This 2,079-acre park is one of the oldest parks in the area and is known as the ‘jewel of the system’ due to its secluded pockets that allow the wildlife to thrive and preserve the natural beauty of the park. This is despite the extreme popularity of the park among visitors due to the wide range of recreational activities it offers.
Whether you want to go on a carousel ride, swim in Lake Azna, or marvel at the diversity of plants as you make your way through the botanic garden, Tilden Regional Park has something for everyone and is therefore among the most popular sites in the area.
5. Berkeley Rose Garden
The historic Berkeley Rose Garden boasts a collection of 1,500 hundred rose bushes and roses of 250 different varieties. Opened in 1937, the garden is steeped in history and also has some of the most amazing views of the San Francisco Bay Area you will come across.
Considered by many as the finest Rose Garden in northern California, the garden is most magnificent in mid-May when the flowers are in full bloom. The 3.64-acre park is therefore an outstanding place to forget your worries for an afternoon and simply take in the sheer beauty of the park.
6. The Campanile
Sather Tower, nicknamed the Campanile due to its resemblance to the Campanile de San Marco in Venice is a bell tower on the campus of UC Berkeley with clocks on all four sides. The third-largest bell-and-clock-tower in the world, Sather Tower is one of the most iconic structures at UC Berkeley.
The observation deck of the tower offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Bay Area, and the three daily carillon concerts can be heard across the campus. It is also an awesome place to escape the unforgiving California sun in the shade of the tower to get some light reading done.
7. UC Botanical Garden
The UC Botanical Garden is a 34-acre garden known it’s extremely diverse landscape and has a collection of 10,000 types of the most exotic and unique plants in the world. It is organized into 9 geographic regions that each boast plants from the particular regions. In addition to this, the garden also has 5 ethnobotanical gardens as well as 4 taxonomic collections.
There are also a significant number of programming held at the garden such as workshops and in-school programs. Make sure you take time to visit the garden as you will come across plants that you will most likely not come across anywhere else in the world.
8. César E. Chávez Park
The César E. Chávez Park is located on a peninsula to the north of the Berkeley Marina and the unique location of the park offers 360-degree views of the Bay area and the Golden Gate Bridge. This 90-acre landfill turned park offers one of the best spots for kite flying in the area. In fact, it even hosts the annual Kite Festival.
Some other popular activities at the park include strolling along 1.25-mile Dorothy Stegmann trail around the perimeter of the park, visiting the wildlife sanctuary on the underdeveloped northern end of the park, and picnics among family and friends.
9. Museum of Paleontology
The UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology is at the forefront of cutting-edge research into the history of life and the diversity of the Earth’s biota. As a research museum, the collection is only open to the public on UC Berkeley’s open house Cal Day. If you manage to visit the museum then, it will be well worth your while as you will be able to get a glimpse at some of the most magnificent collections of microfossils and paleobotany.
However, there is some good news as the collections of the museums are regularly displayed at other museums and exhibits. Therefore, with a little research and perseverance, you will still be able to marvel at their magnificent collections.
10. Albany Bulb
Another landfill turned park, the Albany bulb is one of the most unique locations in the world. As you make yourself along the park, you will be greeted by a plethora of urban art ranging from a giraffe to a mural. However, environmental conditions are taking a toll on the art and they are no longer as imposing as they once used to be.
While the Bulb had a history of being a safe haven for squatters since the 1990s, the squatters were evicted when the City of Albany decided to convert the landfill into a public park.
11. Codornices Park
Opened over a century ago, Codornices Park is one of the oldest parks in Berkeley. The park offers a range of activities such as baseball and basketball or simply hiking and taking in the beauty of the majestic oaks, bay trees, and redwoods. Children will also find plenty to do at the park as there are play areas for children ranging from tots to school-aged children.
The 40-foot hill slide, large swings, and net climber are particularly popular among children. If you are planning a visit to the Rose Garden afterward, you can simply take the tunnel under Euclid Avenue and you will be there.
12. Adventure Playground
Located at the Berkeley Marina, Adventure Playground is an area where children are encouraged to play creatively while also learning essential cooperation and social skills. There is a wide array of forts, boats, and towers built by previous adventurers that will give your child an endless source of inspiration for their very own project.
Once recognized as a top 10 national playground by National Geographic, Adventure Playground allows children to discover and nurture their creativity in a safe and engaging manner. Moreover, the Marina Adventures program offers a variety of further engaging activities for children in the summer.
13. Pheobe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
The UC Berkeley Museum of Anthropology has a stunning 3.8 million pieces of artifacts in its collections. There is a collection for each of the continents, the Pheobe Hearst’s collection, a media collection as well as a printings drawing’s and prints collection. As with the Berkeley Museum of Art, the exhibits are rotated as regularly in order to offer the full breadth of the collection.
Moreover, the museum is a site of groundbreaking innovative research carried out by researchers, students, and community members who use some of the global collections to conduct their research. With such a large number of pieces, it is not surprising that many historical and cultural breakthroughs are made at the site of this museum.
14. Regional Parks Botanic Garden
The 10-acre Botanic Garden was opened in 1940 and now boasts 300 rare and endangered plants native to California. It is divided into 10 sections representing the distinct regions of California and demonstrates plants native to the region.
There are also an incredible 81 types of birds that are regularly sighted in the garden. You will even find a spreadsheet documenting all the sightings of birds if you are an avid bird watcher. Moreover, there are a wide variety of events and lecture series that include classes highlighting native plants across the world. Naturally, the garden is also a popular spot for school trips.
15. Golden Gate Fields
This racetrack is the only one of its kind in Northern California and hosts notable races such as the Golden Gate Derby and the San Francisco Mile Stakes. Resting along the shore of the San Francisco Bay, the field offers a stunning panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, and Mount Tamalpais.
In order to take your experience to the next level, you may want to consider booking a table at the Turf Club. You also have the option of witnessing the exhilarating race from the Club House or the grandstand. As you witness the race, you will not be able to stop yourself from thinking about the 80-year history of the track and the historic moments that took place at the field.
16. Sibley Volcanic Regional Reserve
This volcano was originally known as the Round Top Park and offers some amazing hiking trails such as the Round Top Road and Round Top Loop Trails, the Volcanic Trail, Quarry Trail, and the Pond Trail. However, the 31-mile East Bay Skyline Regional Trail is the main attraction.
There are also two man-made labyrinths at the reserve. The more popular of the two is the Mazzariello Labyrinth. The elaborate labyrinth is an incredibly popular one among visitors with people visiting at all times of the day. There is also a less popular heart-shaped labyrinth that is also at the reserve. While there are claims of other labyrinths that sporadically emerge, those have never been substantiated.
17. Habitot Children’s Museum
This engaging children’s museum offers immersive learning and creative experiences such as the face paint table, wiggle wall, and the ever so popular Rocketship & Mission Control station. Moreover, the Art & STEM Lab offers new activities every day for your little ones.
As if this wasn’t enough, the museum offers a Parent’s Night Out where your children are taken on a supervised museum exploration as you enjoy a much-needed night out. Finally, there are also a number of extremely popular camps and you can even grab an activity kit that will allow you to replicate the experience at home.
18. Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
This 23-acre park offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, and Brooks Island. You will also find the extremely popular 2.5-mile San Francisco Bay Trail in close vicinity of the park. The off-leash permit at the park makes it an extremely popular site for dogs and their owners.
The Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub is a popular dog washing station and shop. Moreover, the Sit & Stay Café will allow you to indulge in some some coffee, sandwiches, ice cream as well as their world-renowned Road House Chili. There are few better places to enjoy a day out with your puppy than at Point Isabel.
19. UC Berkeley
One of the finest Universities in the US, UC Berkeley was the first University of the University of California System. The University continues to play a significant role in Berkeley with its students comprising over a third of Berkeley residents.
UC Berkeley offers 350 different programs and was at the forefront of innovations such as the Atomic Bomb and the flu vaccine. Moreover, the University boasts an extremely prestigious list of graduates that include the founders and co-founders of organizations such as Tesla, Mozilla Corporation, eBay, and Apple. UC Berkeley is also held in high regard internationally and is ranked 30th in the QS World University rankings.
20. Donkey & Goat Winery
Founded in 2004, the Donkey & Goat Winery are the trailblazers of ecological principles in the US long before the term Natural Wine was introduced to America. The handcrafted bottles mean that quantity is sacrificed for quality and the ingredients are sourced from organic vineyards in the Sierra Nevada, Mendocino County, and the renowned Napa Valley.
There is a variety of tasting options that include a seated outdoor tasting, Spring Release tasting, and other special tastings such as Valentine’s Day couples tastings. You can also head to the wine shop and grab your favorite bottle to enjoy from the comfort of your home.
21. Grizzly Peak
One of the best places to witness the majestic sunset over the San Francisco Bay, you will even catch a glimpse of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate from Grizzly Peak on a clear day. There are few better moments to experience than seeing night slowly fall over the San Francisco Bay against the backdrop of the scenic Pacific Ocean.
There are a number of locations you can witness the sunset ranging from larger areas with logs to smaller areas with a beach. The pure magnificence of the phenomenon will attract plenty of people to witness it. If you are looking for a bit of privacy, you can check out the Northern areas that are usually less busy than the other areas.
22. Virginia-McGee Totland
This playground is one of the best playgrounds in Berkeley where your children can have the time of their lives. There are a number of features and a number of houses and clubhouses with beautiful mural decorations that your children will love exploring.
The tot and school-age playground at the park offers activities such as a play panel, vertical climber, play platform with a roof, and sand play among plenty of other features. While your children are playing around with care in the world, the park is also a great place for you to set up a picnic to catch up with family and friends.
23. Sather Gate
The Sather Gate dominates the UC Berkeley campus and separates Sproul Plaza from Strawberry Creek, the main source of water running through Berkeley. Built in 1910, the gate was donated by Jane Sather in memory of her late husband Peder Sather who was a trustee of the then College of California.
As part of the Sproul Plaza, the gate has seen its share of protests, the most significant of which was the Free Speech Movement of the 60s. You may recognize the gate from the iconic photo of students carrying a free speech banner through the gate.
24. McLaughlin Eastshore State Seashore
This park with an 8.5-mile shoreline is perhaps the most outstanding example of open space protection. As a result of decades of citizen activism for the park, over 4,000 stakeholders came together to a consensus on the future of the park. It is only fitting then that the park is named after the main proponent of the Save the Bay campaign.
The park offers a natural setting for relaxation in the middle of a sprawling highly urbanized area. The hiking and bicycle trail that runs across the length of the park offer a panoramic view of the bay and is only one of the activities you can partake in at the park.
25. Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen
Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen was opened to serve one purpose and one purpose only – to bring Southern hospitality and Southern comfort cooking to California. From the moment you walk in, to the moment you walk out, you will be treated like royalty as Southern hospitality dictates.
While the fried chicken stands out as it should, the restaurant admits that selecting items from the menu can be an incredible ordeal and recommends that you bring a group of friends so you can have a taste of a variety of dishes. If you need any more convincing, there is little more to say than that the restaurant has the Seal of Approval of the Almighty Warriors.