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Central California Life Magazine

Berkeley: Beyond the stereotypes

Dec 09, 2015 09:35AM ● By Kevin

Emeryville Marina, where the Barkissimo bed and breakfast is docked. Photo by April Bolin-Propst.

I have fond memories of growing up in the Central Valley farming town of Hanford. Through my childhood lenses, the world beyond my hometown was foreign and unpredictable. Berkeley in particular – with its reputation for hippies, drugs and war protests – was a place to avoid. 

Still, I was as intrigued as I was frightened by what I heard from the adults around me about what is arguably the Bay Area’s second most well-known city after San Francisco. 

Little did I know then that Berkeley would one day become a place I would refer to as home and that I would come to think of myself as a hippy of sorts. 

When I think of Berkeley now, I think of more than tie-dye and peace signs (although plenty of that abounds). I also think of music and community. I think, “Go, Cal Bears!” 

I absolutely adore this charming yet eclectic college town. If you take the time to explore what it has to offer, I think you will, too. 

Tourists visiting Berkeley naturally gravitate toward Telegraph Avenue, a four-block section south of the university where students new and old gather. Street merchants sell jewelry, incense and beautiful bonsais. Aspiring henna tattoo artists proudly display their work on body limbs and bare chests. A former ’60s activist strolls casually down the avenue. A weekend visit to this lovely town will leave you longing to come back for more.

If you are a boat lover looking for a weekend adventure, you might consider lodging on the Barkissimo, an 80-foot trawler yacht converted into a bed and breakfast. Docked in Emeryville, which borders Berkeley, the Barkissimo features three levels with incredible views of the San Francisco Bay. Personalized service, comfortable rooms and delicious food will make you feel like royalty.

One of the happy cows at
Tilden Park's Little Farm.
Photo by April Bolin-Propst.

If your trip happens to include young children, Tilden Park is a must-see. Situated in the Berkeley Hills, the park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, offering an array of natural and man-made wonders that promise to be fun whether you are 5 or 55. Grab yourself a bag of celery and lettuce and head for the Little Farm, where the kids will get a big kick out of feeding the cows, pigs, goats and rams. Careful, though: The goats are especially greedy and prone to a harmless nibble of a wee hand.  

Tilden is also your area if you enjoy hiking, with well over 2,000 acres of natural beauty.   

Not far from the park is the Lawrence Hall of Science. Its hands-on science exhibits make it an educational but fun adventure for kids.   

Exploring nature, while beautiful, can be exhausting. I enjoy winding down on Berkeley’s 4th Street off University Avenue, a cozy, dog-friendly corridor of boutiques, restaurants, galleries and gift shops tucked away in the city’s Elmwood District. Bette’s Oceanview Diner is a local favorite. Especially popular is the Reuben sandwich with corned beef, melted cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye, complemented by a tasty chicken salad.  

Albatross Pub is the city's oldest pub and a popular hot spot among locals. Photo by April Bolin-Propst.

On nearby San Pablo Avenue is the Albatross Pub, Berkeley’s oldest pub and a favorite hot spot among locals. The outside of the nondescript establishment is deceiving; after you enter, you’ll discover an ambience that is both fun and relaxing. You can enjoy your favorite beer or the pub’s signature Biscayne Bomber cocktail in front of a warm fireplace, grab all the popcorn you can eat for a dollar, and enjoy a game or two of Taboo with friends. There are also darts and a pool table. The pub features live music on the weekends and a Trivia Night on Sundays. It’s crowded, but you’ll have a blast.

During a recent visit to the Albatross, I asked Ali, the vivacious young bartender, to offer a simple description of this female-owned and operated pub.  

“The crowd is so diverse and friendly with a lot of great stories. Travel stories, relationship stories,” she said proudly. “People don’t linger. They come in and enjoy the moment.”

Are you a dog lover? Check out Point Isabel in the neighboring city of Richmond. Operated by East Bay Regional Park District, Point Isabel is 23 acres of fun for dogs and their humans. Don’t worry about your dog rolling in the dirt after jumping into the inlet from the Bay; Point Isabel offers dog grooming at Mudpuppies Tub and Scrub while you enjoy a pastry and coffee at the Sit and Stay Café.   

A trip to Berkeley wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park. With spectacular views of iconic bridges, Alcatraz, Angel Island and San Francisco, the marina is one of the area’s best places to watch the sun set.  I recommend taking it in during a scenic stroll through Cesar Chavez Park and polishing off the experience with a meal at Skates on the Bay

Cesar Chavez Park, located in Berkeley Marina, is one of the area's best places to watch the sun set.

One diner I recently spoke with, Terry from the Contra County town of Hercules, raved of Skates: “The view from the window seats, even on a dismal day, is enchanting: birds fly by, boats glide across the water and the San Francisco skyline is visible between the two bridges. 

“If you want a water view, Skates is the place to go. And for sunset dining, there isn’t a better place in the East Bay to watch the sun sink into the horizon.” 

A lot has changed in the years I have called Berkeley home. The People’s Park is not as vibrant as it was during the 1960s and 1970s, the young people are not as politically revved up, and some of our most cherished, independently-owned businesses have been financially crushed by corporate entities. 

But Berkeley will never lose its charm. 

Contrary to what I was led to believe as a child, there is something for just about anyone here and there is absolutely nothing to fear or dislike. You might ask, “Where are the hippies?” 

We’re still here. We’re just older, wiser and more introspective. 

Berkeley is our oasis and now we get high off the beauty that surrounds us.

Written by Kelty Bolin-Propst, a technical support/project leader for an information management company. Born and raised in the Central Valley, she has lived in the Bay area for the past 30 years. She returns to the Valley several times a year to visit family.

If You're Going...


3310 Powell Street C-26,
Emeryville 94608
(510) 619-8081

Tilden Park

2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.,
Orindo 94563
(510) 544-2747

Lawrence Hall of Science

1 Centennial Dr., Berkeley 94720
(510) 642-5132

Bette's Oceanview Diner

1807 Fourth St., Berkeley 94710
(510) 644-3230

Albatross Pub

1822 San Pablo Ave.,
Berkeley 94710
(510) 843-2473

Point Isabel

2701 Isabel St., Richmond 94804
(888) 327-2757

Mudpuppies Tub & Scrub

1 Isabel St., Richmond 94804
(510) 559-8899

Sit and Stay Cafe

1266 Washington Ave.,
Richmond 94804
(510) 527-1011

Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park

11 Spinnaker Way, Berkeley 94710
(510) 981-6700

Skates on the Bay

100 Seawall Dr.,
Berkeley 94710
(510) 549-1900

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Happy Reading,

Karen Maroot