Berkeley Staycation
April 17, 2011 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Need Help planning a Berkeley CA/East Bay Staycation with my wife.

So my wife and I just moved from SF into our new house in Berkeley. For her birthday this year instead of going anywhere she wants to get rid of the dogs for the weekend and explore our new town and its surroundings. What are some fun, secret, off the wall places we should explore in Berkeley/Oakland/Albany etc. Neither of us actually know the area that well (I grew up on the Peninsula, she's from socal).

The types of things I'd like to do, take her to a spa (its her birthday she needs to relax at some point) but arts, museums, neat shops, parks are all good ideas of places to check out. What are the hidden gems we should know about now that we live here.
posted by bitdamaged to Travel & Transportation around Berkeley, CA (26 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Go visit your local volcano at Sibley Regional Preserve! It's a beautiful park and I bet the wildflowers right about now are spectacular. I don't think it's very secret, but it's still great.
posted by rtha at 10:21 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sibley Volcanic Preserve isn't a secret, but there's a wonderful secret in the middle of Sibley. Not saying any more than that (and I recommend you not try Googling it) — IIRC, if you keep your eyes open and look around you as you walk, you'll find it.

Lake Merritt! Pack a picnic or get a couple of cups of coffee and some tasty tasty baked goods at Arizmendi, then go sit on the grass near the bird sanctuary/kids' play area part. We like it best up the hill a little bit, for the best view. You're pretty much guaranteed to see Canada geese, mallards, scaups, egrets, and herons, and if you're lucky the white pelicans will be out over the lake, hunting.

Better yet, go on a Saturday morning and start by getting a cup of Bicycle Coffee to sip as you shop the Grand Lake Farmers' Market.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park is nice. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is a great place to have a picnic and watch the ships moving through the bay and into the Port.
posted by Lexica at 10:56 AM on April 17, 2011

The UC Berkeley botanical garden up behind the stadium is lovely for a pleasant walk and picnic. Don't miss the carnivorous greenhouse. There's also a botanical garden in Tilden park, which I haven't been to. Tilden also has Lake Anza, which in summer is full of kids but is atmospheric and surprising on a cool day.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spa: Claremont Resort would be ok and very upscale, but I prefer Piedmont Springs. Much smaller and more down to earth.
posted by salvia at 11:14 AM on April 17, 2011

Some of my favorite Berkeley places:

The Berkeley Rose Garden

Indian Rock Park

The Berkeley Historical Society does guided historical walks

Alternately, you can just walk around town and get yourselves happily lost. It's a great way to learn your way around. Plus, the roses in people's yards are probably starting to bloom right about now and what better reason for a walk?
posted by corey flood at 11:22 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Berkeley: Roam around the UC Berkeley campus, there should be campus tours. You can see if you can go up the Campanile (bell tower) as well. Avoid being up there during the hour and half hour marks if you're sensitive to loud noise.

Uphill from campus, there's the Lawrence Hall of Science if you want to scratch that science museum itch.

Oakland: It's less touristy than its San Francisco counterpart, but you can take a wander through Chinatown off 880's Broadway exit and try some dim sum and purchase groceries. Jack London Square is also nearby, but you'd have to pass under 880 to get there.

The Chabot Space & Science Center isn't bad if you're into that kinda thing, although I would probably wait for the next Museum Day to see if you can get in for free then.

Something most people don't think of is taking a tour of the cemetary. Mountain View Cemetary offers tours, showing you where some of our history has chosen to be buried.

If you want to see animals, Oakland has a zoo.

Around Lake Merritt is Fairyland. Geared toward children but might be fun for you if you're in a whimsical mindset.
posted by Seboshin at 11:29 AM on April 17, 2011

We had a blast last weekend at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda.
posted by Zophi at 11:31 AM on April 17, 2011

Oh, and the best breakfasts I've ever had were at Rick and Ann's, near the Claremont Hotel.

There is also a park (Cedar Rose Park?) that is located sort of behind the Andronico's on University that has a partially-daylighted creek running through it. The fact that someone felt that the creek needed to be uncovered is an endless source of delight to me, but some visitors I've brought there were unimpressed.
posted by corey flood at 11:34 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Food Cheese Board, Saul's Deli, Kirala, Emilia's Pizza (take out, phone your order in @ 5pm), Pacific East Mall, Oakland Chinatown for Dim Sum, Betty's Oceanview Diner on 4th St

Parks other than Tilden Rose Garden, biking the Green Trail, the University's garden on Centennial, the trail from Grizzly Peak near Centennial to Strawberry Canyon.

Tilden any trail. Admiral Nimitz is a good one. Redwood Railway (Steam Train), Carousel, Lake Anza (for hiking), Little Farm

Coffee Neffeli, Blue Bottle (Oakland), Guerrila, the very first Peet's on Walnut and Vine, Strada (great outdoor seating and people watching on a sunny day)

Movies Pacific Film Archive, California Theater, Albany Twin, El Cerrito (serves dinner), Grand Theater near Lake Merrit

Fairlyland is awesome but you need kids with you to enter.
posted by zippy at 11:47 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nd Oakland Chinatown, Mountain View Cemetery, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley Rose Gardem, Indian Rock Park.

For hikes along paths predating common use of the automobile, a longtime Berkeley resident recommended the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. Members of the organization restore and lead hikes along walking paths worn in the first quarter of the 20th Century from then-new neighborhoods in the Berkeley hills (such as Claremont) down to the old streetcar lines in the Berkeley flats.
posted by doncoyote at 11:54 AM on April 17, 2011

zippy mentioned it but I wanted to highlight this for you: the Tilden Steam Trains are probably my favorite Berkeley activity, and I've lived here most of my life. It's not all that secret, but it's so freaking beautiful and romantic and adorable and charming and fun that I figured I'd comment anyway.

For a more unusual date, take her to the Berkeley Vivarium! Frogs, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and more. I love it so much that I drop in every time I'm in the 4th Street area.
posted by ORthey at 12:09 PM on April 17, 2011

There's a nice sake distillery in West Berkeley that has tastings.
posted by sesquipedalian at 12:11 PM on April 17, 2011

Oh, and if you're into this sort of thing, you can go visit the folks who make St. George Spirits on Alameda (they're most famous for Hangar One, but they make a bunch of other tasty stuff as well).
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

In terms of neighbourhood with shops, I'd suggest Elmwood, Gourmet Ghetto, Solano Ave, and Rockridge.

This series on the SF Chronicle Web site has some nice pointers, too.
posted by sesquipedalian at 12:18 PM on April 17, 2011

Many of Berkeley's treasures are tucked away in its residential areas. Sure there's fabulous food and fun things to do, but to experience what makes Berkeley magical, I would recommend the book Hidden Walks in the East Bay . It's sold in a lot of the local bookshops.
posted by spaghettification at 12:26 PM on April 17, 2011

I live in SF. The things that draw me to the (Northern) East Bay:
- Forbidden Island -- best tiki bar drinks I've had in my life (and that's saying something)
- Pacific Pinball Museum - awesome
- Tucker's Ice cream
- The Alameda Theater - beautiful old movie house, lovely restoration

Zachary's Pizza - Real Chicago-style thick pies. Takes a long time. Worth it
Angeline's - New Orleans Food to die for. On Shattuck.
Movie theaters -- there's got to be about 7 within a block of Shattuck, showing art stuff, foreign stuff -- and in a much nicer atmosphere showing in SF
Berkeley Art Museum & film archive
Walking in the eucalyptus groves -- amazing
Amoeba on Telegraph
Chabot Space Museum (plus there's just a lovely view from there)
Tilden Park
Botanical Garden

Lake Merritt -- just walking around on a sunny day. I've always wanted to ride one of those gondolas they have there
Paramount Theater - classic place, they show old movies, complete with an organist
Grand Lake - Beautiful old theater
Fox Theater - I'll even see mediocre shows there, just because the renovation is so lovely
Oakland Museum of California

Emeryville - Trader Vic's
posted by Gucky at 1:05 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like sake, you can visit the tasting room and museum at the Takara sake factory.
posted by grapesaresour at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2011

Solano Ave. in Albany has nice shops and restaurants. The Bone Room is a great (albeit weird) store.

The East Bay Vivarium that sesquipedalian suggested is very cool and right near 4th Street shopping district. (But don't go to the Vivarium or The Bone Room if either of y'all are squeamish about snakes, spiders, creepy crawlies, and other natural oddities.)

Chez Panisse is in your new 'hood. Their adjacent cafe is less spendy than the full restaurant.

Vik's Chaat Corner serves delicious Indian street food. Try the dosas and the pani puri!

Berkeley Bowl has an incredible selection of produce.
posted by leastlikelycowgirl at 1:50 PM on April 17, 2011

I can't believe no one's mentioned Redwood Regional Park yet. Muir Woods it is not -- most of the area was logged in the mid-1800s -- but it is simply a lovely place to walk (and even redwoods that are "only" 150 years old are beautiful). Not that it's really a "secret."

You can go up inside the tower on the Berkeley campus. IIRC it's free for Berkeley affiliates, a few bucks for everyone else.

Second the St George spirits recommendation -- but be prepared to linger for a while or bring a designated driver, as even one tasting there is a pretty healthy amount of booze.

for shops/food, I am biased, but I always enjoyed wandering around Rockridge (where I lived). Same for Solano Ave; same for Piedmont Ave, though in all honesty I didn't go to either of those places all that often. in the Gourmet Ghetto, you probably know all the usual suspects, but maybe you haven't heard of Gregoire's yet? fancy takeout -- try the potato puffs.

I know you aren't _really_ asking about restaurants/pubs/etc, but: in Berkeley, Lanesplitter (and Freight & Salvage, basically next door to it) always felt a little off the beaten path somehow. (decent pizza, good beer, nice little beergarden in the back.) in oakland, try Dona Tomas for highish-end Mexican food.

have fun exploring!
posted by chalkbored at 3:21 PM on April 17, 2011

Bordering Mountain View Cemetery is Chapel of the Chimes, which is a gorgeous building designed by Julia Morgan. It is full of tiny rooms, skylights, fountains, statues. The building is totally maze-like, with sections becoming more modern the further you explore into the newer sections. Definitely worth a visit.
After exploring, you can stroll down Piedmont Ave and browse the shops and cafes.
posted by missmary6 at 3:25 PM on April 17, 2011

Best birthday brunch: La Note on Shattuck.

Also, do you guys have bikes? Could you rent them? A great half-day event is to start at the mom and pop deli just west of where university crosses 80, take the Bay Trail north, eat sandwiches at the deli you can't help but see at the Richmond marina, head back south, and get smoothies where you started. Biking along the Bay is a great way to adjust to being on the east side of it! The only tricky part is at the Albany racetrack -- the route is to go west of the stadium. There's an uphill and downhill there. Otherwise it's all obvious and quite flat.
posted by salvia at 6:09 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Indian Rock Park was mentioned, but there are other rocky hide-a-way parks in the North Berkeley area that are also nice with some good views: Cragmont, Great Stone Face, Grotto Rock. If you are comfortable on a bike its a nice tour around the hills, or the walking tours will include them too. And a Big! Plus! for the Tilden Steam Train and Merry-Go Round!
posted by TDIpod at 6:29 PM on April 17, 2011

On the northern end of your area, I dig hiking along the bay at Pt. Pinole.

Blake Garden is a hidden gem in Kensington with great views (weekdays only.)

4th Street is great for brunch and shopping and walking around. Vic's Chaat Corner & Picante are in that hood, too.

Hit up Tokyo Fish Market for super fresh seafood and Japanese goodies.

Watching the sunset or Albany Bulb or Berkeley Marina can be pleasant. At the latter, there's a huge pier that sticks out into the bay.
posted by gnutron at 10:19 PM on April 17, 2011

Codornices Park is a lovely little park near the rose garden in Berkeley with a concrete slide.
posted by nowmorethannever at 11:29 PM on April 17, 2011

Response by poster: Wow thanks for all the great suggestions, these are fantastic.

A few we already know, we actually live in North Berkeley (about 3 blocks from Codornices and the Rose Garden) so we've got those and the Gourmet Ghetto spots pretty down. But they're still great recommendations.

I'd mark all as best answers but that would kind of defeat the purpose so I'm going to mark none ;-)

Thanks all.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2011

Codornices Park is great, and if you guys want to get in a little exercise, climb up the long staircase in the back. You'll end up in the hills, where you can wander up, checking out the houses and views, and finding more and more hidden alleys and stairways that will take you higher up. It's really fun to explore and you get a good workout.
posted by JenMarie at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2011

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