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Note: Visit Berkeley kindly hosted me in return for coverage on my blog. As always, all opinions are my own and writing about my honest experience is a priority for me. Enjoy the guide!
Even as a thirtysomething year old traveler, I still have a soft spot for university cities and towns. I mean, I’ve lived in one for the past six years, haha.
Perhaps I’m just “young at heart.” Fun, innovative, and energetic vibes found specifically in college towns never fail to make me happy.
So, whether I’m at home or elsewhere, whenever I take a walk on campus and pop into the college bookstore, I reflect back on my own college days, when I truly believed that anything was possible in life. It’s rejuvenating.
Unsurprisingly, Berkeley CA was the perfect city for me to enjoy a weekend getaway in the Bay Area.
However, Berkeley offers way way more than just events hosted on the University’s campus. The city’s food, people, arts scene, and nature will all take your breath away.
Without a doubt, Berkeley should totally be a stop on your next vacation to Northern California.
How to Make the Most of a Weekend in Berkeley CA
First let’s talk about important logistics for planning your trip. Later on, I will definitely elaborate on some of the amazing things to do with a weekend in Berkeley CA.
Fortunately for you, both transportation and accommodation in Berkeley shouldn’t be a problem to plan in advance, especially if you’re already used to traveling in the United States. Even solo travel in Berkeley is easy enough for most people!
How to Get Around Berkeley
Arrival in Berkeley
If you’re flying into California, you have a few airports available to you if Berkeley is part of your itinerary. The two closest airports to Berkeley are San Francisco and Oakland International Airports.
Each airport has its pros and cons. For example, Oakland Airport is smaller and closer to Berkeley than San Francisco Airport.
However, San Francisco has more domestic (and direct) flights. Plus San Francisco is a huge tourist destination. It’s easy to link together a short trip to San Francisco and Berkeley.
Taxi is the easiest option for heading to Berkeley, but it’s also the most expensive choice.
As for public transportation, Berkeley is located right on the BART line, which helps travelers who don’t want the hassle of renting a car. You can also use the BART line if you’re visiting Berkeley from San Francisco.
Transportation in Berkeley
Walking around Berkeley is delightful especially in the scenic hills and university campus.
However, as a city, Berkeley’s many different neighborhoods are pretty spread out and not always easily reached by foot. Personally, I was surprised by how big Berkeley was, although I liked comparing each neighborhood to the next!
As a result, I would plan your stay around a few different neighborhoods and take Ubers to go to each new location. Rideshare apps are available in this area, and you should be able to get a car as long as its not 2:30 am. on a random Tuesday.
If you’re physically up for a challenge, then I recommend renting a bike in Berkeley and seeing all the attractions on two wheels rather than two feet. You’ll have a pleasant workout and as a city, Berkeley is pretty cycle friendly.
Where to Stay in Berkeley
Berkeley has a lot of wonderful options for hotels. As always, do your research ahead of time.
As for me, I absolutely fell in love with Berkeley’s coolest new hotel: Aiden By Best Western.
I had a corner room with a wonderful view of the surrounding area. Lots of great windows!
However, you’re especially able to discover the best views on the stunning rooftop terrace. Go to the top floor on a sunny day and stare at the sweeping San Francisco bay. You might even see the Golden Gate Bridge peek through the clouds!
But to tell you the truth, my favorite part about this hotel was the wall decor. Yes, the wall decor.
Honestly, I wanted to chill in my room all day and read each newspaper section on my walls! Berkeley is a city rich with history, and The Aiden certainly manages to capture Berkeley’s spirit.
I loved my stay!
You can find Aiden by Best Western on 1499 University Avenue.
A Quick Overview of Berkeley CA
|1||Arrival, Botanical Garden, University and Telegraph|
|2||Shopping on Fourth Street, Historical Sites, and Marina|
A Weekend in Berkeley: A Detailed Itinerary
For this part of the weekend in Berkeley guide, I will break each day in manageable chunks for you.
Of course, your own travel plans may differ depending on your personal interests. For example, if you want to add more restaurants because Berkeley’s food scene is just that amazing, feel free, haha!
Day 1 in Berkeley
Welcome to Berkeley! You will want to start your first day with some coffee and sweets, because you’ve a lot of gorgeous nature to see in the hills and a ton of walking to do near the University.
Let’s go on an adventure!
Breakfast at Timeless Coffee
Timeless Coffee is an incredible vegan coffee shop that’s the perfect place to grab a healthy breakfast.
Even if you’re not vegan, you will love the options here! For example, the chocolate donut that I ate? One of the best donuts I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
You can find Timeless Coffee at College 2965 College Ave.
Explore UC Botanical Garden
UC Botanical Garden is a truly magical place that all travelers ought to visit even if you’re not particularly interested in plants. This beautiful attraction is located high in Berkeley Hills, which means plenty of awe-inspiring views on a sunny (or even cloudy) day.
In UC Botanical Gardens, you will have a chance to “go around the world” without boarding a single plane (which is wonderful for fearful flyers like me, haha). Each garden is carefully geographically organized for visitors to take their global tour.
For example, the Desert of the Americas garden has a commanding cactus that is decades old and nearly impossible to capture in a single picture frame.
Another amazing and unique garden is the Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden with its diversity of healing herbs.
In particular, this section’s plaques are very interesting to read as they explain the type of herb as well as the ailments that the plant helps heal. Just … don’t take any herbs for yourself. The garden is not a free CVS pharmacy.
Last but not least, don’t miss Redwood Grove on your trip to UC Botanical Gardens. This majestic forest of redwood trees will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth.
The most exquisite part of Redwood Grove is Townsend Amphitheater. This intimate event space has hosted many weddings and concerts among the impressive old trees. I couldn’t think of a better place to perform Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than here. Even empty, the damp and crisp air felt magical as from an entirely different time and place.
Parking is available at UC Botanical Garden. However, this plant packed wonderland is very popular, so my advice is to come early.
See Sweeping Views in Tilden Regional Park
Tilden Regional Park embodies the best of natural beauty in the Bay Area. This incredible park is home to many remarkable hiking trails, so if being outdoors interests you, then I recommend adjusting this itinerary to spend a lot of time exploring the wilderness.
Normal “hiking” common sense applies. Let someone (or your hotel) know where you’re going ahead of time. Bring plenty of water and trail snacks. Follow all rules regarding fires and wildlife. And for the love of god, do not litter.
If you’re a beginner hiker, still feel free to take a charming drive through the park to see some of the best views from Berkeley Hills.
Last but not least, before heading into Tilden Regional Park, I recommend stopping at Lawrence Hall of Science on a sunny day. You will see all of San Francisco Bay, as well as a bird’s eye view of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. You might even see Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge!
Grab a Burrito at Cactus
Feeling hungry? I don’t blame you. But luckily for you, Berkeley has many great choices for lunch. Seriously, you guys, I am so tempted to stay here for two weeks just to eat non-stop. The restaurants are freakin’ amazing and I wish I could talk about them all!
A wonderful option for a filling and affordable lunch is at Cactus Taqueria.
This welcoming and casual Mexican establishment is all about authentic flavors and sustainability! I personally loved mejor chicken and carnitas burritos with all the trimmings. This restaurant also has refreshing homemade juices if you feel particularly thirsty after a long morning outside!
You can find Cactus Taqueria on 1881 Solano Avenue.
Check Out UC Berkeley College Campus
Okay, so you can’t spend a weekend in Berkeley without exploring UC Berkeley College Campus.
Even though I visited in summer, I could just imagine the buzz in the air in autumn when students from all over California (and the world!) move into their dorms for a new and exciting semester.
Despite the lack of students, I enjoyed walking around Sproul Plaza and seeing Sather Gate. This part of campus has historical significance since it housed many of the protests that took place during the Free Speech Movement.
If you spend a weekend in Berkeley when school is in session, check ahead of time if any free and/or public events are taking place at the campus to enhance your experiences!
Shop at Moe’s Books
As avid readers of this blog already know, I have a soft spot for unique and fun independently owned bookstores. I could seriously spend hours roaming the shelves to add even more books to my ever-growing collection.
So it’s not surprise that I completely fell in love with Moe’s Books.
Moe’s Books has been a Berkeley icon since 1959. Moe’s isn’t just a place to purchase books (although you certainly can spend a lot of money here!), but you’re also able to sell your own books, attend author events, and shop for rare and unique books.
Their website is very extensive too, which makes it easy to check Moe’s inventory if there is a particular book you want to buy on your visit.
You can find Moe’s Books at 2476 Telegraph Ave.
See Quirky Shops and Street Vendors on Telegraph Ave
In addition to Moe’s, you should also take a walk along Telegraph Ave to see the other shops and restaurants.
I mean, don’t you want to get a feel for the “Flower Power” and Counterculture Era Berkeley? Of course you do! This rebellious soul – past and present – is an essential part of the fabric that creates the city of Berkeley.
Like I said in addition to its history, you will want to go to Telegraph Avenue District to check out some quirky and fun shops.
For example, I thought the exterior of Amoeba was super cool and the perfect place for people interested in collecting vinyls of their favorite artists. Rasputin Music is another Berkeley classic that stood out to me (I wanted to re-watch Anastasia to tell you the truth!).
Eat the Ultimate “Farm to Table” Dinner at Gather Kitchen, Bar, & Market
I’m absolutely obsessed with good food. And Berkeley? Oh my god, this city is very well-known for its diverse selection of healthy, farm to table restaurants.
And, without a doubt, Gather Kitchen, Bar & Market is one of the best choices for dinner when spending a weekend in Berkeley.
Gather has been in business for ten years. Like other restaurants, Gather has pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and created a market in addition to in-door and outdoor dining. They even have a soft serve ice cream machine (so good).
If you choose to dine in, then you need to try Spicy Tomato Pie, which is the best and prettiest vegan pizza that I have ever seen in my life. I still have dreams about the cashew puree!
You can find Gather Kitchen, Bar, & Market at 2200 Oxford Street @ Allston.
Day 2 in Berkeley
Whew! Did you have a fun day? Buckle in because your wonderful weekend in Berkeley isn’t finished yet!
Your second day in Berkeley promises eve more diverse and delicious food options, exquisite shopping, rich history, and cool marina breezes.
But first, you ought to rise early and do some shopping before the crowds wake up. Let’s go!
Spend Money on Fourth Street
As you know, I’ve zero shame putting my credit card to work on my travels (don’t judge me). Luckily, Berkeley has plenty of fantastic shopping options whether you want to buy a unique souvenir or check out artistic window displays.
You will start your second day in Berkeley walking on Fourth Street.
For example, I thought Amazon 4 Star Store was a pretty awesome idea! Regardless of my personal opinions on Amazon, what I liked most about this shop was the fact that you could find electronics, home goods, toys, etc. that are rated four stars or higher on Amazon.com.
Another spot I enjoyed was nearby SHOH Gallery. Berkeley is home to many fine artists, and this gallery shows off a lot of local talent! They also hold events (check ahead of time).
Try Mochi Muffins and Lattes at Third Culture
Honestly, Third Culture Bakery is one of the most beautiful bakeries that I have ever seen in my life. I felt like I had just stumbled upon a birthday party!
Chef Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu have truly created a kind and inclusive atmosphere at Third Culture – which is home of the original mochi muffin. I’ve never tried mochi muffins prior to my trip to Berkeley, and officially have a new favorite dessert!
In addition to the muffins, you also want to try their matcha lattes! Not only are these lattes delicious, but apparently, they have more antioxidants than green tea! Talk about a power boost!
You can find Third Culture Bakery at 2701 8th Street.
Enjoy a Healthy Lunch at Standard Fare
Right next door, you can find a healthy lunch spot at Standard Fare Kitchen & Pantry.
This delicious Berkeley establishment thoughtfully makes meals out of the freshest local ingredients possible. The menu frequently changes to fit the food available.
And the lunches are just so, so, so colorful. My salad had such bright and vibrant green leaves that I knew I was eating a high-quality and vitamin packed meal.
You can find Standard Fare Kitchen and Pantry at 2701 8th St.
Appreciate the Past at Berkeley Historical Society
Berkeley Historical Society is a non-profit organization staffed by passionate and knowledge volunteers determined to preserve Berkeley’s history. As an educator, this is the type of mission statement that I can get behind!
I had the pleasure of seeing the current exhibit – African Americans in Berkeley’s History and Legacy – on my own visit to the historical society.
This thoughtful-provoking exhibit focuses on Berkeley’s Black community (years spanning 1940-2000), as well as thematic topics and contributions, including education, religion, social organizations, and more.
Furthermore, I really loved the digital map of Berkeley’s Black-owned businesses on Sacramento Street.
Berkeley Historical Society also provides a virtual option for visitors to see the exhibit from afar, although I highly recommend coming in-person to support these amazing volunteers.
As a side note, it’s important to keep in mind that no photography is permitted at the exhibit. Respectfully tuck away your cameras and instead take the time to learn about the people of Berkeley.
You can find Berkeley Historical Society at 1931 Center Street.
Learn About Julia Morgan at Berkeley City Club
Julia Morgan is officially my new hero, folks.
Not sure who Julia Morgan is? The SparkNotes version is that she was an American female architect who designed more than 700 (!!!) buildings in California – including Hearst Castle.
Furthermore, she achieved her dreams at a time when it was unacceptable for women to do so. For example, after repeated rejections, Morgan became the first female student to earn a degree in architecture from the acclaimed École des Beaux-Arts
Julia Morgan was hired to build Berkeley City Club that was originally built for women’s social and recreational activities. It was also known as the “Little Castle.” And, indeed, you feel as if you’re stepping into a country French chateau when you visit Berkeley City Club.
This stunning building is now a small hotel and an event center. Not to mention, it’s home to the most beautiful pool that I have ever seen on my travels. You’ll also discover a small Julia Morgan museum where you can learn all about this remarkable woman.
You can find Berkeley City Club at 2315 Durant Avenue.
Relax at Berkeley Marina
Personally, I’m the type of person who’s attracted to cities on the water. Salt and fresh water alike makes me feel happy and alive in my heart.
So, in my opinion, no weekend in Berkeley CA is complete without a visit down to Berkeley Marina.
Even if you don’t sail, the marina offers a pleasant and cool walk where you can check out all the boats and adventurous kayakers enjoying some exercise out on the bay.
Berkeley Marina is a popular place for locals to walk with friends, alone, or with a pet, and the fresh air makes it easy to understand why everyone loves this place.
Sip Cocktails at DoubleTree at Berkeley Marina
Of course, no trip to Berkeley Marina is complete without cocktails (or even just a fancy soda and cookie!). Go to the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton to see some of the greatest views of the Marina.
In particular, Berkeley Marina Boathouse is a wonderful spot to grab a Happy Hour treat! You will feel like you are on board a classy boat with none of the seasickness, haha.
You can find Berkeley Marina Boathouse at DoubleTree at 200 Marina Blvd.
Eat Authentic German Food at Gaumenkitzel
Did you really and truly think that we were finished eating? No way! I hope you saved room in your stomach for dinner, haha!
Gaumenkitzel is an authentic family-run restaurant that will delight you especially if you’ve visited Germany at some point on your travels. Fresh, organic slow food meals are available on the menu for both dine-in and take-out.
For instance, my sausage plater was rich and heavenly. And the homemade pretzels? Ugh, to die for. I will never go back to bagged pretzels again! You need to try the spicy mustard too if your stomach can handle it.
Not to mention, you can sample a lot of German beers on draft, and shop for your very own beer in the market!
Lastly, the staff is super kind and knowledge, and willing to help you pick your food and drinks based off your personal tastes.
You can find Gaumenkitzel at 2121 San Pablo Ave.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide all about how to make the most of a weekend in Berkeley CA! What would be your top things to see and do in Berkeley?