Just like living here, travel to the San Francisco Bay Area can come with a dash of sticker-shock, but Berkeley has many things to do that won’t ask you to drop a dime. Try any of these for a budget-friendly intro to Berkeley, a cultural center with a counter-culture soul.
Berkeley blooms with a trio of fantastic garden destinations. The Berkeley Rose Garden shows off with 1,500 rose bushes across nearly four acres. Admission is always free to this municipal park. The Regional Parks Botanic Garden, tucked into a sunny dell of Tilden Regional Park, is dedicated to the native plants of California. It’s akin to a garden tour of California’s 160,000 square miles of botanic biodiversity. In addition to always-free admission, the garden gives free docent-guided tours on weekends. The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is a magical mystery tour of the world’s flora, a notably diverse collection that covers 34 acres of Strawberry Canyon above the Cal campus. Admission is free the first Wednesday of every month.
Rock and Roll
Indian Rock Park
is a great vista point for the San Francisco Bay and city skyline
beyond. It also serves as a fantastic surface for rock scrambling and
climbing. Dick Leonard, the “father
of modern rock climbing,” and David Brower, Sierra Club icon, learned
rock climbing and developed their mountaineering chops at Indian Rock.
Less-advanced climbers can enjoy the rock, too. Spend a couple of bucks
(okay, we said free, but come on) on a local Acme baguette and Cheeseboard, you’ve got a cheap Golden Gate sunset date. Rock and roll, right?
The new Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) anchors the Downtown Arts District with a certain architectural grandeur. BAMPFA is open Wed-Sun, and admission to all galleries is free the first Thursday of every month (and gallery admission is always free for guests 18 and under with accompanying adult). The collection showcases a wide range of works, from ancient Chinese and Buddhist art to modern masters including Richard Misrach and Hans Hoffman. And, through July 6, admission is free every day, as new exhibitions are installed (certain galleries closed for this process).
By the Bay
Berkeley’s bayfront trail traces a 1.25 mile, fully accessible loop around Cesar Chavez Park and comes with million dollar views of the San Francisco skyline. The Golden Gate Bridge is right across the water, and the steady westerly wind makes the Berkeley bayfront a most reliable venue for flying a kite.
Tour and Taste
Berkeley’s local libations scene is vibrant. Craft brewing comes in many forms, from artisan coffee and tea, to local beer and wine. Trumer Pils offers free daily tours that finish with a perfect glass of Berkeley-brewed pilsner.
Free Speech Movement
Free speech and flower power are forever in Berkeley’s DNA. UC Berkeley serves as the hub of the city and unofficial “Central Park.” It’s a great place for wandering through a stand of redwoods, crossing bubbling creeks, and admiring classic architecture at every turn. For an insider’s perspective, take the free campus tour, offered daily (online reservations). The leafy campus also connects the adjacent districts of Downtown Berkeley, Telegraph Avenue and the Gourmet Ghetto, making it kind of an awesome short-cut, too.