Guide to a Car-Free Weekend in Berkeley

With a wealth of public transportation options and compact, walkable neighborhoods, Berkeley is an easy destination to explore car-free

Berkeley is an easy destination to explore car-free. We’ve curated a fun three-day weekend itinerary featuring the best of Berkeley’s culture, food, and outdoor scene – all without the hassles of a car.

If you’re flying in, it’s an easy and direct ride from Oakland Airport to Downtown Berkeley using Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Just steps from the terminal, ride BART’s Airport Connector (Beige Line) eight minutes to the Oakland Coliseum station. From there, board an Orange Line train toward Richmond, travel seven stops (about 20 minutes), and get off at the Downtown Berkeley station. The trip costs $10.15 one-way with a Clipper card that you can purchase from a ticket vending machine at the Oakland Coliseum station.

While Berkeley is full of distinctly wonderful neighborhoods, we recommend the downtown area for your base because of its central and transit-accessible location. In addition to BART, you’re at the nexus of multiple bus lines operated by AC Transit, and there’s a shuttle, Bear Transit, that provides service in and around the UC Berkeley campus.

Travel Tip When you purchase your Clipper card upon arrival at the Oakland Coliseum BART Station, add enough cash value for a round trip ($20.30), assuming you plan to take BART back to the airport. If you think you’ll be taking local buses during your stay, consider adding more, as AC Transit only accepts Clipper or exact change.

Day 1: Settle In and Tour UC Berkeley

The boutique Hotel Shattuck Plaza is the perfect place to call home for the next three days. Built in 1910 but upgraded with a contemporary aesthetic that retains its architectural heritage, it is adjacent to the Downtown Berkeley BART station exit and just two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus. If budget is a priority, the Aiden by Best Western is also a good choice. It’s about a five-minute walk from the North Berkeley BART station, which is the stop right after Downtown Berkeley.

This flagship of California’s public university system is an ideal introduction to the city for which it is named. Teeming with Nobel laureates, industry leaders, and Olympic athletes, UC Berkeley has a campus befitting its illustrious reputation.

On your way, make a pit stop at Jupiter to enjoy brews and bites in their lively beer garden. Fueled up for your tour, continue down Shattuck Ave. and take a right onto Center St., passing the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Straight ahead you’ll enter the campus through a magical grove of redwoods, pines, and oaks.

While you might be tempted to linger beneath the canopy, there’s a lot more to explore in the 1,232-acre campus. Head first to the landmark Campanile, or Sather Tower, which is the third tallest clock and bell tower in the world. You can purchase tickets on-site and take the elevator to the top for wonderful views. It is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends until 5 p.m. It’s closed Sundays between 2 and 3 p.m. for a carillon concert.

Be sure to visit the campus’ bustling hub, Sproul Plaza. Considered a fulcrum point for the national Free Speech Movement that began in 1964, it remains a popular gathering spot for friends, musicians, and activists.

California Memorial Stadium celebrating college sports Berkeley California
California Memorial Stadium

UC Berkeley’s luminaries are not relegated to the realm of academics. The university is an athletic powerhouse and depending on the season and your interests, you might check out a sporting event. Football played at the historic Memorial Stadium and basketball at the Haas Pavilion are big draws, but you might consider other sports in which the Bears excel, like gymnastics, water polo, and swimming. The school’s baseball and soccer stadiums are near Downtown Berkeley and an easy stroll from the hotel. See a schedule of sporting events at

To make your way back to the hotel, exit the campus from Sproul Plaza onto Telegraph Ave., Berkeley’s iconic melting pot. Collegiate and quirky, this is the perfect street for people watching as you browse vintage clothing boutiques, old-school record shops, and trendy cafés.

If you decide to have a bite along Telegraph, make it light because our recommended dinner destination is the foodie favorite North Berkeley neighborhood. You’ll want to arrive on an empty stomach.

You could try to reserve a table at the neighborhood’s most celebrated restaurant, Chez Panisse, but there are plenty of other excellent choices. For Indian cuisine with a California twist there’s Tigerlily, and down the street is Via Del Corso, a lovely Northern Italian restaurant that serves hand-crafted pastas. Both restaurants are on Shattuck and can be reached by riding AC Transit Line 18 (Line 7 on the return), which stops near the hotel.

Day 2 – Shop, Sip, and See a Show

For your one full day in Berkeley, we recommend starting out with a visit to the premier Fourth Street shopping district. Getting there is easy on AC Transit’s Line 51B which takes 20 to 30 minutes.

Along with big-name retailers like Apple and Lululemon, Fourth Street’s wide and leafy thoroughfare is also a mecca of world-class restaurants, distinctive home décor shops, and unique art galleries.

Before you hit the shops, brunch is a must. While there are plenty of options, Oceanview Diner is a Berkeley institution, famous for its creative and yummy pancakes, music played from a mid-century jukebox, and casual, down-home style.

After brunch and shopping, walk over to 5th St. to visit the tasting rooms at the Berkeley Wine Block. This small, industrial neighborhood in West Berkeley has become an emerging destination for great food and wine.

An early arrival to the block was Donkey and Goat, opened in 2006 by two pioneers in the natural wine movement. They share a backyard with newcomer Hammerling Wines known for their organic and dry-farmed sparkling varieties. You could also enjoy tasting flights and curated Berkeley-made snacks at Broc Cellars before calling a rideshare back to the hotel to freshen up for the evening.

Downtown Arts District
Downtown Arts District

On any given night, Berkeley has an impressive lineup of entertainment, and it’s an easy walk to several venues. Live music fans can check out the schedule at The Freight & Salvage, which showcases traditional music from around the world. If theater is more your vibe, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, known simply as the Berkeley Rep, enjoys a national reputation for excellence.

Dinner on Saturday night can be as casual or fancy as you like, and there’s no shortage of options in the downtown area. Fish & Bird specializes in modern Japanese cuisine, while Revival Bar & Kitchen serves NorCal-style dishes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. For creative cocktails and small bites paired with exceptional views, Study Hall is the place to go.

Day 3 – Head to the Hills Before Heading Home

Start off your final day in Berkeley at one of our favorite brunch spots, La Note, just a five-minute walk from the hotel. Housed in a beautifully rehabilitated building from 1875, La Note strikes the perfect chord with its rustic decor, lovely patio, and mouth-watering selection of pastries, pancakes, and egg dishes.

A nice spot to wrap up your weekend is at the UC Botanical Garden in the Berkeley Hills. While Bear Transit provides service to the garden Monday through Friday, the fastest way to get there on weekend days is to call a rideshare. The 34-acre botanical garden has more than 10,000 types of plants from nine regions of the globe, including an impressive collection of California natives. The gardens are open every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry at 4:30 p.m.

UC Botanical Garden, Berkeley

If you’ve got time before heading out, an alternative or add-on to the Botanical Garden is the world-renowned Lawrence Hall of Science featuring hands-on learning experiences, exhibits, planetarium shows, and more. The Lawrence is open every day except Mondays and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a shuttle runs between it and the Botanical Garden approximately every 15-20 minutes on weekends and holidays.

Berkeley is BARTable!

Getting around Berkeley without a car is a breeze because so many of our favorite destinations are just a BART ride away. Check out all the fun, interesting, and BARTable places you can visit here.

About the Author

Karen Bakar is a travel writer and public transit communications professional who has lived and worked in the San Francisco East Bay for more than 20 years. Whether she's commuting to work or exploring distant lands, she can almost always be found taking the local trains and buses.

About the Author

Karen Bakar