Berkeley Arts & Culture

Berkeley is California’s cultural travel tour de force. There are several peripheral factors for this: the city is home one of the leading educational institutions in the world, the University of California, Berkeley; there is the creative vibrancy of the San Francisco Bay Area; and the regional influence (and arts-supporting affluence) of the tech industry.

As powerful as these factors are, they only begin to explain why arts take pride of place in Berkeley. And what it really comes down to are the people who live and create here, the work they share with the world, and the local venues where visual and performing arts are presented.

Hubs of Inspiration

The Downtown Arts District is a highlight-reel hub with the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Aurora Theater Company, California Jazz Conservatory, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, and the UC Theatre. And just a few blocks away stands Zellerbach Hall, the home venue for Cal Performances, on the University of California campus.

West Berkeley is another focus for artist studios and galleries, and in North Shattuck’s Gourmet Ghetto, culinary arts flourish, as well as the 60-year old ACCI Gallery, an artist-run collective where dozens of artists present their works.

“Counter” Culture

Berkeley is a vibrant and spirited city that served as a home base for the 1960s counterculture movement. Fast-forward 50 years, and it’s still all about “counters,” still revolutionary but in an edible way. Berkeley is a culinary wonderland where the roots of fresh and organic dining took hold in the 1970s at Chez Panisse, the creation of renowned chef Alice Waters. Today, “Alice’s restaurant” remains the jewel in Berkeley’s culinary crown, sharing its North Shattuck location with a variety of specialty shops, cafés and merchants offering fresh baked goods, cheeses, handmade chocolates and fine wines. At Gather Restaurant, a short stroll from the Downtown Arts District is rewarded with heralded farm-to-table menus and a local, sustainable vibe.

Berkeley has a long and storied history of brewing, and the modern Bay Area craft-brewing renaissance began in Berkeley in the early 1980’s with the establishment of Triple Rock Brewery, one of America’s original brewpubs. Triple Rock’s IPAX is the standard for the West Coast IPA style. Gilman Brewing Company, Fieldwork Brewing, Takara Sake, The Rare Barrel and Trumer Pils also brew famously in Berkeley.

Architecture, Gardens to Go

Time-travelers will revel in Berkeley’s architectural heritage. The University of California’s early-20th century buildings make a wonderful walking tour, and lovers of historic hotels book the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club, dubbed the “Little Castle” for Hearst Castle (its flashy and famed sister property on the Central Coast).

Berkeley has lyrical public gardens. The University of California, Berkeley Botanical Garden showcases plants of the world including a Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden and Rainforest House. The Botanic Garden at Tilden Regional Park grows the largest collection of California native plants in the world and features a grove of Earth’s largest tree, Sequoia sempervirens, also called California Redwoods. Their majesty makes a nice metaphor for Berkeley’s towering cultural legacy.