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Berkeley is a California cultural “tour de force.” There are several supporting factors for this: the city is home to UC Berkeley, one of the leading educational institutions in the world; it is infused with the dynamic creative vibe of the San Francisco Bay Area; and there’s a local reverence for poets, painters, and every free-spirited iconoclast in between.
As powerful as these factors are, they only begin to explain why arts take pride of place in Berkeley. What it really comes down to are the people who live and create here, the work they share with the world, and the state-of-the-art venues where visual and performing arts are staged by progressive production companies.
Start with breakfast at La Note, a little slice of France in Berkeley. Located right in the heart of downtown, La Note’s cuisine soars. On sunny days, we recommend opting for the restaurant’s outdoor patio seating.
A natural hub for the arts, the Downtown Arts District is a nationally- recognized arts destination and model for arts-led downtown revitalization. The Arts District is centered on Addison Street, between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street. Once lined with auto body shops, Addison Street now rolls with live theatre and music.
All along Addison Street, the Aurora Theater Company, the California Jazz Conservatory, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 600-seat Roda Theatre create an electric and eclectic synergy. Matinees at Berkeley Rep are generally staged on Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays, with evening performances nightly or nearly so. Robert Hass, the former US Poet Laureate and a Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, researched, selected, and edited the poems that are artfully carved into the side walk, aka the Addison Street Poetry Walk.
The Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive anchors the eastern edge of the Downtown Arts District, a jewel box of art across many mediums and genres.
Artful dining choices abound downtown, including Zino, the stylish restaurant at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza. Zino is a modern Mediterranean restaurant and lounge with flavors and features to delight every sense. Revival Bar + Kitchen and COMAL are just around the corner, as are another dozen or so additional restaurants.
Start your second artistic day in Berkeley with an Italian-inspired breakfast at Passione Caffe in downtown Berkeley. Da Vinci would approve of Passione Caffe's artisan breads, pastries, and espresso drinks.
If you’re heading north toward the Gourmet Ghetto, check out the ACCI Gallery just a few blocks down on Shattuck. The Arts & Crafts Cooperative, Incorporated (ACCI) was started by Berkeley artists and craftsmen in the mid-1950s; today the handsome brick building, formerly a French laundry, shows work by member artists, including ceramics, glass, jewelry, photography, textiles, sculpture, paintings and other fine art.
World-class headliners of step, song and stage come to Berkeley to perform via Cal Performances, the performing arts presenter for state-of-the-art venues including Zellerbach Auditorium, Zellerbach Playhouse, Hertz Hall, and Wheeler Auditorium.
Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse is the longest-running full-time folk and traditional music venue west of the Mississippi. The “Freight,” as it’s known locally, hosts nationally- and internationally-known musicians in an acoustically sparkling new 440-seat, green and LEED-certified venue in the Downtown Arts District.
If you find yourself here during a December weekend, the Berkeley Artisan Holiday Open Studios are an annual must-see. All across town, local artists and artisans showcase their works and wares, with open studios, galleries and shops. All work is handcrafted, and many pieces are one-of-a-kind. It’s a festive, fun and free way to see working craft studios and get a glimpse into the creative process. Pick up the free studio map online.
Of course, Berkeley is a veritable showcase of public art year-round. The Berkeley Civic Center presents a free gallery of contemporary art, with five floors of artworks gracing its walls. The Addison Street Windows Gallery entrances walkers-by, as does the West Berkeley Rail Stop’s blend of poetry and murals on display near Fourth Street.
Please note: check with all venues above as to their current status due to pandemic guidelines.