10 things you need to see in sophisticated Berkeley

Lifestyle

Berkeley, once affectionately referred to as Bezerkeley, has grown up.

The city has balanced its counterculture roots with culture – and serious art and music abound. 

Much of this sophistication, though, is being led by the culinary scene. Alice Waters’ game-changing Chez Panisse has now been around long enough to produce new generations of chefs moving on and starting their own acclaimed restaurants.

Food is the new tie-dye.

These 10 sites will show you another side of Berkeley. But don’t worry – the city hasn’t lost any of its quirkiness. After all, the considered-royalty Chez Panisse is still located in an area proudly known as the Gourmet Ghetto. 

Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse is considered by many to be the birthplace of California cuisineChez Panisse is considered by many to be the birthplace of California cuisine — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

Founded by food activist and chef extraordinaire Alice Waters in 1971, Chez Panisse is the cornerstone of Berkeley’s rich food scene and is often credited with pioneering the farm-to-table movement. More than 45 years later, their food continues to dazzle.

Located downstairs, the world-famous restaurant is open for dinner by reservation only. It offers a fixed menu that changes nightly, featuring three to four courses inspired by the finest sustainably-sourced, organic, peak-of-the-season ingredients. 

If you head upstairs, the cafe at Chez Panisse offers a moderately priced a la carte menu which is inspired by the market and changes for lunch and dinner. It has an open kitchen with a charcoal grill and wood-burning oven, so you can watch your beautiful meal being prepared.  

BAMPFA

BAMPFA is a stunning place to view art and filmsBAMPFA is a stunning place to view art and films — Photo courtesy of BAMPFA

Settled into its architectural “wow” of a building downtown, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is more of a cultural hub for the community than ever. 

With state-of-the-art theaters and galleries, the museum’s exhibits, screenings, lectures and workshops are rich in creativity and diversity, welcoming acclaimed creators like filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and author Roxane Gay for special presentations and thought-provoking discussions.  

Be sure to head upstairs to Babette, BAMPFA’s cafe, to continue the conversation over coffee, beer or wine and a homemade pastry. 

Aurora Theatre Company

Aurora Theatre Company presents world-class productions in an intimate settingAurora Theatre Company presents world-class productions in an intimate setting — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

Aurora is a world-class regional company, presenting award-winning productions in an intimate 150-seat theater that allows all audience members to sit within 15 feet of the stage. 

Aurora was created by local artists who wanted to produce plays “about important ideas, mediated by language and people.” Featuring plays like American Buffalo, Everything Is Illuminated and The Year of Magical Thinking, they have reached their goal. With impressive sets and top-notch performances, they have exceeded it.

Takara Sake Tasting Room and Museum

Enjoy a glass or a flight of sake at The Tasting Room at Takara SakeEnjoy a glass or a flight of sake at The Tasting Room at Takara Sake — Photo courtesy of Takara Sake USA Inc.

A leading producer of sake in Japan since the 19th century, Takara Shuzo Company established Takara Sake USA in Berkeley 35 years ago because of the excellent Sierra water and superior rice from the Sacramento Valley. 

Today, the company’s US headquarters also houses the country’s only Sake Museum, where you can learn about the sake-making process and see tools used by real Toji (brewmasters).  

Sake was once imbibed only during religious ceremonies but, luckily, that tradition has evolved and you can visit the beautiful Takara (which means “Treasure From the Rice Paddy”) Tasting Room any time for a glass or a flight of sake from their extensive collection.

La Cocina

Five alumni of La Cocina have opened food businesses in the UC Berkeley Student UnionFive alumni of La Cocina have opened food businesses in the UC Berkeley Student Union — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

This innovative San Francisco-based non-profit incubator for the food industry helps low-income entrepreneurs – primarily women from communities of color and immigrant communities – grow their businesses. 

Five La Cocina alums recently opened stands in the UC Berkeley Student Union, which is open to the public and likely to become the hot place for lunch. You can find Syrian dishes at Old Damascus Fare, baked-from-scratch desserts at A Girl Named Pinky, Vietnamese noodles and soups at Noodle Girl, “soul food on a sandwich” at Pinky and Red’s, and Chilean empanadas at El Meson de Violeta. 

Some La Cocina alumni have already garnered awards and made a name for themselves. Look for these women to follow suit.

ACCI Gallery

ACCI Gallery features the work of emerging and established artists and craftspeopleACCI Gallery features the work of emerging and established artists and craftspeople — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

In true Berkeley fashion, Arts & Crafts Cooperative, Inc. is a community of artists, artisans and art patrons and is completely member-based.

The oldest Arts & Crafts co-op west of the Mississippi, it was founded in the mid-1950s and is still providing a showcase for more than 100 emerging and established artists to display and sell their work. Visiting ACCI, which is located in a cozy brick building, is like spending time in a top museum – only better because you can bring the art home. 

The Butcher’s Son

You'll find it hard to believe that everything at The Butcher's Son is veganYou’ll find it hard to believe that everything at The Butcher’s Son is vegan — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

This popular deli is unique because, well, it doesn’t serve any meat. Everything made in this butcher shop is vegan, although the taste is so authentic, you may find yourself asking for confirmation. 

Rest assured, everything is plant-based, from the smoked maple “turkey” grinder to the “chicken” parm. The #ThisIsMyAddiction breakfast sandwich – “bacon,” scrambled “egg,” grilled “mozzarella” and avocado on a toasted garlic buttered Ciabatta with a side of pickled jalapeno – is so aptly-named, it’s no wonder regulars are happy to wait in the long line to get one.

University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley features more than 10,000 types of plantsThe University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley features more than 10,000 types of plants — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

Located on the University campus, the 34-acre Botanical Garden is one of the most diverse landscapes in the world.

Featuring more than 10,000 types of plants, including many rare and endangered species, the Garden’s nine regions are organized geographically, covering natural plantings from Italy to South Africa. It’s also home to the world’s largest collection of native California flora.

Whether you decide to take a yoga class, immerse yourself in a forest bathing workshop or just spend a few hours taking in the natural beauty, the garden is a relaxing way to reconnect with nature – and yourself. 

ZINO

ZINO’s menu is inspired by the cuisine of 22 Mediterranean countries — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley

Located inside Berkeley’s historic Hotel Shattuck Plaza, this vibrant restaurant is a spicy celebration of Mediterranean cuisine. Helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Hicks, ZINO offers a rotating menu of flavorful dishes inspired by 22 Mediterranean countries, with the emphasis on sharing.

Start out with warm pita accompanied by a selection of dips, including muhammara with roasted peppers, walnuts and pomegranate, then move on to hot and cold mezze platters like grilled octopus with Spanish chorizo and potatoes. The food is fresh, plentiful and 22 kinds of delicious.

Maker’s Row

Shop directly from local designers at Maker's RowShop directly from local designers at Maker’s Row — Photo courtesy of Fourth Street Maker’s Row

An upscale shopping mecca, Fourth Street is filled with top brand name stores.

Every Friday through Sunday, though, the area’s indie roots pop out as local designers and artisans emerge to showcase their work on Maker’s Row. Housed under an iron trellis, the market features eight individual retail kiosks, where makers can customize their own mini-storefronts.

Selling everything from jewelry to art and apparel, this is a great place to pick up a one-of-a-kind piece and meet the person who actually created it before they become one of the big names themselves.

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