This town is full of establishments that sell things you never knew you needed. Here’s a personal selection.
East Bay Vivarium
1827 Fifth St., 841-1400
Snake Central. The Vivarium has an astonishing variety of reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods: enormous pythons and monitor lizards, bizarre chameleons, jewel-like day geckos, giant cockroaches. They also sell cages and other equipment, reptile chow, and really cool T-shirts. A great place to browse, and you might just walk out with your own bearded dragon.
The Spanish Table
1814 San Pablo Ave., 548-1383
More than just a food source, this local outpost of the Seattle flagship store is a tasty introduction to Spanish and Latin culture. The smoked paprika alone is worth the trip. But the Table also has lemon-stuffed olives and Serrano ham, paella pans the size of wading pools, a fine selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines (with some real bargains), cookbooks, CDs.
The Bone Room
1569 Solano Ave., 526-5252
Maybe what your apartment needs is a skull, for that Georgia O’Keefe look. But not just your standard cow: walrus, perhaps, or giraffe. Proprietor Ron Cauble sells an eclectic array of animal parts—some replicas, some real. How about fossil ammonite dinnerware? Beetle-wing jewelry? A toadskin purse? Desktop dinosaur dung?
Tokyo Fish Market
1220 San Pablo Ave., 524-7243
If it swims, it’s here—and it’ll be fresh. But beyond the sashimi makings, this is a mother lode of Japanese products. They’ve got natto, that acquired-taste fermented soybean delicacy, if you really want it. And if you’ve returned from Hawaii with a taste for island food, this is one of the few places I know that stock frozen poi and lau lau.
3086 Claremont Ave., 654-7323
Calling this multilevel warren a bookstore doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a parallel universe. Sure, there’s shelf after shelf of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and esoterica—Tolkien and LeGuin rubbbing elbows with Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. But where else can you buy a plush Chthulu, or a Mr. Creosote action figure?
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace
2020 Oregon St., 843-6929
The Mother Church of Fresh Produce, and a full-service supermarket to boot, with its own line of wines, condiments, and other goodies. The fruit and vegetable section is a revelation. Depending on the season, you can find ramps, jackfruit, sugar cane, strange gnarly edible roots, heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots. Much of the produce is organic. Carnivores will appreciate the meat and fish counters as well.
Seventh Street and Ashby Avenue, 841-7283
One man’s trash is another’s treasure. This Berkeley institution, a salvage yard like no other, is cheaper than Home Depot, and a lot more fun to explore. Unexpected wonders lurk among the window frames and kitchen sinks.
990 University Ave., 843-9600
Walk through this Indian emporium and inhale. Spices, chutneys, lentils, rice, cookware, and produce you rarely find anywhere else. This is my most reliable source for curry leaves, an essential for South Indian cooking.
Mi Tierra Foods
2096 San Pablo Ave., 540-6972
The best place in Berkeley for Mexican and Latin American ingredients: queso fresco, chiles by the bushel, Puerto Rican recaito and sofrito, Peruvian papas secas and purple corn. There’s pan dulce, too, and for those days when you just feel like hitting something, a selection of pinatas.
Down Home Music
10341 San Pablo Ave., 525-2129
It’s in neighboring El Cerrito, not Berkeley, but there’s no way I could leave this place out. From blues fiddle to Tuvan throat-singing, Sacred Harp gospel to Indonesian guitar, Down Home is your one-stop roots music store. Don’t miss the CD bargain bins and the vintage vinyl vault. There are also music DVDs and books.