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Hop on the Bus and Discover Berkeley’s Neighborhoods

By Marta Yamamoto
Tuesday August 21, 2007

It’s a well-known fact that the city of Berkeley has a worldwide reputation that far outweighs its size. First to settle here were squatters along the bay’s shoreline, attracted by accessible water and farmland. Later, the University of California acted like a magnet, drawing students and staff.  

That magnet continues to pull in all directions. Today, over 120 different languages and dialects are spoken within Berkeley’s 18-square miles. Diversity makes Berkeley unique and is reflected in its neighborhoods, each with its own brand of architecture, culture, parks and businesses. 

So, grab some friends and a bus pass and do some exploring. Discover them for yourself, select your favorites and leave a trail of breadcrumbs for a return visit. 

Cultural diversity rules in West Berkeley. From the Europeans and Chinese of the early 1900s and African American immigration during World War II to the recent influx of Latin Americans, Asian Americans and Southeast Indians, these cultures are its strength. 

Take bus line 51 down University Avenue to Berkeley’s economic engine, an eclectic mix of working-class neighborhood, light industry and thriving businesses. Here warehouses, repair shops and artists coexist among restored Victorians, small bungalows and dilapidated cottages, as well as Berkeley’s most effective retail district, Fourth Street. 

Explore Little India where the smells and colors send you eastward. Pop into fragrant Bombay Spice House, pulsing Bombay Music and dazzling Rupam saris for an all-senses feast. Vik’s Distributors and Chaat Café, on Allston Way, offers delicious fare at incredibly low prices. 

More culture awaits at Takara Sake on Addison Street, from its architectural design and crisp cool sakes to the 19th-century sake production artifacts within its museum. 

Discover hidden Strawberry Creek Park on Allston Way, tucked between residential streets. An expansive lawn and native plantings are the perfect view from an al fresco lunch at Café Zeste. 

North Berkeley is known for innovation in food, an epicurean groaning board. Traveling the length of Shattuck Avenue, along bus lines 9 and 18, you’ll find an interesting assortment of sense-tingling stimuli. What began as a neighborhood of railroad men and their families developed into a quiet, middle-class area. The advent of Peet’s Coffee, the Cheese Board and Chez Panisse put this area on the map. 

North Berkeley is also home to a number of successful collective businesses that support the “power to the people” spirit, including the Cheese Board and its Juice Bar and Pizza offshoots. The ACCI Gallery is an artists’ cooperative with collections of handcrafted jewelry, ceramics and glass. Its changing art exhibits are expressive and thought-provoking.  

After collecting vitals from the cornucopia of choices, amble up to Live Oak Park to picnic, join a basketball pick-up game, follow the paths across Codornices Creek and see what’s on view at the Berkeley Art Center, specializing in the avant-garde work of local artists.  

A day spent in Northbrae, on bus line 9, is a day spent within a mellow environment. From the Berkeley Public Library, at the Alameda and Hopkins Street, to the shops at Hopkins and California, family life thrives. Handsome California bungalows with well-cared-for gardens line streets shaded by mature trees. At the Martin Luther King School Park, joggers circle the track, kids swing and slide and tennis buffs lob balls over the net.  

This is where people shop for quality foods and plants, then linger for an alfresco coffee or lunch at Espresso Roma. Monterey Market has been around since 1961, selling “fruits and vegetables in season” and supporting local farmers. Cart-crowded aisles are lined with both the common and the esoteric, all at reasonable prices. Magnani Poultry sells prime meats, free-range poultry and prepared salads. Everything on offer at Monterey Fish is the freshest quality and sustainable, from eco-farmed Scottish salmon to Northern California oysters. For cheeses from around the world and inexpensive, bulk herbs and spices, try Country Cheese Market. 

An amble through Berkeley Horticultural Nursery will turn any thumb green, and is as satisfying as touring a botanic garden. Multiple choices in every category, helpful staff and a lovely setting make any visit a treat. 

Berkeley’s Elmwood district stretches along College Avenue on gentle terrain, reached by bus lines 9 and 51. This neighborhood invites lingering and strolling, past classic architecture, tree-lined streets, friendly shops, global cuisine and cultural venues. There’s a feeling here that you’ve arrived and aren’t in a hurry to leave. 

Pride in ownership is evident throughout Elmwood’s residential streets. Brown shingles trimmed in forest green and teal, broad front porches decked with Adirondack chairs and Queen Annes with small multi-paned windows make their statements elegantly. Gardens filled with roses and rhododendrons, framed by towering pines, palms and oaks complete the postcard scene. 

The arts are also alive here, starting with the Elmwood Theater. A City of Berkeley landmark, it has survived since 1914 and was saved by the Friends of the Theater in 1994. 

The Julia Morgan Center for the Arts could hold its own as the majestic lodge of a national park. This National Historic Landmark sets the scene for theater, dance and music performances. 

The Judah L. Magnes Museum, housed in a four-story brick mansion, displays art reflecting the global Jewish experience. Permanent and changing exhibits in distinctive galleries seek to promote understanding and commonalities. 

East of Arlington Avenue and upward into the hills is the last Berkeley area to be developed, the Berkeley Hills. Streets named after California counties follow the contours of the land, steeply to the top. The hills can be reached by bus lines 52L and 65. 

With no business district, this is a great place for walking, ideally using the network of pathways and steps that were developed for easier access to streetcars and the university. 

Architecture keeps the walking interesting. Homes designed by Bernard Maybeck, John Hudson Thomas, Julia Morgan and John Galen blend harmoniously with those of more modern design. 

Berkeley’s unique parks make good destinations for admiring flora and fantastic views or just having fun. The Berkeley Rose Garden, on Euclid Avenue, is home to over 3,000 bushes and 250 varieties, planted in tiers overlooking the bay. Across the street, Codornices Park offers an expansive lawn, groves of oak, bay and redwood and a 40-foot concrete slide. 


AC Transit information is available at or by phone at 511. 

The Map of Berkeley Pathways is an excellent street map. Buy it at local bookstores or order at their website at, $4.95 



Photo by Marta Yamamoto 

There’s always a crowd at Northbrae’s Public Library, enjoying both its indoor and outdoor facilities.