I have always enjoyed walking, so when I moved to Berkeley in 2004, I set out on foot right away to get to know my new home.
I had already planned on walking all of the streets in my immediate neighborhood when in early 2005 I read a short piece in the New Yorker about a man who had walked every street in Manhattan. I immediately expanded my goal to walking every street in Berkeley, and further widened the project to include the city’s more than 100 passable pathways after purchasing the Berkeley Path Wanderers map to track my project.
Near the end of 2007 I completed my goal of walking every street in Berkeley.
The miles of walking turned out to be the easy part of this project. More difficult was explaining to friends and acquaintances why I decided to do the walk in the first place and, after it was over, summarizing what I learned from the walk. I discovered so much about the character of Berkeley and about walking in general that I decided mid-way through 2006 to start a blog to share what I found.
Every block in Berkeley holds something new to see. This project took much longer than I expected simply because I was stopping on every block to look at interesting buildings, at gardens, plants, art, signs, and more. I noticed details that I would never have seen in a car. I found myself looking at patterns, at styles of architectural elements, sidewalk markings, fliers posted in windows and on bulletin boards, plants and animals, and at creative sculptures, metalwork, and other art found in front yards.
I learned that walking every street in Berkeley was allowed me to look objectively at the city as opposed to forming preconceived opinions based on historical events or knowledge of familiar neighborhoods. There is a lot going on here for a small city.
Following are a few highlights of places in Berkeley that I discovered during the walk:
An escape from the busy Cal campus and Telegraph Avenue area can be found by walking east along the south border of the campus on Bancroft Avenue to a small network of paths leading to the Panoramic Hill neighborhood. Although you can look down and see the Cal Memorial Stadium and sports facilities from here, it seems like you are a world away from the campus.
In addition to the amazing views implied by the name of the neighborhood, this area is a nice place for walking because it offers access to the Claremont Canyon and Strawberry Canyon fire trails. Although the neighborhood is small, it is a nice spot to revisit, taking different routes up and down the paths and around the loops of Panoramic and Dwight Way for interesting views.
West Berkeley, the area west of San Pablo Avenue and out to the bay, has a history of industrial activity like much of the zone surrounding the rest of the bay. While some other industrial areas may just be places that are passed through in a car, West Berkeley can be easily accessed and explored on foot.
Many of the older buildings in West Berkeley are still somewhat intact, with some occupied with new industry and others empty. North of University Ave., many of these buildings are in the blocks on either side of the railroad tracks. South of University, the streets that start at 7th and dead end at Aquatic Park are particularly interesting to explore, as are Murray and Folger streets west of San Pablo.
Don’t pass up the chance to explore an area with an interesting mix of industrial, retail (Fourth Street) and wholesale outlets, restaurants, apartment buildings, regular houses, and newly built “live-work” and loft buildings.
San Pablo Avenue
Like many old highway roads, San Pablo Avenue is a varied and interesting street to walk. For the full effect of this street, I suggest walking the entire length of it in Berkeley from Albany to the Oakland border. Starting at the north end, you will pass outlet stores and sporting goods businesses, and then what some people call “gourmet ghetto west” at Cedar Street (where you might want to fuel up for your walk with some bread from Acme or a coffee from Cafe Fanny).
As you continue south through the University and San Pablo intersection, you’ll see Indian businesses, Mexican and Halal groceries, auto repair shops, and restaurants. Near the intersection of Dwight is an area that has attracted a number of vintage clothing retailers, antique stores, and other small retail outlets. With the opening of Caffe Trieste, this corner has become a lively neighborhood gathering spot.
Two blocks south of Ashby is the Berkeley border, where you can turn around and head back on the other side of the street or venture into West Berkeley for some more walking. A similarly varied walk is University Avenue from I-80 all the way to the Berkeley campus.
There are several rock parks in the Thousand Oaks area of Berkeley, city parks that feature rock outcrops popular with climbers, geology enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys views across the bay. This is a great place to bring visitors to show them a very unique area of Berkeley.
On my first walk or two in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood beyond the rock parks, I observed that it was a very pleasant neighborhood for walking but did not expect to find anything out of the ordinary. When I finally got to Vicente Avenue, all of this changed. I had not realized there were other large rocks throughout the neighborhood beyond the rock parks. Giant boulders appear in front yards, and in some cases rocks have been incorporated into the houses’ architecture.
Upper Claremont, the neighborhood above Tunnel Road, is a fascinating place to explore because of its very different architecture from most of the other Berkeley neighborhoods. This area has many new homes that have been built since the East Bay Hills fire in 1991, quite a few of which have very contemporary designs.
I had a strong reaction to a few of the houses up here; although I am a fan of mid-century modern architecture and modest, well-designed contemporary architecture, I found myself saying “What were they thinking?” while looking at some of the homes.
But this is precisely why I enjoy walking here: there is much to ponder while walking through here, about architecture, how homes and landscaping are constructed in fire-prone areas, and what drives people to build and re-build homes in areas that are prone to natural disasters.
The best way to access this neighborhood and avoid much of the Tunnel Road traffic is to take the Short Cut path off Tunnel to the left, soon after Ashby turns into Tunnel. Then walk along Alvarado Road and Vicente Road (not to be confused with Vicente in Thousand Oaks, mentioned above), and on the Sunset Trail and Willow Walk paths.
Many Berkeley visitors and newcomers are familiar with Telegraph Avenue and the Fourth Street shopping district in West Berkeley. After a bit of walking, however, I discovered many smaller commercial districts throughout Berkeley.
One of my favorites for walking is the small shopping area along Hopkins Street near Monterey, which has the feeling of a European town where you could go from shop to shop filling up your basket with the day’s ingredients for meals.
During the day and especially on Saturdays, the street is bustling—people drinking coffee and reading newspapers at Espresso Roma, filling their carts from the huge piles of produce at Monterey Market, and chatting with neighbors and with the owners of the small stores that sell fish, bread, cheese, pizza, and other foods.
In the surrounding neighborhood known as Northbrae, short walks will take you to the beautiful North Berkeley Branch Library, to the busy King School Park, and to the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School.
This is just a sampling, of course, of what you’ll find walking around Berkeley. Of course you don’t need to walk each and every street of the city; you will see a lot by walking somewhere that you would normally drive, by taking a different walking route from your normal routine, or by hopping on the bus or BART and getting off in a new neighborhood.
Jennifer English’s blog is at http://walkingberkeley.wordpress.com.
Photograph by Jennifer English.
A front yard boulder in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood.