Words by Cilene Mactaggart - 24east.com // Photos by Nanette Wong - nanettewong.com
Berkeley’s contemporary spirit is as vibrant as its history. Most widely known as a home to proponents of social change and the state’s first University of California campus (UC Berkeley), the city that hugs the bay east of San Francisco is a bustling hub for the arts, dining, and culture. Berkeley is dense with various neighborhoods – like 4th Street, the Elmwood, and the Gourmet Ghetto – that offer restaurants and shops by thoughtful owners who are committed to quality and ingenuity. In looking at some of my favorite local places, some of which I have loved my whole life by living in the area, I realized that so many of them were founded by enterprising women in the area, who were, and still are, renegades to their profession.
It would be hard to not include interesting places at Cal, as the university is called by locals, since so much of the city’s rich fabric is contributed by those, past and present, whose impact echoes throughout the area. If you have just one afternoon there…move fast, walk the campus, and visit the stunning C.V. Starr East Asian Library, which holds one of the largest collections of resources on modern China that is outside China.
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which is 83,000 square feet of Art Deco meets modern brilliance designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, presents over 450 films per year plus 20 art exhibits.
It is beyond worth it to drive up the hill to enjoy unparalleled views of the entire bay at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Also of note, is the significance of Julia Morgan’s work on campus and around town. As the first licensed woman architect in California and UC Berkeley alum, she designed the famous Greek Theatre, Berkeley City Club, and is most widely famous for designing William Randolph Hearst’s iconic uber-estate, Hearst Castle.
Another groundbreaking woman who continues to leave her mark on Berkeley is Alice Waters of the famed, Chez Panisse. One of the world’s most lauded restaurants, her commitment to organic food and sustainable farming is evident in the fresh and decadent dishes at her Shattuck Avenue bungalow. Chez Panisse anchors the North Berkeley neighborhood affectionately known as the Gourmet Ghetto, where people flock to the Cheese Board Collective, a cheese shop with over 400 cheeses and their pizza restaurant with a well-deserved line out the door. Other favorites include Agrodolce and Corso, and Tigerlily for a lively bar. Another groundbreaking dining ethos in the area is found at Mission Heirloom, which serves creative paleo dishes in the most beautiful outdoor dining greenhouses around. One of my favorite hidden gems is Imperial Court for tea and dim sum, where you can sit in the garden or on the roof deck and feel worlds away from it all.
Aside from makers of food, local artists, jewelry makers, and textile creators are prolific in the area. Ceramicists Sarah Kersten and Luvhaus make fermentation dishes and carefully engineered cups, respectively, that are handmade, and serve as timeless pieces of art that you can use every day. For special serving pieces, custom textiles, unique knitwear, and home accessories, 4thStreet is your one-stop destination.
Once an industrial area with a nod to the maritime industry by being so close to the bay waters, 4th Street has become a destination for both dining and shopping. In recent years, bigger retailers like Rejuvenation and Anthropologie have put a foot down here, but there are many smaller stores that are unique for highlighting artisanal goods. Erica Tanov is one of my favorites in the area for minimalist clothing, carefully selected apothecary products, entertaining homeware, and her eponymous textile line. From her custom tabletop linens to wallpaper that beautifully lines the dressing room walls, it is easy to happily lose track of time in here. Across the street, Margaret O’Leary’s knit sweaters come in both contemporary and classic styles that are perfect for when the fog rolls in, and the Gardner has beautiful décor items for both inside and outside your home. Don’t miss wandering a few blocks over to Melissa Joy Manning’s airy jewelry store, where the space’s design is as gorgeous as the handmade pieces it holds.
Berkeley continues to be home for those whose work is appreciated for various factors – commitment to sustainability, openness for collaboration, and pure beauty. For those who visit, you will not only enjoy the richness of creativity and culture, you will want to come back, whether to enjoy the views high above in the hills, or peaceful moments walking along the bay.
For the dreamer - For the adventurer