Berkeley Doesn't Do Boring at Any of These Top Activities

Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Photo courtesy of johpan
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

With its easy access to the bay and stunning views above it, Berkeley has no end to outdoor activities. Whether it's biking, hiking, running or a peaceful stroll, you'll find every terrain imaginable, from hills to dales and everything in between. And Berkeley's weather - milder than San Francisco because the bay keeps that cold fog away - allows outdoor activities all-year long.

But for those days the rains do come, or you just feel like something to do inside, Berkeley has plenty to offer in those categories, too. The Lawrence Hall of Science is one of the premier Science Centers in the whole country, and kids of all ages should find exhibits to enthrall them. And for those with no eye, ear or nose for science, the view from Lawrence Hall is alone worth the trip.

With all of the things to do and see in a city, deciding how to spend your time can be quite an agonizing decision. 10Best has narrowed all of the available attractions in Berkeley to a list of the most appealing and reputable, to aide in your decision making. You can rest easy knowing that any choice you make from our list is sure to please.

10. Aquatic Park
Photo courtesy of celesteh

Aquatic Park has the distinction of being Berkeley's largest public park, with about 32 acres of land and a 67-acre series of lakes and lagoons. One of a number of projects in town completed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, the park is a favorite with children, who love the huge "Dream Land for Kids" playground full of castles and bridges, swings and slides. Grown ups can enjoy a number of watery activities, like canoeing and motor-boating, as well as hiking, bicycling, and Frisbee golf. When the sun is shining in Berkeley - as it so often does - there's no place better than Aquatic Park.

9. Cesar Chavez Park
Photo courtesy of Cesar Chavez Park

What do you do with an unsightly landfill that has outlived its usefulness? Well, in Berkeley, you turn it into a public park. Built in 1991 and named for the founder of the United Farm Workers of America, one of the best features of the park today is a popular 17-acre off-leash dog park. Features of the remaining 70-odd acres include sports fields, hiking trails and lots of wide open space. The annual Kite Festival is held here the last weekend in July. Although Tilden Park may be more popular because of its hillside views, a visit to Cesar Chavez gets you right by the beautiful bay.

8. Berkeley Adventure Playground
Photo courtesy of Berkeley Playground

You'd be hard-pressed to find a city playground like the one Berkeley has to offer. It's no coincidence that parents are required to sign a waver before their kids to enter; although the park is definitely safe, it also possesses some of the "free-spirit radicalism" of Berkeley where no one can say for sure exactly what's the plan is. For example, be aware the playground offers playground paint, so visitors are advised to wear clothes they don't mind getting a little more "colorful." But if you and your family are free-spirits, there is definitely adventure to be had in this fun-loving playground.

7. Kitchen on Fire
Photo courtesy of Kitchen on Fire

Hands-on cooking classes, demos and lectures for those who want to try to cook their favorite foods. A wonderful way for friends to become even better friends, Kitchen on Fire offers nightly classes and also longer course for those who might be in the area for awhile. Instructors are seasoned and professional and ground their instructions on the rules that started at nearby Chez Panise: eat produce that has been ethically and locally grown. Those who finish even one session at Kitchen on Fire will come away with not just how to make delicious food, but how to make delicious food in a sustainable and responsible way.

6. Golden Gate Fields
Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Fields

If you feel a lucky streak coming on but prefer the smell of manure to the smoke of a casino, head to the gorgeous racetrack by the bay that all kinds of people have been enjoying for decades. Opened in 1941, Golden Gate Fields features two race courses and is a favorite diversion during both the spring and winter meets. Check out the horses at the walking ring adjacent to the main track, and then place your bet. Most races are on the one-mile oval main track, but you may see some action on the nine-tenths mile Lakeside Turf Course as well.

5. University of California Botanical Garden

Established in 1890, this 34-acre botanic garden has been in its present location since the 1920s. There's much to see here, so plan several hours if you have even the palest of green thumbs. Linked by meandering pathways and enclosed greenhouses, the gardens are divided into numerous individual climactic zones to nurture over 12,000 plants from all over the world. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the New World Desert, with cacti and succulents collected during the 1930s from North and Central American deserts. You'll also find a Chinese Herb garden, old roses from the 19th and early 20th centuries, a collection of monkey puzzle trees, and a wonderful array of fuchsias.

4. Berkeley Rose Garden
Photo courtesy of johpan

For flower fanatics, this is a definite must-see. The 3.5 acre terraced park features some 3000 rose bushes comprised of about 250 different species – truly a sight (and scent) to behold. Completed in 1937 by the Works Project Administration, the garden still features the original semi-circular amphitheater, plus four tennis courts, hiking trails, foot bridges, and if you time your visit right, a stunning view of the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Mid-May is probably the best time to see the roses, coming a few months after their January pruning and when they are in full and happy bloom.

3. Tilden Park
Photo courtesy of Tilden Park

With over 2000 acres to explore, Tilden Park could keep you occupied for days. The sandy beach at Lake Anza is a great place to start – enjoy a lazy afternoon in the sun, under the watchful eye of the lifeguards of course. Then, take a little scenic train ride, or a whirl on the merry-go-round. Perhaps a round of golf or some putting practice is more your speed, followed by a bite to eat at the restaurant. Non-golfers can enjoy strolling through the botanic gardens, taking in a nature program at the environmental education center, hiking or bicycling miles of trails, fishing, or even equestrian camping.

2. University of California – Berkeley
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Berkeley is a respected academic institution, but it's also a great place to walk around and soak up some of the Berkeley vibe. Get a self-guided walking tour brochure at the visitor center, or join a guided tour of the campus. Either way, there are several places you won't want to miss. Sproul Plaza is the political and social hub, where you'll see a good cross section of the city's population, and maybe some impromptu speeches or concerts as well. Many of the buildings around campus are noteworthy as much for their turn of the century architectural styling as for what they contain (massive collections of everything from books to butterflies and film to fossils). Cart tours are available in the summer and the fall. Reservations must be made for the tours and they must be submitted at least two weeks before the desired tour date.

1. Lawrence Hall of Science
Photo courtesy of johpan

The Lawrence Hall of Science not only offers fantastic views of the Bay Area but engaging and enthralling science exhibits for kids of all ages. Names after Ernest Orlando Lawrence (1901--1958), the man who invented the prototype of the cyclotron in 1930 which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1939, The Lawrence Hall of Science tries to develop the same relentless curiosity that inspired its namesake in every one of its visitors, no matter what their age. With hands-on exhibits, live science demonstrations, a planetarium and other special events, there's always something going on at Lawrence Hall that will thrill and amaze.