Even the bike racks on Telegraph Avenue reflect Berkeley's culture — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley
Berkeley has always been the Bay Area’s eccentric uncle, refusing to conform or be defined in conventional terms.
Because of this, it’s a must-visit, embracing its quirkiness and offering random – often joyful – discoveries around every corner.
Here are 10 reasons to don your tie-dye and explore the city that’s been home to an eclectic group of independent thinkers, including poet Allen Ginsberg, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Apple’s Steve Wozniak.
Fairy Post Office
Mail a letter at the Fairy Post Office in Tilden Park — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
As if Tilden Park wasn’t magical enough, there’s an old tree at the start of Curran Trail that houses an itsy bitsy post office meant for fairies.
Lea Redmond of Leafcutter Designs created the Tiny Tilden Post Office, complete with a miniature desk, chair, mailbox and lamp, in 2013. Five years later, it’s still there, although it’s constantly being redecorated by happy hikers who leave notes (that sometimes get answered!) and little artifacts of their own.
Coming across this whimsical scene in the middle of the forest is simply a delight.
Buldan Seka Ceramics
Ceramics artist Buldan Seka has turned her front yard into an art gallery — Photo courtesy of Buldan Seka
What makes Berkeley so exciting is that you can be driving through a residential neighborhood and suddenly come across the gorgeous work of an award-winning ceramics artist who’s turned her front yard into a jaw-dropping art gallery.
Get out of your car at 707 Spruce Street to take in the larger-than-life figures handcrafted by Buldan Seka, Resident Artist Mentor of Special Projects at California College of Arts. Her statement-making pieces are gripping and surprisingly moving, as is her generosity in sharing them in such a natural and accessible way.
Graduate Hotel Berkeley
The Graduate Hotel Berkeley celebrates UC Berkeley with a Golden Bear in each guest room — Photo courtesy of Graduate Hotels
The quirky yet sophisticated Graduate Hotel brand is perfect for Berkeley, drawing inspiration from the city’s bohemian roots while celebrating its world-renowned university.
The wall behind the check-in desk is filled with thousands of National Geographic magazines, showing off UC Berkeley’s iconic California Gold Pantone, and a Golden Bear sits on every guest room desk, paying homage to the school’s football team.
Henry’s, the hotel restaurant and bar, was named after UC founder, Henry Durant, and is the watering hole of choice on game day.
Aftel Archive of Curious Scents
You can smell more than 300 natural scents at the wondrous Aftel Archive of Curious Scents — Photo courtesy of Aftel Archive of Curious Scents
If the name alone isn’t enough to entice you, how about the 300 perfume essences you can sniff and sample?
Tucked into a warm and welcoming cottage, this gorgeous little museum – the only one in the country dedicated to fragrance – is like a hall of wonders. Lovingly curated by perfumer Mandy Aftel, the displays are stunning, representing the natural history of scent in a miraculously scent-free environment.
You only smell what you want to smell as you hold natural essences and raw ingredients up to your nose. One of the most fascinating exhibits gives you the opportunity to test those against their commercial counterparts.
Smell is the sense most closely linked to memory, and you may be surprised by the feelings some of these scents conjure up. You may be also be surprised when you get a whiff of the samples you bring home and realize that traces of your emotional experience still linger.
10Best Scents to Bring Back Vacation Memories
10Best Scents to Bring Back Vacation Memories
Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round
The TIlden Park Merry-Go-Round is one of the few remaining antique carousels in the country — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley
Built by Herschell Spillman in 1911, the Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round is one of the country’s few remaining antique carousels.
With four rows of hand-carved and painted wooden animals to ride, it’s been part of growing up in Berkeley for over 60 years. The calliope-style music provides the soundtrack to a simple childhood pleasure that is even more special surrounded by 2,000 acres of wilderness sanctuary.
Almare Gelato brings a taste of Italy to Berkeley — Photo courtesy of Almare Gelato
This exceptional gelato is made every morning in Berkeley by Italians who know a thing or two about gelato.
Following the great Italian tradition of gelato-making, they use fresh, simple, high-quality ingredients to handcraft some of the most authentic gelato this side of Rome. They’ll let you taste all you want, but make sure you try a scoop of their famous toasted almond with caramelized figs and the smooth-as-silk stracciatella.
Although gelato is perfect any time, cold or rainy days give you a legit reason to order the Cioccolata Calda, a hot chocolate cup made from their signature recipe.
The Back Room
The living room atmosphere of The Back Room makes it a unique venue for concerts — Photo courtesy of The Back Room
There’s nothing like getting to experience music in a small, intimate setting, and The Back Room makes you feel like you’re attending a concert in your living room – if it had amazing acoustics.
This unique venue is filled with cozy couches and holds 100 people max. Yet it attracts some of the best musicians around. This is a really unique space, and a great place to be introduced to your new favorite performers.
The Cheese Board's pizza is a must-try on an Edible Excursions food tour — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Food tours can tell you so much about a city, and Edible Excursions make it obvious why Berkeley has grown to be such a foodie town.
Opt for the Gourmet Ghetto tour, which gives you the rich history of the area, as well as a taste of nine culinary icons including The Cheese Board, Saul’s, The Local Butcher Shop and the flagship location of Peet’s Coffee. Come hungry.
This mural honors Berkeley's legendary Gourmet Ghetto — Photo courtesy of Visit Berkeley
In a city that celebrates cooperation – so many successful businesses here are, literally, co-ops – it’s no wonder public art abounds in Berkeley.
It’s hard to say exactly how many murals you’ll find since they come and go, but there are dozens at any given time and they’re worth exploring. Alcatraz Alley Mural Park, a community revitalization project focused on filling the streets of South Berkeley with public art, is planning 20 murals, with some already completed.
This colorful means of expression is so fitting for the city's "anything goes" attitude.
This plaque in Sproul Plaza pays tribute to the Free Speech Movement — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Sproul Plaza, on the UC Berkeley campus, played a pivotal role in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. It commemorates some of those historic moments with a plaque that honors Mario Savio, leader of the movement, right by the steps where he gave his own speech.
There's also a round cement stone set into the walkway, which reads, "The soil and the air space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction." The actual monument is the invisible air space rising from the soil-filled hole in the stone, providing an area for anyone to speak their mind.
These tributes to the importance of free speech are powerful and sobering, and as relevant as ever.