Shop, Eat and Play at University and MLK
Tucked between North Berkeley and Downtown Berkeley is a bustling community of arts, healing, shopping, and delicious treats.
Photos by Lance Yamamoto
Instead of rushing along with traffic, slow down, smell the specialty coffee, and soothe your stressed bones with a soak. Radiating from the corners of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and University Avenue are all sorts of Berkeley tricks and treats, from Thai gelato desserts to fabulous floral finds.
Flora Arte — plant shop, floral dreamland, pottery heaven. Tucked snugly onto MLK between University and Addison, Flora Arte and owner Jin Song are waiting for you with a smile. The cozy shop glows with happy plants, gorgeous blooms, delightfully potted succulents, and a lovingly curated selection of pots, plant stands, and hanging containers. Song opened Flora Arte four years ago. “I arrived in the Bay Area from South Korea near Christmas time. I was so surprised and amazed at all the flowers and succulents on the streets despite it being winter. Winter is not like that in Korea.” Song received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the prestigious Seoul National University, and then worked as a museum curator in that country. Selected to work in San Francisco as an ambassador of Korean art, he eventually turned to his true love: plants.
Song’s love of his work is contagious. He’ll send you home with printed directions on how to care for your new green babies and offers potting services onsite. In the shop and online, you can order gift cards, bouquets, or schedule a two-hour private floral workshop as a unique party idea. Song also creates luxe wedding and event flowers, graduation leis, and special occasion bouquets. Pricing is uniquely affordable for a boutique Bay Area nursery, and Song’s goal is to make the things he loves accessible to more people. Thanks to his arts background, his selection of pots and planters is pretty fabulous. Song sources plants as local to the Bay Area as possible, although he noted legalized marijuana has decreased the number. 2070 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 510-910-9221, Flora-Arte.com.
Saxophone lovers, rejoice. Saxcraft, also known as Saxology, offers everything you need for your instrument. You can have full service saxophone repair work or a complete horn overhaul done by the shop experts. As a sweet surprise for your favorite saxophonist, have custom engraving done. A portfolio of the hand engraving work is available online, and the designs are intricate, ornate, and elegant, featuring anything from script to scrolling patterns. Purchase new mouthpieces, or select from the shop’s extensive collection of vintage mouthpieces and custom model mouthpieces. Open 1-7 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 1920 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 510-843-2436, SaxCraft.com.
Shop local for your automotive needs at Joe’s Tires. This independent auto shop, opened in 2006, offers not only new tires, but also engine maintenance, new batteries, wheel alignment and suspension, new belts and hoses, brake repair, and tire repair — a tire patch can usually be completed and have you out the door in about 30 minutes. If you need new tires, you’ll find a range of brands from luxury performance to reliable and affordable. 1865 University Ave., 510-841-9406, TireJoe.com.
Heal your very soul with the help of acupuncturist John Nelson, MS, DIPL, Lac. Nelson’s acupuncture offerings are rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, although he does incorporate modern practices and learnings. “Pulse diagnosis is the breath of my practice,” Nelson explained, and from this, he determines treatment for his patients. The calming office space is full of lush plants, dark wood antiques, Buddhist deities adorning the walls, and natural sunlight. Whether you’re suffering from physical or emotional pain, the stresses of everyday life, or a chronic illness, Nelson offers kindness, compassion, and healing. 1911 Addison St., 510-280-4987.
Discover new musicians and interact with local favorites in the intimate setting of The Back Room. Showcasing jazz, Americana, folk, blues, soul, and more, The Back Room opened in 2016 to fill the space after the original Freight & Salvage grew into a larger performing arts venue. The Back Door offers a down-home, cozy, sitting-on-couches, laid-back vibe. Soft drinks and light snacks and you can BYOB with no corkage fee. There’s a jam-packed schedule of acoustic music each month. Tickets and schedule available online. 1984 Bonita Ave., 510-654-3808, BackRoomMusic.com.
Soak away a stressful day at The Hot Tubs of Berkeley. This mid-city oasis offers soaking hot tubs seven days a week. There’s street parking or just stroll from the downtown Berkeley BART station for the ultimate, no car relaxation. You can rent private rooms by the hour for $26 per person per hour. Visitors prior to 7 p.m. receive an additional half hour free. There are no reservations, so drop in when you want. Each private room includes a resting platform, a cedar hot tub with sauna jets, a cedar wood hot sauna, a shower, and AM/FM radio. You have to be 18 with ID to utilize. Hours are 11-11 p.m. weekdays and until midnight on weekends. 1915 University Ave., 510-843-4343, HotTubsOfBerkeley.com.
Leanne Shanszad loves coffee shop culture. Cozy sitting spaces and darling décor and friends chatting over really good coffee — creating a space for all this was her intention when opening Gold Leaf Cafe last year. “Especially near campus, there weren’t many coffee shops that foster conversation and people spending time together. There’s great coffee, but many of the shops are work-focused with people on their laptops.” For that reason you won’t find WiFi at Gold Leaf Cafe, but you will find delicious Counter Culture coffee beans, Oakland’s Steep teas, pastries from Firebrand and Third Culture bakeries, and the sweetest seating nooks up in the loft. “Our first year has been great,” shared Shanszad, “we have an amazing customer base of regulars and always look forward to meeting new friends.” Stop by, try a specialty coffee drink (there is a range of nondairy options, including Oatly oat milk), and bring your pooch. “Dogs are welcome here,” smiled Shanszad. What’s not to love? 1947 MLK Jr. Way, GoldLeafCafe.com.
Savor the sweet flavors of Thailand at Secret Scoop, a Thai gelato dessert bar. Owner Funn Fisher is a Cal alum who channeled her creative design knowledge into crafting the perfect taste of Thailand. Expect the gelato consistency you know and love, in flavors like Thai iced tea, salted tamarind, chocolate lemongrass, and roasted coconut. There are sorbets for the nondairy dessert lovers and lovingly made Thai toppings. Eat your scoops in pandan waffle bowls or try a dessert cup like the Mango Aloha Cup served with mango sticky rice, basil seed, mango sauce, and a scoop of your choice topped with roasted coconut. Hit up happy hour 5:30-7:30 p.m. and receive a free scoop of sticky rice with your scoop. 1922 MLK Jr. Way, 415-939-2832, SecretScoopGelato.com.
Enjoy fresh flavors from the Mediterranean to the Middle East in a casual counter-service environment at Rojbas Grill, which is open all day, serving falafel and gyro wraps for lunch and more elaborate dinner platters with specialties like Kurdish lamb. If you just want a sweet treat, try the homemade baklava or grab a fresh fruit smoothie to counterbalance a sunny day. 1901 University Ave., 510-679-5205, RojbasGrillBerkeley.com.