Fun and Funky Downtown Berkeley
Cultural icons, interesting shops, and food options galore define the vibe.
Immerse yourself in the Berkeley vibe of the pink-and-purple Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics.
Photo by Pat Mazzera
The landscape of downtown Berkeley seems to shift every five years or so, but the feeling of the city’s center remains much the same. Shattuck Avenue has kept its funky flavor amid the new condo developments and updated BART station. And the home of the city’s arts district is sprinkled with almost every imaginable cuisine, cultural attractions, and healthy retail options.
No visit to downtown Berkeley is complete without a visit to the Central Library. A city landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this architectural gem was built in the Zigzag Moderne style during the Depression and opened to the public in 1934. Read a book, surf the web, sit in on a free lecture, or just stare at the ceiling in the majestic main reading room. 2090 Kittredge St., 510-981-6100, BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org
Check out a play at the intimate Aurora Theatre, which is just off Shattuck on theater row. For over 25 years, this highly respected small venue has been staging a varied menu of revivals and original works. This spring marks the world premiere of Eureka Day, a homegrown comedy that pops the bubble of liberal manners at an “oh-so-Berkeley” day school. 2081 Addison St., 510-843-4822, AuroraTheatre.org
Ever wonder what that giant red tuning fork is in the median strip at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street? Earth Song is a 42-foot-high steel sculpture by artist Po Shu Wang. Erected in 2003 as part of the Berkeley Civic Arts Program, the interactive artwork was conceived as a tuning fork for environmental vibrations (like the rumbling BART trains that run underneath and the automobile and pedestrian traffic passing by). You can ring the bell at the base of the sculpture and contemplate sound waves. CityOfBerkeley.info
Bring the family or a passel of hungry carnivores and share the platos fuertes cooked over a wood grill at Comal. Keep it healthy with a whole chicken, or dive into a succulent pork shoulder or a bone-in 22-ounce rib-eye. Wash down the meat with a Mexican craft cocktail or a flight of top-shelf tequila or mezcal. There’s Oaxacan-influenced tacos, empanadas, and quesadillas on the menu as well, but the meat is the star. 2020 Shattuck Ave., 510-926-6300, ComalBerkeley.com
Have you noticed that there’s been a boba tea explosion in downtown Berkeley? Even so, none serves tea with salted cheese like Happy Lemon. The Chinese global chain is known for its rock-salted cheese drinks, which might sound unappetizing. However, the cheese is creamy, and the combo of salty and sweet works surprisingly well. If salted cheese isn’t your cup of tea, sample the fruit slushies and matcha lattes. 2106 Shattuck Ave., 510-984-0074, Happy-Lemon.com/en
Enjoy a hearty Provencal-style breakfast at La Note, with its brioche pain perdu, lemon gingerbread pancakes, a variety of egg-and-side dishes (goat cheese, grilled tomatoes), and outstanding home fries seasoned with salt and rosemary. The atmosphere is cozy, and there’s a charming outdoor space open in warmer months. Warning: Wait times for brunch can be very long on the weekend. Lunch and dinner are also served. 2377 Shattuck Ave., 510-834-1525, LaNoteRestaurant.com
Immerse yourself in the Berkeley vibe of the pink-and-purple Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics. The staff will guide you through the 6,000-square-foot emporium of fabric, buttons, quilting accessories, notions, and indie patterns (i.e., not your mother’s Simplicity). Upstairs is the remnant section where most fabrics are 50 percent off. 2518 Shattuck Ave., 510-845-6106, StonemountainFabric.com
The family-owned Viking Trader has been selling Scandinavian design treasures since way before the mid-century furniture craze began. From Norwegian Stressless recliners (so comfy!) and Danish Vita lamps to American BDI media centers and office furniture, this service-oriented store sells quality furniture to those who have graduated from IKEA yet like the design aesthetic. 2585 Shattuck Ave., 510-486-1090, VikingTrader.com
Billed as your “friendly neighborhood comics store,” the spacious and well-organized Fantastic Comics offers the expected Marvel and DC lines, as well as a wide selection of graphic novels and merchandise. Comics suitable for all ages, manga, and support of the local indie scene with frequent events and author readings are other highlights. Peruse the “Introducing” series for graphic representations of the great philosophers and political thinkers. 2026 Shattuck Ave., 510-848-2988, FantasticComics.net