Set beside the San Francisco Bay, you’ll find one of California’s most eclectic cities. Home to the state’s first university and a thriving local art scene, Berkeley has an undeniable cool factor.
Following the 1906 earthquake, the city became a mecca for artists and it’s stayed that way ever since: Co-op, bookstores, music shops, and vegan restaurants abound.
There is a rebellious vibe in the air and the history of grassroots movements is palpable.
Whether you’re looking for a day trip from San Francisco or want to spend a weekend somewhere fresh, here’s the ultimate guide to two days in Berkeley.
If you are flying into California, Oakland is the easiest airport.
You will find more options arriving in San Francisco (as in SFO), but be aware that it’s a trek. You can hop on the BART—the local metro/rail system—or rent a car.
While you can certainly fly into SFO, if you’re taking an Uber from SFO to Berkeley, it can set you back upwards of $200 during peak hours. (It’s not always this expensive, just be mindful of surge pricing!)
I would recommend renting a car to navigate the city! While you will 100% need to pay attention to parking signs and most places require you to pay at a meter, your feet will thank you.
Where to Stay
There are a few convenient cozy spots. Depending on your budget, here’s what I’d recommend:
Berkeley Inn: While this place doesn’t really have any bells and whistles, it’s a place to stay in the area that will do the trick!
Aiden by Best Western: Built in April 2021, this wallet-friendly option offers a boutique experience from a reliable chain.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Berkeley Marina: If you’re driving, this is a great pick as well. It is right next to the marina so the view is unbeatable. You will need to drive to get to the core attractions though, so make sure you’ve got your own set of wheels.
Claremont Club & Spa: This is a sure bet if you’re looking to treat yourself to a luxe stay. Note, however, it is in Oakland so you will be commuting for visits to Berkeley.
A Note On Opening Hours
As you plan your itinerary, be aware that many local businesses operate on limited hours. This is doubly true during the summer when many students are out of town.
Top restaurants and other popular hotspots, for example, are often closed on Monday and Tuesday nights.
If you’re only in town for a couple of days, I’d recommend visiting from Wednesday to Saturday so you have more options.
Breakfast + Explore
Start your day at La Note, an adorable French Restaurant with a très bien breakfast menu.
While I had to wait to get in, there’s plenty to do. Plan on a chill morning of exploring the nearby bookstores and hip boutiques right around the corner.
If the line is out the door, you can fuel up with the tasty java down the street at Way Station Brew.
Telegraph Avenue is the beating heart of Berkeley and it’s a perfect place to kick off exploring.
Sift your way through the rare treasures in Moe’s Books and peep their calendar for upcoming author appearances. Check out the local music at Amoeba Music then see where the road leads you in this diverse area.
You will find impressive murals from local and international artists alike all around Telegraph Avenue.
Grab your camera and search for a few of these famous works: Fabulous Berkeley, Mars Mercantile, Telegraph Ave, Yosemite, Love Not War, and Keith Haring.
Here’s a helpful map with many of the murals!
When you need a rest from pounding the pavement, get to CREAM (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me) on Telegraph Avenue. Design your own cookie ice cream sandwich and do some people-watching while you bathe in the sugar rush.
Visit the California Museum
To take a deeper dive into the culture, head down to the Oakland Museum of California.
From the native population to the Spanish colonizers to the Gold Rush, they paint a picture of California’s early days. The informative exhibits walk you through Hollywood’s golden era, the local agricultural roots, and much more.
This is a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike so book your tickets to the museum ahead of time. We were lucky to get our tickets the same day, but I would suggest planning ahead!
Dinner at Cheese Board Collective: We heard this is a must-try spot. Unfortunately, they are only open from Thursday to Sunday so we weren’t able to check it out but you might still keep it on your agenda.
Exhausted after a day of exploring? There’s a fab array of local options so it’s easy to order into your hotel and treat yourself to dinner in bed.
Make a beeline for the Berkeley Social Club to get fueled for the day. While I don’t eat meat, I’ve heard that their special—Millionaire Bacon—is simply divine!
Explore Berkeley’s Campus: This gorgeous campus looks like it was ripped straight from the Harry Potter set. Wander around and see if you can find a bit of magic.
Berkeley Botanical Garden: This 34-acre garden on the University of California campus is a lovely urban oasis. Not only is it a good place to learn about local flora but you’ll find a perfect vantage point of the San Francisco Bay from here.
We stopped by Gregoire’s for lunch and I’m still dreaming about that quiche (it had sweet corn in it—what a combo)! Gourmet French fast food is apparently a thing…and that is a very good thing.
For a mid-afternoon caffeine fix, check out Peet’s Original Coffee (2124 Vine Street). Opened way back in 1966, the place is a true one of a kind.
Browse the on-site museum of Peet and coffee artifacts and breathe in the coffee aroma.
Make reservations well in advance for Chez Panisse.
Opened back in 1971, this was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in California. Many famous local chefs got their start there and it spurred an entire gourmet movement in the area.
There were so many things recommended to me that I couldn’t squeeze them all into one trip. Here are a few still remaining on my Berkley bucket list:
- Piedmont Park: A green oasis in the heart of the city. Made for picnics.
- South Berkeley Farmers’ Market: The place to be on Tuesdays from 2 to 6:30 pm.
- Go Shopping on 4th Street: Eat, drink, and shop until you drop in this all-in-one space.
- Top Dog for Hot Dogs: A local institution since the 1960s.
- Milkbomb Ice Cream + Donuts: Rumor has it this is the best artisanal ice cream in town.
- Bette’s Oceanview Diner: This family-owned spot is famous for its pancakes.
- Cafe M: Soak in the sidewalk cafe culture over breakfast or lunch.
- Skates on the Bay: Fresh seafood and great views.