Exploring Berkeley’s Historical Past


After graduating from UCLA, JIll traveled the world looking for unique destinations. She’s been writing about her travels for almost 30 years in various publications.

She writes a weekly restaurant review for the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. It’s inserted into the Los Angeles Times every Thursday and delivered to subscribers from Hancock Park to Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills to the Wilshire Corridor.

Exploring Berkeley’s Historical Past


I’ve been spending more time exploring Berkeley while my daughter Elizabeth is attending graduate school. Berkeley is the first of the University of California campuses, and the most visible landmark in the city is the campus Sather Tower. This third-tallest bell-and-clock-tower in the world rises 307 feet high. Also known as the Campanile, it was built and completed in 1915 to look similar to the Campanile di San Marco in Venice.

The campus also offers some of the most significant works of public art and architectural styles that span nearly 150 years. Highlights include a bust of Abraham Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mount Rushmore, and donated by Berkeley alumnus and Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer in 1909. Another is the Beaux-Arts style Sather entrance gates designed by John Galen Howard and built by Giovanni “John” Meneghetti. The gate can be seen in one of the most iconic photographs of the Free Speech movement, a shot of students carrying the Free Speech banner walking through in the Fall of 1964.

My husband and I stay within walking distance to the campus at the Claremont Club & Spa – Fairmont Hotel. Built in the early 1900s, it was known as “The Castle on The Hill.”  When this Tudor Revival-style castle in the Berkeley hills became The Claremont Hotel, it was subject to a local statue that denied the sale of alcohol to any business within two miles of the University of California, Berkeley.

The Mediterranean-inspired porch is known for its upscale open-air weddings, and the legendary Garden Room has photos in the halls of legendary guests and musicians who stayed and performed here during the Big Band era. There is a photo of the jazz musician Louis Armstrong, and big band leaders Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was also a guest at the resort.

During the 1980s, the Claremont underwent a $40 million dollar renovation that included the installation of air-conditioning throughout the resort, and extensive guest-room refresh. Exotic trees and flowers were planted to provide the lush grounds, and new tennis courts, an outdoor pool and European-style spa elevated the property.

There are spectacular views of the nearby San Francisco Bay throughout the property.

Across from the Claremont Club & Spa is Fournée Bakery, known for its freshly baked buttery croissants, pain au chocolat, and twice-baked almond croissants. Owned and operated by baker and pastry chef Frank Sally, he uses the best ingredients to make these delicious treats. There is almost always a line of locals waiting, but it’s well worth the wait.

Walking to where my daughter lives, we pass a Peet’s Coffee shop. Coffee maestro Alfred Peet introduced specialty roasted coffee to America in the 1960s. He first opened Peet’s coffee shop on the corner of Walnut and Vine in 1966, when, serving delicious small-batch roasts. Peet taught America how to drink coffee in a paper cup before Starbucks.

Once fortified, we drive to The University of California Botanical Garden above campus. This charming 34-acre botanical garden is filled with an array of international and local plants. There is a nominal fee to enter to see redwood trees and fauna from South Africa. We love looking at all of the Chinese medicinal herbs labeled growing in a specific area, and in spring the rhododendron collection is beautiful. The views overlooking the San Francisco Bay are worth the walk up to the top.

Back in our car, we drive a little further up to the Tilden Nature Area, a 740-acre preserve located just North of Tilden Regional Park. It offers over 10 miles of hiking trails among oak and bay woodlands, grasslands, eucalyptus forests, and streams. While taking in the views from some of these hiking trails, we have seen golden eagles flying above.

Tilden Regional Park has a 10-acre botanical garden free for people to connect with nature. This garden offers narrow pathways displaying 10 geographically based sections of preserved native Californian plants. Small plaques inform visitors about the regions that include Catalina Island to the California redwoods, coastal mountains to plants in the interior valleys, arid foothills, alpine zones and desert.

A short drive from the gardens is Tilden Little Farm, another free to the public activity to see and feed cows, pigs, chickens, bunnies. There is a slight incline to reach the top to see the sheep in a large pen.

Afterwards, we drive back into the city for lunch or an early dinner. Berkeley is a culinary wonderland thanks to female chef Alice Waters who opened the doors of her legendary Chez Panisse in 1971, illuminating the local farm to table wave. There are a multitude of restaurants with international menu options. The Gourmet Ghetto is located in North Berkeley along Shattuck Avenue. Those seeking Indian cuisine should dine at Tigerlily for their California take on Indian and Asian dishes. For Jewish soul food, Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen is a New York deli experience with a West Coast vibe. The Cheese Board Collective is a combination bakery, cheese shop with over 400 different types of cheese, and also has a pizzeria that serves just one kind of pizza pie each day. Partially baked pizzas are available at the bakery to take home to enjoy

Chocolate lovers will enjoy a visit to Casa de Chocolates, a Mexican Chocolate shop that makes their own in-house chocolates. Since 2012, Casa de Chocolates makes small batch, high quality cakes and chocolates in creative flavor combinations such as their mole bonbon, Chipotle caramel, Tapatio, Inca Peanut Butter, Tequila butterfly, and Flor de Cana. The store in located in the heart of Berkeley’s Elmwood District.

For those who have a fondness for craft beer, Berkeley is home to numerous craft breweries. Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse is one of the first to open its doors in 1986. A unique beer experience is at The Rare Barrel that exclusively brews sour beers aged in oak barrels.

A picturesque spot to finish the day is at Lawrence Hall of Science located above UC Berkeley. During the day this is a public science center offering hands-on experiences designed to promote exploration for all ages. At dusk the parking lot fills up with cars and people stand near the edge to take in the scenic views of the San Francisco Bay and Berkeley as the sun sets.

To learn more about Berkeley, go to https://www.visitberkeley.com

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