7.1 out of 10


Ranked 43rd best city in California
37.8787722964689 -122.269083812813
Great for
  • Internet Access
  • Gym & Fitness
  • Public Transport
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Eating Out
Not great for
  • Parking
Who lives here?
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Students
  • Gay & Lesbian


5/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 2/5
  • Clean & Green 5/5
  • Pest Free 3/5
  • Peace & Quiet 4/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 5/5
  • Parks & Recreation 5/5
  • Shopping Options 5/5
  • Gym & Fitness 5/5
  • Internet Access 5/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Parking 2/5
  • Cost of Living 3/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 4/5
  • Public Transport 5/5
  • Medical Facilities 5/5
  • Schools 5/5
  • Childcare 5/5

"My Favorite City"

Home to the oldest of the UC’s, Berkeley California has, for at least half a century, had a reputation as a school for left wing radicals and nuts. Many a Conservative has helped to sharpen his or her sense of identity by contrasting it with the radical politics associated with Berkeley especially in the Sixties when Reagan swept into office to “clean up the mess in Berkeley”. He was referring to Free Speech Movement and would eventually order in the National Guard to tear gas the People’s Park protestors.

These days, however, Berkeley is only a shadow of its former radical self. Berkeley now is largely concerned with upholding middle class values and even though some radicals still find their way into university’s walls, things have largely changed from the days of the sit-ins and Mario Salvio. This is not to say that it’s middle-class notions are mainstream—the consciousness about environmental issues and some social justice issues are still strong here, but tree-sitters and Marine recruitment center protestors are just as likely to be viewed as wrong headed nuisances than as inspiring heroes.

Berkeley can be thought of in terms of its various sections. In the vicinity of the University, are a number of restaurants and coffee houses, packed to the gills day and night as students work hard to sustain both their grades and their social lives. By far the most vibrant of the sections during the day, is Southside where people step into coffees houses and restaurants on their way to and from class. With Telegraph Avenue at its heart and Sather Gate on one end and People’s Park on the other, this is the Mecca of post-modern punks, homeless people and crazies. It is also where you will find Zellerbach Hall where speakers and dancers draw crowds, where the Pacific Film Archive is likely to be showing some obscure nugget of film history, and where Berkeley Modern Art Museum is located.

The vast majority of undergraduates live in the immediate vicinity of campus where apartments are plentiful and Victorians are likely to be parceled out room by room or floor by floor. The average age of Southside residents, for example, is 19. Those that want to avoid the apartment hunting madness and inflated rents of the close to campus housing tend to look farther south and west for housing some going as far as Oakland for a cost cut.

Graduate students—especially those with families—tend to look for housing on the more staid North Berkeley areas, where there are many pre-World War II homes of modest size and affordable rents. The quiet, quaint neighborhoods are perfect both for studying and for small children. Schools throughout Berkeley are strong because of both parental commitment and because so many of are run and taught by highly educated locals whose spouses are affiliated with the University.

But Berkeley is not just a college town—it definitely has a strong population of residents who are either only loosely associated with the university or who have nothing to do with it. The farther west you go towards the bay the more this is the case. Many companies in the southwest of Berkeley could just as easily have thrived in any other city in the East Bay.

Many people also choose Berkeley because of its beauty. This is especially the case in the Berkeley Hills where large homes perch along the precarious hillside offering grand views of the Bay. Hidden in those hills are large mansions, a castle, and a plethora of historic homes, many built by famous Bay Area architects Bernard Maybeck (famous for his wood shingle homes) and Julia Morgan. People also love the highly cultured and intellectual flavor of the city, where on any days walk you are just as likely to hear Vietnamese or Portuguese as English, and where the people at the restaurant table next to you are often Noble Laureates in Science, famous authors, or the most famous living expert on Cold War Romanian propaganda film.

The Berkeley Downtown has grown into a cultural center with a host of top notch restaurants stretching up Shattuck to the area known as the Gourmet Ghetto and a variety of eclectic stores offering everything from obscure comic books to French second imported clothing. The Berkeley Repertory Theater has also come to be the most respected acting company in the East Bay, often mounting cutting-edge theatrical experiments alongside revived and updated classics. There are also about as many bookstores as anyone could want, with Cody’s Books on Telegraph being almost as culturally significant as City Lights in North Beach, and with a much better selection.

In addition, the proximity to Tilden Park and the many smaller neighborhood parks make this a wonderland for outdoorsy types forced to live in the city. There are many attractions for kids—especially young kids, like Habitot, a play and art center especially designed for the very young. Parents can find Yoga places and spas and movie theaters. Basically, Berkeley is like an eclectic though unpretentious San Francisco neighborhood moved to the East Bay.

This is, of course, not to say that Berkeley doesn’t have its problems. Drugs tend to be common throughout much of the southern city as anyone with a nose can tell you when passing what remains of People’s Park. Homeless people and crazies are more than a little bit of a nuisance. It is difficult to navigate most major streets without being panhandled. Minor crimes like radio thefts abound, and more violent crimes are at high enough levels where people need to be mindful of their location—especially at night time.

Traffic and parking are almost as difficult as in many neighborhoods in the city, though public parking is plentiful and relatively cheap. Public transportation is also excellent in this area with three Berkeley BART stations and a number of bus line criss-crossing the city.

And finally the weather tends to be cooler and foggier than farther in land. The cool bay breezes make for wonderful clear weather on many days and people love to spend the weekends at coffee houses reading and doing their work.

On a personal note, it is the first city that I fell in love with and the reason why I came here and even now that I have gotten to know it as one comes to know a close friend or lover, I still find it irresistible and it still brings a thrill to my blood every time I see it. Problably my favorite city in the world, and a map much of my life by its physical and spiritual relation to Sather Tower—it is the light house to my ship.
  • Great Intellectual Spirit
  • Woody Hills
  • Great Shops, Restaurants, Coffee Shops and Book Stores
  • Aggressive Panhandlers
  • Crime
  • Druggies
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Tourists
  • Gay & Lesbian
  • Hipsters
  • Students
  • Country Lovers
  • Trendy & Stylish
StephSF Great review, @Nightowl! I wonder about the comment on how it is a "shadow of its former radical self." While this is certainly true, I think it is more a symptom of our culture no longer being such a breeding ground for left-wing sit-ins, and Berkeley has responded accordingly (it's not like some other town has taken over Berkeley's role). All things considered, it is still whacky and liberal compared to most other towns in the U.S.

It's also a great place for any city dweller who is an outdoorsperson at heart, with several small outdoor climbing areas and array of hiking trails with stunning views.
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