6.8 out of 10

Downtown Berkeley

Ranked 3rd best neighborhood in Berkeley
37.869528446062 -122.269223337814
Great for
  • Internet Access
  • Public Transport
  • Pest Free
  • Eating Out
  • Childcare
Not great for
  • Peace & Quiet
  • Parking
  • Lack of Traffic
  • Safe & Sound
  •  
Who lives here?
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
  • Tourists

Reviews

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

"Berkeley's Theater District"

Downtown Berkeley is the section of the city just to the west of campus where you can find a series of restaurants, theaters, and government offices. It is a very urban area, but the City of Berkeley has made a concerted effort in the past decade or so to convert this into a more attractive destination for visitors and is doing their best to make this into a sort of theater district for the East Bay.

The center of these efforts at renovation is the Berkeley Repertory Theater, whose reputation has grown in the last twenty year and well disserves to be considered as one of the major Bay Area theater companies. Unlike its larger, better known cousins across the Bay Bridge and to the south, the Berkeley Rep’s stages are smaller and more intimate, but don’t be fooled—the Berkeley Rep loves to test the bounds and regularly puts on cutting edge and avant-garde experimental productions well worth the experience. This is one of three live theaters in this neighborhood—with Cal’s own theater facing this area from the campus and another newer theater company trying to make a contribution as well.

The main thoroughfare and the adjacent blocks are a virtual tour of international cuisine having everything from French bistro’s and Tibetan food (many of the Indian type restaurants center around University avenue) to Afghan food (at the Shattuck Hotel’s restaurant) and a Japanese bistro. You can find everything from familiar Bongo burgers and Oscar’s hotdogs to octopus (at Nanayiro). Of course, no Berkeley restaurant area would be complete without a vegetarian restaurant, and University Avenue has the Long Life Vegi House—a Chinese restaurant which focuses on the soy bean rather than duck, chicken or cow.

Berkeley is a café culture and you will find droves of these as well here, with Au Coquelet—around the block from the Berkeley Rep, being the central hang out for locals and theater goers. (Don’t come during finals however, as students take over the tables and never relinquish them—test anxiety is palpable!) There are also multiple farmers markets in the city on Tuedays and Saturdays.

Shopping in Downtown Berkeley is everything a slightly nerdy intellectual type student could ask: you can find strange board games, comic books (Comic Relief), science fiction books (Change of Hobbit) and a saxophone shop called Saxology. If you’re a bit cooler than that, you can get a tattoo, find vintage clothes and furniture or even a cool hat (at Zasu and Violets).

With restaurants named after Irish playwrights like Beckett’s and short poems inscribed on sidewalk plaques (like the celebrity foot and hand prints on the walk of fame in Hollywood), you know that you are in a highly intellectual and culturally rich neighborhood. But this has always been Berkeley’s reputation since long before it was associated with People’s Park and the Free-Speech movement. This is, after all, where Oppenheimer taught in 30’s and 40’s. You can also find such eclectic faire as the Capoeira Arts Café, an activity center based on the Brazilian dance/martial arts techniques that was a fad in the late 90’s. Or, if you are into family activities, Berkeley is home to Habitot—a great place to take small children (under the age of 7) for active, imaginative play. If you’re a little bit older you might also try the Berkeley Saunas.

If you are not at the live theater then you can catch the latest movie from here or abroad at Downtown Berkeley’s movie theaters, the Californian, the Act 1 and 2, the Shattuck and the UA 7. If you would prefer live music then Berkeley’s nightlife also offers an assortment of nightspots include a handful of jazz joints like the Jazz School or Shattuck Down Low. You can also just get a nice microbrew and eaves drop on the latest controversy involving Zizak or Foucault at Spats, Jupiter or Triple Rock.

You are relatively safe in Downtown Berkeley so long as you stay on the main thoroughfares and stay alert. There has not been a murder in this section of Berkeley recently, although assaults are sometimes recorded. (I right by here in during my college years and took several late night walks without ever running into problems, although I would not recommend doing so).

Several parking lots make parking easy and relatively cheap. You can also take public transportation. BART has an underground station right by Shattuck and University—just one block from campus and the Berkeley Rep. And there are several bus lines that connect you to wherever you want to go. (Many Berkeley residents don’t even own a car.)

Rents in this area tend to be more reasonable than in the Southside area of Berkeley, with studios and small apartments in older buildings going for under a thousand. This is definitely a good place to live if you like being in the middle of the action, but it is noisy and a bit on the dirty side.
Pros
  • Great Theaters
  • Amazing Ethnic Restaurants
  • Eclectic Shops
Cons
  • Some Crime
  • Aggressive Panhandlers
  • Crowded and Dirty
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Tourists
  • Gay & Lesbian
  • Hipsters
  • Students
  • Trendy & Stylish

Travelling to Downtown Berkeley?

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Best Streets in Downtown Berkeley

1

Durant Ave

3/5
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Unranked Streets in Downtown Berkeley

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Center St

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Hearst Ave

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