It was just a weekend trip to a city only 50 miles away, but I was as excited as a 10 year old, bouncing up and down in my seat on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train. Dick and I were headed to Berkeley, where I lived one summer for an internship between my junior and senior years in college. That was my first time flying in an airplane, my first time living anywhere except my parents’ home, and my first time living without a car.
It was also my first time in California, a trendy place I vaguely knew from TV and movies. I was thrust into a new world and into an apartment shared with two girls I’d never met in the student ghetto on Berkeley’s Southside. Before there was “Keep Austin (or Portland) Weird” there was Berzerkeley, and Southside was its ground zero.
Our apartment was five blocks from UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, where the Free Speech Movement began, three blocks from People’s Park, where activists occupied university land and one was killed by police, and two blocks from Telegraph Avenue, where the spirit of the era was still very present in that summer of 1985.
Walking down Telegraph Avenue in my preppy clothes I felt completely out of place and and a little uneasy, but completely intrigued. By the end of the summer, I didn’t want to go home. My boyfriend derisively said I was “enchanted” by California. It made me angry at the time, but he was right. When I landed a job in Silicon Valley after I graduated, I bought my first car and on my long drive west I stopped in Dallas to tell him goodbye.
I needed the car because suburban Silicon Valley was hardly the walking paradise that Berkeley was then and still is today. Which is why Berkeley is such a great place to visit, especially since it’s also home to the Gourmet Ghetto, the birthplace of California Cuisine. And who better to lead the innovation than Alice Waters, a former Free Speech Movement activist more commonly known for her famed restaurant Chez Panisse.
We didn’t score a table at Chez Panisse on our quick trip, but we did sample some of Berkeley’s finest, based on recommendations crowdsourced from friends via social media. With so many great restaurants around the Bay, I was skeptical that Berkeley would stand out, but it did: unusual ingredients and unexpected combinations with a healthy emphasis on organic, sustainable and fresh, local products. From Michelin-starred Lalime’s to crowd-favorite Cheese Board Coop to newer spots like Gather and Build, we ate our way across the city and did our best to burn it all off riding around the city. Despite the hills, I don’t think we did.
There’s another movement afoot in Berkeley (or should I say on a roll?). Look out, Long Beach, Portland, Minneapolis and Boulder, Mayor Tom Bates has thrown Berkeley’s hat in the ring as the “Most Bike-Friendly City in America.” At 5,000 bike commuters a day in a city of 115,000, Berkeley is currently ranked #4 in the nation.
After riding Berkeley’s elaborate network of bike boulevards and traffic-calmed streets, and seeing the abundance of bike racks and bike-friendly businesses, I’d say the city is poised to propel to the top. When a movement takes hold in Berkeley, there’s no telling where it will go, and how far it might take us.
Have you ever lived or visited somewhere that changed your perception of the world? What impact did it have?
Getting there: Starting in Mountain View, we biked 8 miles to Santa Clara/Great America Station, took the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Berkeley. We toured approximately 25 miles around the city by bike, and a bit on foot. Trip total bike mileage: 41 miles. Other transportation options include: Amtrak Coast Starlight & San Joachim trains, BART from San Francisco and other Bay Area locations, plus ferries via Oakland six miles away.