By Nicole Douglas-Morris
Sitting across the bay from San Francisco, the liberal Californian city of Berkeley is best known for its prestigious university. But it is also home to scenic hiking trails and a blossoming organic food and wine movement.
The presence of the University of California Berkeley, means a third of the city’s population of 120,000 are students, giving the area a young, progressive atmosphere.
Taking inspiration from the man who gave the city its name, the 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley, residents make their voices heard on the country’s social and political issues.
Berkeley has been a Democratic stronghold since 1960. In 1968, it carried out what was seen as the boldest elementary school and bus desegregation plan in the US for a city of its size, prompting activist Martin Luther King to write that “hope returned to my soul and spirit” on hearing of it.
Recent protests include the 2017 anti-Trump and free speech rallies and, on a smaller scale, opposition to the removal of five trees in People’s Park, a former vacant lot transformed by the community in 1969.
Today, Telegraph Avenue, lined with eccentric shops and characters, embodies Berkeley’s counterculture.
According to the US Census Bureau, 72 per cent of Berkeley residents are university-educated — more than twice the national average — and the city’s unemployment rate of 2.6 per cent in May was one percentage point lower than the national average for the same month.
Central Berkeley is a 35-minute commute on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) subway train from San Francisco’s financial district, but the city’s growing start-up culture — fuelled by its university’s graduates — also provides local job opportunities.
Free Ventures, an accelerator programme for Berkeley students, has helped raise more than $30m for 53 businesses, while Skydeck has helped 300 start-ups raise $1bn, including scooter and bike-sharing company Lime.
In 2018, according to Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development, 3,100 jobs were created in the counties of Alameda, where Berkeley is located, and Contra Costa combined.
Approximately 90 per cent of businesses in Berkeley have 20 employees or fewer. The city council recognises the intense competition that chain stores present for small businesses and uses zoning strategies to help protect the speciality shops for which the area is known.
Bibliophiles are well provided for by several dozen independent bookshops, such as 60-year-old Moe’s Books, whose continuing success is emblematic of the local rejection of corporate giants.
Redwoods and rolling hills
Berkeley lies within easy reach of beaches, mountains and forests. Tilden Regional Park, replete with steep valleys and wildlife, is a 10-minute drive from the centre of Berkeley, while the soaring trees of Redwood Regional Park can be reached in 20 minutes.
The rugged coastline of the Marin Headlands, the ochre cliffs of Half Moon Bay and the wide shores of Pacifica State Beach are all within an hour’s drive.
Plenty of verdant spaces run through the city too, including the 34-acre University of California Botanical Garden and the serene Rose Garden in La Loma Park.
In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, a pioneering restaurant in the organic and local food movement. Many residents follow her philosophy by shopping at Berkeley’s farmers’ markets: the non-profit Ecology Center runs three a week, while neighbouring Oakland is host to the popular Grand Lake market.
The urban wineries around Fifth Street are also creating a buzz; Lusu Cellars and Donkey & Goat are two that are experimenting with low-intervention, biodynamic winemaking methods. Napa Valley, the heart of California’s wine industry, is just over an hour’s drive away.
Photographs: Alamy; Getty Images; Uladzik Kryhin; Doris Jo Moskowitz