Cheap Things to Do in Berkeley

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Cheap Things to Do in Berkeley, California

This famously liberal college town is known as the cradle of the Free Speech Movement, but speech isn’t the only thing that’s free here.

Whether you’re strolling the redwood-shaded University of California, Berkeley, campus, or slipping across the Oakland border for a dose of Golden State history, you can exercise your limbs and your intellect without giving your wallet a workout.

Here are five suggestions to get you started on your gratis gallivanting.

Hike

Set in the hills above Berkeley, Tilden Park is the jewel of Berkeley’s many green spaces. You can take one of the many hiking trails — Nimitz Way is popular with bikers, hikers and equestrians — or picnic in one of the meadows. If you have young ones in tow, a stop by the Little Farm is mandatory; take along some celery or lettuce to feed the placid animals.

If you do decide to spend a little cash, there are modest fees to enter the Lake Anza swimming beach, ride the vintage carousel or ride a miniature steam train. See ebparks.org/parks/tilden. If you’re looking for a straightforward walk, another option is Claremont Canyon, which offers a short climb to the ridge top with sweeping views of campus and San Francisco Bay. This is especially lovely at sunset, although be aware the last part of the trail is both steep and slippery. See ebparks.org/parks/claremont_canyon.

Smell the roses, and the puya raimondi

Oakland and Berkeley both have rose gardens tucked into residential areas. The Berkeley garden is a Works Progress Administration project and has a terraced amphitheater and redwood pergola. The Oakland garden, officially the Morcom Rose Garden, is a relaxing oasis not far from bustling Grand Avenue with its eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee bars and stores. For major flower power there’s the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, which has more than 13,000 plants from around the world, including the puya raimondi plant, known as the “Queen of the Andes,” that’s in the South American section. There’s a $10 fee to visit most days, but the garden is free on the first Wednesday of each month.

Step into history

Jack London was born in San Francisco but spent his boyhood on the Oakland waterfront. You’ll find him immortalized there by way of a bronze statue at Jack London Square, a retail and restaurant complex. There’s also a replica of his log cabin next to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon where London studied as a schoolboy and later made notes for his books. Not far away you’ll find the Oakland Museum of California, which features exhibits on art, history and the natural sciences and charges no admission on the first Sunday of the month.

See the street scene

You haven’t really visited Berkeley unless you’ve strolled Telegraph Avenue, a collection of bookstores, cafes and other stores lined by vendors selling various arts and crafts. Stop in to Amoeba Music to see the huge record collection and take in the mural at the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph commemorating the creation of People’s Park, a UC-owned block of land taken over by student and community activists in 1969.

Get schooled

Set close to downtown, the UC Berkeley campus is easily accessible. Here you can stroll along redwood-lined creeks or stretch out on the grass and watch the world go by.

Check out the landmark bell tower (Campanile). It costs $3 to take the elevator and stairs to the top, but you can enjoy the sound of the tower’s 61 bells anywhere on campus. Music plays at various times with longer concerts at 2 p.m. Sundays. Don’t miss Sproul Plaza, which is near the Telegraph Avenue entrance to campus. A granite circle set into the paving stones commemorates the 1964 Free Speech Movement. The protest is also memorialized at the Free Speech Movement Café at the entrance to the Moffitt Library. Here you will find four wall-mounted cases with rotating exhibits as well as occasional forums, panels and other exhibits. If you do have cash in your pocket, this would be a good place to get a cup of organic, fair trade coffee.

Sure, the best things in life are free. But caffeine is pretty good, too.

Arts and Culture in Berkeley

People from all over are continually drawn to the City of Berkeley, which features a rich community comprised of hundreds of arts and cultural organizations. Museums, galleries, artist studios and theatres are all discovered here, with many positioned within the award-winning Downtown Berkeley Arts District.

Patrons of all ages are invited to browse through a variety of local museums featuring interactive exhibits for children and families, as well as collections of artwork, film, historical items and even the beauty of lace and textiles. The Berkeley community is also host to an assortment of galleries and artist studios, professional and community-based theatre troupes and fantastic musical and dance organizations. Historic walking tours, concerts and area professional sporting venues round out the list of family-friendly things to do while in Berkeley.

This year-round cultural hub is also the site of many communitywide events. No matter the time of year, there is something happening in Berkeley, including several music festivals, art fairs, food fests, holiday celebrations and parades. Virtually every night, one will come across the sights and sounds of community gatherings in this lively bayfront city.

Berkeley is truly a city full of cultural and entertainment opportunities. For more detailed information on local attractions and events, visit the Berkeley Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website, visitberkeley.com, or contact the organization at: 2030 Addison St., #102, 510-549-7040/1-800-847-4823 or visitor@visitberkeley.com.

Outdoor Recreation

Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is easy in Berkeley. With more than 300 days of sunshine annually and an ideal location along the San Francisco Bay, the options for recreation are seemingly endless in this northern California community.

The City of Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department maintains more than 50 parks and facilities throughout the community, offering residents and visitors a wide range of programs and amenities. Local sites feature athletic fields, swimming pools, playgrounds and basketball and tennis courts, along with community centers, a skate park and much more. The city also operates the Berkeley Marina, an ideal place for water activities, shopping and entertainment. Among the Marina’s many features is the Adventure Playground, a unique, award-winning site offering a number of recreational and learning activities for children.

The East Bay Regional Park District also operates several regional park sites and miles of trails within the Berkeley community, including East Shore State Park, Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve and the popular Tilden Regional Park. Noted as the crown jewel of the system, Tilden Regional Park outlines Berkeley’s eastern border, providing a wide array of recreational and enrichment activities for people of all ages. Guests take a dip at Lake Anza and take in the colors and smells of the beautiful Botanic Garden. The more than 2,000-acre park also features a golf course, the Tilden Nature Area & Little Farm, a merry-go-round and plenty of quiet spaces.

Adding to the recreation mix are various fitness centers, Yoga studios, senior-oriented facilities and the well-equipped Berkeley-Albany YMCA system, which locally operates the South Berkeley YMCA Learning Academy (after school and summer programming), Early Childhood Services programs and the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. The Downtown Y’s facilities and programs promote healthful living for children, teens and adults alike. Here, one will find state-of-the-art fitness equipment, three swimming pools, two gymnasiums, group exercise studios and additional spaces.