With only a couple of walks left to do, I am going to get started on reviewing some of the highlights of my walk and favorite spots for walking. You can view all of these entries at a later date by selecting the “Best Of” category (right column of the blog), which I just created. The spots I have left to walk are completely residential, so I’ll start by talking about some of my favorite commercial districts and areas of Berkeley. First, a caveat: my recommendations will not help you find the best shopping spots in Berkeley. For that, I recommend SFGate’s East Bay Neighborhoods, which has current listings of shops, dining, and other things to do in Berkeley and surrounding cities. Most of my favorites have much more to do with what is interesting to me as a walker — variety of interesting and unique businesses, signs, storefronts, architecture, etc. In no particular order:
Hopkins Street (near Monterey): This small neighborhood commercial district has the feeling of a small European shopping area, where you could go from shop to shop filling up you basket with the day’s ingredients for meals. During the day, and especially on Saturdays, the street is bustling — people drinking coffee and reading newspapers at Espresso Roma, filling their carts from the huge piles of produce at Monterey Market, lined up for slices at Gioia Pizza’s window, and shopping at and chatting with the owners of the small stores that sell fish, bread, cheese, and other ingredients. I’ve often seen neighbors running into each other and chatting on this street in the midst of their errands.
Shattuck Ave. near Berkeley/Oakland border: Most people are familiar with Shattuck Ave. in downtown and North Shattuck (the “gourmet ghetto”), but the south end of Shattuck is not as well-known. I think this zone is particularly interesting because it is the home of a number of small arts venues and organizations and other small businesses that I rarely see in the Bay Area anymore due to the high cost of commercial rental spaces. On this strip are places like La Pena Cultural Center (with arts events and a colorful mural) and the Long Haul Infoshop (activist group meeting space and zine library). For a walk of this area, start on Shattuck just south of the Berkeley Bowl, and walk south on the street, continuing over the border and ending at the Nomad Cafe at 65th.
San Pablo Avenue (entire length): Like many old highway roads, San Pablo is a varied and interesting street to walk despite the presence of lots of traffic. For the full effect of this street, I suggest walking the entire length from the Albany to the Oakland border. Starting at the north end, you pass outlet stores and sporting goods businesses, and then what some people call “gourmet ghetto west” at Cedar Street (where you might want to fuel up for your walk with some bread from Acme or a coffee from Cafe Fanny, but expect to wait in line for awhile). As you continue south through the University/San Pablo intersection, you’ll see Indian businesses, Mexican and Halal groceries, and and assortment of other stores, and then auto repair businesses interspersed with pockets of other retail businesses. Near the intersection of Dwight is an area that has attracted a number of vintage clothing retailers, antique stores, and other small retail outlets. With the opening of Caffe Trieste, this corner has become a lively neighborhood spot. Two blocks south of Ashby is the Berkeley border, where you can turn around and head back on the other side of the street or venture into West Berkeley for some more walking. Although this is a fun street to walk during the daytime, I don’t find it to be the safest street to walk at night in most sections where most of the businesses are closed and a fair amount of crime (drugs, prostitution) is present.
Some runners-up: University Avenue from I-80 all the way to the UC Berkeley campus (like San Pablo, it is a long, varied street), MLK, from about Rose to Virginia (this isn’t a commercial district, but interesting to think about how zoning works here, as a few businesses are interspersed amongst residences), Fourth Street, south of Hearst (venture beyond the main shopping area with newer shops to see old restaurants, the train depot, and a sake factory, among other attractions), College Ave./Elmwood (I prefer walking here when the shops are closed to look for the old signs and architecture amongst the newer ones; also walk north of the main drag to Derby to see the Julia Morgan Center).