Archive for Best Of

Walk Highlights, Part 4

On Sunday, I officially finished walking every street and path in Berkeley! I’ll have a post on this tomorrow or Friday, but first a few more walk highlights that were not covered by in any of the other categories in previous posts:

Thousand Oaks rocks: On my first walk or two in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, I observed that it was a very pleasant neighborhood for walking, but did not expect to find anything out of the ordinary. When I finally got to Vicente Avenue, all of this changed. I knew about the Rock parks in Berkeley, but did not realize that there were other large rocks throughout the neighborhood. Giant boulders appear in front yards, and in some cases rocks have been incorporated into the houses’ architecture. It’s difficult to take everything in at once, so I imagine taking many more walks in this area in the future.

Upper Claremont: The neighborhood above Tunnel Road is a fascinating place to explore because of its very different architecture from most of the other Berkeley neighborhoods. This area has many new homes that have been built since the East Bay Hills fire in 1991, quite a few of which have very modern designs. I had some pretty strong reactions to some of the houses up here; I am a huge fan of mid-century modern architecture and modest, well-designed new modern architecture, but I found myself saying “what were they thinking?” while looking at some of the homes up here. But this is precisely why I enjoyed walking here: there is a lot to take in and to think about while walking through here, not just about the individual houses, but also about the fire itself, how homes and landscaping are constructed in fire-prone areas, how community forms or doesn’t form after a disaster, and what drives people to build (and re-build) homes in areas that are prone to natural disasters. The best way to access this neighborhood and avoid much of the Tunnel Road traffic is to take the Short Cut path off Tunnel Road to the left, soon after Ashby turns into Tunnel. Then walk along Alvarado Road and Vicente Road (not to be confused with Vicente in Thousand Oaks, mentioned above), and on the Sunset Trail and Willow Walk paths.

Panoramic Hill: In my previous Walk Highlights post, I mentioned the paths near the Berkeley campus. A walk on these paths (such as Orchard Lane and Mosswood Lane) takes you into a small neighborhood that is easy to miss otherwise. Although you can look down and see the Cal Memorial Stadium and sports facilities from here, it seems like you are a world away from the hubbub of the campus. In addition to the amazing views implied by the name of the neighborhood, this area is a nice place for walking because it offers access to the Claremont Canyon and Strawberry Canyon fire trails. Although the neighborhood is small, it is a nice spot to revisit, taking different routes up and down the paths and around the loops of Panoramic and Dwight Way for interesting views (just keep an eye on the road for traffic).

Ohlone Greenway & Santa Fe Right-of-Way: In addition to the path system that I mentioned in my previous post, two paths on railroad right-of-ways run through Berkeley. The Ohlone Greenway comes through Berkeley from the north, following the BART tracks past the North Berkeley station, through Ohlone Park and ending just before BART turns onto Shattuck and to the downtown station. As I’ve mentioned in past blog entries, there is much to see along the Greenway — murals, gardens, sculpture, etc. — and I take it often to get from place to place. Just a caveat on this area (similar to my previous note about San Pablo Ave.) — although I always recommend being cautious walking at night in general, I have found that the Greenway north of the North Berkeley BART station and on into the neighboring towns is a place I do not feel safe after dark due to lots of shrubbery and dark areas along the trail which can be a magnet for criminal activity. The Santa Fe Right-of-Way path is only partially complete at this time, but a portion can be walked from its intersection with the Ohlone Greenway just south of Cedar-Rose Park all the way to University Avenue. Also walkable is the section through Strawberry Creek Park.

West Berkeley industrial zone: The area near the Bay in Berkeley, as it is in many other towns circling the Bay area, has a history of industrial activity. Many of the old buildings in West Berkeley are still somewhat intact, with some occupied with new industry and others empty. North of University Ave., many of these buildings are in the blocks on either side of the railroad tracks. The west side of the tracks is an area that I might have missed had I not been doing this project. If you are exploring this area, keep in mind that plenty of train traffic rolls through here, and make sure to cross the tracks only at official crossings. South of University, the streets that start at 7th and dead end at the Aquatic Park are particularly interesting to explore, as are Murray and Folger streets west of San Pablo.

I-80 bicycle/pedestrian bridge: If you’ve ever had to navigate dangerous freeway entrances on foot or bicycle or cross a freeway on one of those narrow overcrossings that are close to the traffic exhaust and are often unpleasant for walking, you probably understand why I appreciate the I-80 bridge so much. It is nicely designed, high above traffic, and has plenty of room for pedestrians, wheelchairs, and bicycles. Once on the other side, you can pop onto the Bay Trail or visit some of the many attractions at the Berkeley Marina. A good alternative to a trail hike after lots of rain is to take the bridge over the freeway and walk south on the Bay Trail’s paved path to the Emeryville border, then return and either continue out to the Marina or back over and around the Aquatic Park. Plenty of opportunities to see birds and other wildlife without the mud.


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Walk Highlights, Part 3

In this post, I list some favorite general places to walk in Berkeley. All of these are items that I would mention if someone asked me to describe Berkeley; they all stand out in my mind after this walk as defining aspects of this city. Again, in no particular order:

Community and school gardens: Before I started this walk, I knew about the famous Edible Schoolyard, but I did not realize that just about every school in Berkeley also had a vegetable garden. Many of these gardens are either viewable from outside the school gates or otherwise accessible, so I enjoy stopping to take a look at what is growing in different seasons at the the various school gardens. There are also a few community gardens in Berkeley, which can also be seen even when the gardens are closed.

Berkeley’s farmers markets: Berkeley has markets year-round three days a week (Tuesday and Thursday late afternoon & early evening, and Saturdays). Usually I walk to the markets once or twice a week as a destination, but I always like to walk through if I am near one of them whether or not I have anything to buy. As with the gardens, it’s a great opportunity to see foods in season, but it also provides a fun people-watching opportunity. My favorite of the three markets for walking (and for the selection) is the Tuesday one, both because this market seems to have the broadest mix of different types of people shopping there and because its set-up with a narrow and crowded walkway makes it a vibrant place to walk.

Bike boulevards and bike routes: I talked a bit about this in a past post; Berkeley has a large bicycle network of bike lanes and bike boulevards (which have traffic barriers and encourage cyclists to take the full traffic lane). These streets are nice for walking for the most part, especially because you’re more likely to hear the pleasant sounds of bicycles than cars. People carrying on conversations, children laughing in their trailers and bicycle seats, and all sorts of interesting carrying devices whiz by while you are walking. Milvia and Russell are my favorites of the bike network, but all are streets that I go back to often to walk.

Paths: I have talked a lot about the Berkeley path system throughout the course of writing this blog, so it should be no surprise that this has been one of my favorite parts of walking Berkeley. I originally was thinking I would do a post with my favorite paths, but I really don’t know that I would be able to pick favorites. Instead, I will suggest some ways to explore the paths. The southern paths are an easy walk away from Rockridge BART; just veer to the right onto Claremont Avenue (while you are still in Oakland) and enter the Claremont/Uplands neighborhood to the right once you cross the Berkeley border. If you are visiting the Berkeley campus and Telegraph Avenue, a small network of paths is located just a few blocks east of Telegraph (walk along the south border of campus on Bancroft). On Solano Avenue in Berkeley, walk east until you see Indian Rock Path. Follow this path to begin exploring the rock parks mentioned in the Walk Highlights post on parks. There are many, many paths in the Berkeley hills, and it took several trips to complete this portion of my walk. One suggestion for starting to explore these paths is to take either the 65 or 67 bus, which can be picked up at downtown Berkeley BART, and get off at a random stop in the hills; then start making your way down along the paths. For all of these walks, of course, the Berkeley Path Wanderers map should be your reference.

Creeks: The creek system in Berkeley is not quite as a big of a political issues as historic architecture and new development, but it is a contentious topic nonetheless; some people would like to see all of the creeks flowing above ground everywhere, and others are concerned about its affect on nearby homes and other obstacles that have been built up over the years. As a walker, I appreciate the creek system as it is now. Following the path of the creeks to see where they pop up above ground and then back under again in a random pattern is lots of fun, and definitely something I would recommend especially when walking with children. For a long (but downhill) walk, you can follow Codornices Creek from the hills down through Codornices Park and Live Oak Park (mentioned in the Walk Highlights post on parks), and then along the Berkeley-Albany border to the Bay. A less ambitious but equally enjoyable place to enjoy a creek walk is through the UC Berkeley campus where Strawberry Creek flows above ground.

Stayed tuned next week for my final Walk Highlights post, with specific highlights not covered by any of the previous posts.

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Walk Highlights, Part 2: Parks

Picking favorite parks is tough when there are over 50 to choose from in Berkeley! Here my choices are based on the parks that I found most enjoyable as a walker. My selections would be different if I was picking what I think are the most successful parks from an urban planning standpoint (i.e., design and layout, placement, activities, safety, etc.). Again, in no particular order:

John Hinkel Park: Entering this park for the first time, I had one of the many moments on this walk where I decided that it was worthwhile to walk each and every street. Unless I lived near this park, I might not have realized it was there. I had the feeling of being far away from anything urban — creeks flowing, lots of vegetation, and crisscrossing trails through the park. Also of interest here is the amphitheater that has been the site of the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival.

Rock Parks: There are several rock parks in the Thousand Oaks area, which can be combined with several of the Berkeley paths for a very nice walk. This is a great place to bring visitors to show them a unique part of Berkeley. One of my blog entries from last year has a few more details about the rock parks, and the Berkeley Path Wanderers has a nice suggested route, with history, for visiting these parks.

Live Oak Park: This is a great park to plan into a walk as a place to take a break and look around for awhile. It includes a restored stone fireplace in the picnic area, the Berkeley Art Center, a nice places to stroll along the creek and through the trees. From Downtown Berkeley BART, walk north on Shattuck and on to Berryman Path to walk through the park. Just a few blocks from Live Oak Park is the Berkeley Rose Garden and Codornices Park (with a waterfall!), which make a nice combined walk.

Ohlone Park: This park, which extends from Sacramento St. to Milvia St., between Hearst and Delaware, offers a lot to look at for the walker: playing fields, basketball court, community garden, off-leash dog area, an Ohlone history mural, and play areas. From North Berkeley BART (crossing Sacramento at Delaware), it’s a nice flat stroll along the Ohlone Greenway paralleling Ohlone Park. At the end of the Greenway, continue to straight for a couple of blocks to visit the UC Berkeley campus, or turn right on Shattuck to get to the downtown Berkeley BART.

Strawberry Creek Park: I really enjoy walking through this park because it affords an opportunity to visit the Strawberry Creek Design Center (more on this in a separate Highlights post). The park also include native plants, and recreation areas and courts. The Santa Fe Right of Way runs through this park, which will be particularly nice for walking once a connecting block is opened between University and Addison through the Montessori school. Next to this park is the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Green, which offers free lessons on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. For a Saturday morning walk from Downtown Berkeley BART, head from BART through the Saturday Farmer’s Market (starts at 10 a.m.) on Center Street, cross southwest through Cesar Chavez Park to Allston, continue Allston past Presentation Park and across Sacramento, left at Acton to the Lawn Bowling Green to view the bowlers in action, right on Bancroft and right into Strawberry Creek Park at the Santa Fe Right of Way path. This can also be combined with a visit to Ohlone Park (listed above) to make a loop back to where you started.

King School Park: For the same reasons that I like Hopkins Street, which I mentioned in my commercial area favorites), I enjoy walking past the nearby King School Park. In the early evening and on weekends, this park is busy with people playing tennis, jogging on the track, walking dogs, and chatting with neighbors. A nice loop walk that includes this park is Sacramento, Hopkins, The Alameda/MLK, and Rose streets. You’ll see the King School Park, the North Berkeley Public Library, the Edible Schoolyard (at King School), and the Hopkins Street commercial district.

John Muir School Park: Another school park, but this one is quite different than King School. The best way to explore this park is by walking the Oakridge Path between Claremont and Domingo avenues. Harwood (Claremont) Creek runs through the park, and you’ll see native plantings and restoration work done by the children from the school. There’s also a very nice school vegetable garden here.

Berkeley Marina (includes Shorebird Park, Cesar Chavez Park, Horseshoe Park, and the Adventure Playground): Technically this is divided into a few parks, but most people will visit through more than one of them on a trip out there. Some highlights include a straw bale environmental education building (Shorebird Park), tools and building actitivies for children (Adventure Playground), great views on the loop around Cesar Chavez park, and the long fishing pier (which can be walked out to the end). If you are up for a long but flat walk, take the I-80 pedestrian/bike bridge (accessed at the foot of Addison Street) over to the Marina. On the Marina side of the bridge is the Sea Breeze Cafe, a good store for some coffee or refreshments for the walk. A visit to the Berkeley Marina would be an ideal outing for someone coming into Berkeley on Amtrak, whose station is situated a block from the bike bridge under the University Avenue overpass.

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Walk Highlights, Part 1: Commercial Areas

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).

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