BERKELEY; A lively city on a series of gentle hills
''Nothing has happened at Berkeley during the past 10 years,'' a campus administrator told me during a recent visit there. In terms of the student demonstrations that made headlines during the turbulent 1960s, he was right. But in terms of things for visitors to see and enjoy he couldn't have been more wrong.
Berkeley, referring to both the city and the University of California campus that occupies much of it, has long offered a wealth of scenic and cultural attractions. In fact, at the turn of the century some enthusiasts claimed it to be ''the Athens of the West.'' Eighty years later, with plenty of new restaurants, unusual shops, and cozy small hotels added to its more venerable charms, the place is again laying claim to that old title.
Berkeley's most obvious asset is its superb location on a series of gentle hills that border on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay and gradually stretch upward to 2,000 acres of parkland set on a wide ridge. From most of the city's upper regions are spectacular views of the bay, taking in San Francisco's pastel skyline and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.
Some of the best views can be had from the campus itself, but there is often too much else going on to notice them. At the main entrance to campus, where Bancroft Way meets Telegraph Avenue, there is nearly always a carnival of food vendors selling everything from fresh orange juice to Chinese spareribs, craftspeople and their wares, and musicians of greatly varying ability.
Just beyond the entrance is Sproul Plaza, a sycamore-lined quadrangle that was center stage for the free speech movement in 1964. Although most of Berkeley's 29,000 students are now more likely to be wearing designer jeans than armbands, long tables still occupy much of the plaza laden with literature from a spectrum of causes.
The Student Union building on the southwest corner of the plaza is the place to pick up information on cultural events, museums, and campus tours. On weekdays at 1 p.m. guided tours leave from the visitor center on the ground floor of the Student Union.
What a guided or self-guided tour reveals is that Berkeley's architecture is an agreeable hodgepodge of almost every style in vogue since instruction began in the Victorian-style brick South Hall in 1873. If there is a dominant factor, it is seen in the classic lines of John Galen Howard's white granite buildings that he accented with red tile roofs and green copper flashing.
One of Howard's most beautiful examples is the 1907 Hearst Mining Building on the northeast side of campus. Its stunning open lobby has glass-domed skylights framed by delicate arches, and features rock and mineral displays and other exhibits.
By far the most famous campus landmark is graceful Sather Tower, more commonly known as the Campanile, a 307-foot bell tower that Howard modeled after St. Mark's campanile in Venice. For a quarter, one can ride the elevator up to the 200-foot-high observation tower and stroll around it to get a four-sided panoramic view of the Bay Area. Those who make the trip up at noon on weekdays or at 4 p.m. on Sundays can see a concert in progress as the chimesmaster or one of his students plays the 48-bell carillion.
Atop the Campanile is undoubtedly the best place to see what further possibilities for campus exploration lie ahead. What may seem surprising is the number of semi-wild areas that dot this essentially urban campus. Two forks of Strawberry Creek meander through the heart of it, fringed by redwood trees and grassy glades until they converge in a cool, fragrant eucalyptus grove planted a century ago.
Of all the many modern buildings on campus, the most striking is the University Art Museum on Bancroft Way, a fan-shaped structure that has been likened to a huge piece of concrete sculpture. Inside, among other things, is a notable collection of 20th-century American paintings that include works by Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.
Around the back of the museum is the Sculpture Garden, a landscape of massive free-standing work by Peter Voulkos and Arnoldo Pomodoro. Adjoining it is the Swallow Restaurant, a good place to pause between exhibits for a light lunch. For movie buffs, the museum's outstanding feature is the Pacific Film Archive which presents 700 films a year, often those not generally screened in commercial theaters.
Almost directly across the street from the art museum is one of a more primitive nature -- the Lowie Museum of Anthropology in Kroeber Hall, which draws on its collection of 430,000 artifacts from around the world for its imaginatively presented exhibits. This year the museum is featuring the intricate basketry of the southwestern California Indians.
Two other exhibit areas on campus deal with subjects directly related to California. One is the Bancroft Library, which has an extensive collection of rare manuscripts and artifacts of historical note, including the gold nugget found in Sutter's millrace that triggered the Gold Rush.
The other is the seismographic station on the fifth floor of the Earth Sciences Building. As the campus is located directly on the San Andreas fault line, it should come as no surprise to learn that such a station records earthquake intensity. The glass-enclosed seismometer can draw profiles of earth-quakes around the world, including those that happen under where it sits.
Also in Earth Sciences is the Museum of Geology on the third and fourth floors with its huge maps of the Earth, photographs, and prize mineral and rock specimens. On the first and second floors is the Museum of Paleontology with its collection of fossils. One display case traces the evolution of the saber-toothed cat which, it turns out, is California's state fossil.
On a hill high above campus is the Lawrence Hall of Science, an attraction that can easily fill a whole day, especially if there are children in tow. Computer games and hands-on exhibits challenge visitors to test their knowledge of math, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and biology. A special pinball game teaches about the motion of atoms, and the theory of probability can be tested with a pair of giant dice. In the Wizard's Lab section visitors can participate in do-it-yourself experiments with light, lenses, optical illusions, and electricity. There is also a planetarium and the Biology Lab where visitors can handle animals that range from bunny rabbits to (for the stouthearted) tarantulas.
From the Lawrence Hall of Science it is only a short drive up the hill to Tildon Park, a wide forested area good for picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, and taking in the wonderful view. On the way back down from Tildon or the Lawrence Hall is a man-made scenic wonder -- the university's 32-acre Botanical Garden with its 8,000 varieties of plants from around the world. The garden's New World Desert Area is an uncanny re-creation of a southwestern landscape, featuring some unusual cacti and succulents. Other segments of the garden are akin to visiting a tropical rain forest or a South African desert.
When visitors get hungry from all this exploration, they find that Berkeley, like the more famous city across the bay, offers a wealth of good restaurants, both regional and ethnic. An old standby is Spenger's at the foot of University Avenue, a gargantuan seafood restaurant that, despite its size, is nearly always crowded. Its reasonably priced menu features an array of local seafood prepared in a large variety of ways. And like most good Bay Area restaurants each table is blessed with generous hunks of the region's tangy, crusty sourdough French bread.
A much newer culinary landmark is Chez Panisse, located in a small wooden frame house on Shattuck Avenue and featuring a tiny menu (one or two entrees) that changes nightly. Another good choice is China Station, located in what was once Berkeley's train depot, where one can savor Chinese-style dishes such as sauteed clams in garlic sauce and Westlake duck.
When it comes time to retire for the night, there are two options that are particularly convenient and laden with Berkeley charm. On Telegraph Avenue several blocks south of campus is Gramma's, a bed and breakfast inn located in a Tudor-style mansion with a lovely garden out back. As its name suggests, the inn is cozily furbished with fireplaces, quilts, and antiques.
Northwest of campus on Shattuck Avenue is the just-opened French Hotel, a European-style hostelry with the California touch of decks or patios attached to many of the rooms. Within blocks are some of Berkeley's most interesting restaurants, including Chez Panisse, and specialty shopping areas such as Walnut Square.