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The City of Berkeley is roughly 18 square miles, just east of the San Francisco bay. Berkeley has many unique neighborhoods, but it is the role it plays as home to the oldest and most prestigious campus in the UC system—University of California, Berkeley—that largely influences its reputation as a college town.
Berkeley is much more nuanced than that, however, renowned for its vast array of architectural styles, distinct neighborhoods and world class culinary options. A few national studies put Berkeley as the third most liberal city in the country, but its diversity makes it absolutely unique. From the chic shopping area of Fourth Street to the million dollar homes nestled in the wooded hillsides of North Berkeley, to the Gourmet Ghetto, Northbrae, Thousand Oaks, and the highly walkable Elmwood District, Berkeley might just have a perfect neighborhood to please anyone on earth.
Away from the center of campus, the UC influence becomes less visible. Much of Berkeley's real estate is primarily made up of detached houses, often with separate in-law units in the rear. Larger apartment buildings are also common in many neighborhoods. Commercial activities are concentrated along the major avenues and at important intersections.
The Northbrae neighborhood lies in the northern part of Berkeley, along the Albany border. This lush and friendly neighborhood centers around the Hopkins-Monterey shopping district. Many consider this two block stretch of local markets to be one of the best kept secrets of the East Bay. Locals come to buy ethically-sourced meat, fish, produce, coffees, cheeses, and fresh flowers at the cluster of specialty shops, as well as the famous Monterey Market, around which this food-lover's paradise revolves.
Another neighborhood with a distinct vibe of its own is north Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. Since the Sixties, this eclectic neighborhood has been home to culinary innovators such as Chez Panisse, the first Peet’s Coffee, and the Cheeseboard Collective. Besides being the birthplace of "California Cuisine," this area was once home to Allen Ginsberg, along with many other iconic writers, musicians and artists.
In Berkeley's southeastern corner is the Claremont district, home to the Claremont Hotel; and the Elmwood district, with its hip shopping and restaurant scene along College Avenue. West of Elmwood is South Berkeley, known for its weekend flea market at the Ashby Station.
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Where is Berkeley?
Berkeley is bordered by the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south, and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills, at the boundary line to neighboring Contra Costa County. To the west lies San Francisco bay.
Public transportation options are numerous and diverse in Berkeley. AC Transit bus line and BART (with Ashby, Downtown Berkeley and North Berkeley stations) serve local needs to the greater bay area. The Berkeley Amtrak station (Capitol Corridor) is near the Emeryville/ Berkeley border. Additional private bus shuttles are operated by major employers, including UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The eastshore freeway (I-80 and I-580) runs along the bay shoreline. The city has modified its original grid roadway structure through use of diverters and barriers, moving most traffic out of neighborhoods and onto arterial streets. Berkeley maintains a separate grid of arterial streets for bicycles, called Bicycle Boulevards, with bike lanes and lower amounts of car traffic than the major streets they often parallel. Berkeley has one of the highest rates of bicycle and pedestrian commuting in the nation, and is the safest city of its size in California for pedestrians and cyclists.
Berkeley hosts car sharing networks including Gig Car Share, and Zipcar. Rather than owning (and parking) their own cars, members share a group of cars parked in convenient locations. Web- and telephone-based reservation systems keep track of hours and charges. Using alternative transportation options is encouraged. Some neighborhoods include Elmwood, Fourth Street and Thousand Oaks.
Things to Do in Berkeley
Jewish Music Festival—March
Berkeley Arts Festival—April and May
Berkeley Kite Festival—July
Berkeley Juggling and Unicycling Festival—late summer
The Solano Avenue Stroll (Berkeley and Albany)—September
Berkeley Public Schools
Berkeley's public schools are administered by the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD). The city has one public secondary school: Berkeley High (BHS). Established in 1880, Berkeley High currently has over 3,000 students. The campus was designated a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places on January 7, 2008.
Berkeley has 11 public elementary schools and three middle schools.
There is also the Bay Area Technology School, the only school in the bay area offering a curriculum that is technology- and science-based, with connections to leading universities.
The main campus of the University of California, Berkeley is an integral part of life in Berkeley, even for those residents not associated directly with this institution. Lesser known but still integral to Berkeley's flavor as a wider community, is the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of nine independent theological schools, located a block north of the UC Berkeley main campus. The Graduate Theological Union has the largest number of students and faculty of any religious studies doctoral program in the United States.
In addition to the schools with theological-studies emphasis, the newly established Muslim liberal arts school, Zaytuna College, has taken 'Holy Hill' as its new home. Wright Institute, a psychology graduate school, is also located in Berkeley. Berkeley City College is a community college in the Peralta Community College District with a strong digital and media arts program, and an Associate degree program that leads into the UC system.