Berkeley Downtown Arts District: Hip Cultural Hub

Feast on culture in downtown Berkeley for 1 or 2 days

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While some cultural venues in Berkeley, California, are centered on the prestigious University of California campus, many more are concentrated in the vibrant Berkeley Downtown Arts District. The heart of the district runs down Addison Street between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street. The neighborhood also has plenty of restaurants and bars, representing a plethora of ethnic styles and a range of prices.

Berkeley Downtown Arts District: Morning

Start your day at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive—a mouthful that has been nicknamed BAMPFA. It is a fine place to while away a few hours viewing a new show, or perhaps viewing an obscure film.

Berkeley's Arts District, California

Berkeley Downtown Arts District: Lunch Options

Just across the street from BAMPFA on Bancroft Avenue is an entire block of mostly fast-food dining choices. The atmospheric hole-in-the-wall known as Top Dog dispenses a variety of hot dogs there, including a veggie version and a popular kosher one. If you have time, pick up a picnic lunch to enjoy on the University of California campus just across the street, where a grove of redwood trees and grassy expanses permit a restive break.

The first Jewish museum established in the western USA is just a few blocks away. Though The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life is a research unit of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, it has public galleries that focus on Jewish art and life. Just across the street, Cancun is a popular spot for a burrito and fresh fruit agua fresca drink.

Evening: Live Performance Venues

Stroll along the Addison Street Poetry Walk and view 127 cast-iron panels, imprinted with poetry and embedded in the sidewalk. Works by local artists are also on display along the route.

On the north side of the street, the Tony Award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre is well-known for its ambitious programming and dynamic productions. Its two stages present important new dramatic voices and fresh takes on seldom-seen classics. Local resident Rita Moreno has appeared in some productions. An associated cafe in the theater courtyard is a good choice for before curtain and intermission dining, and a simple snack counter is also available.

A few steps away, the Aurora Theatre provides two intimate venues. One is a tiny black box theater in which no seat is more than four rows from the stage.

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And just a few more steps away is the basement California Jazz Conservatory, which operates as a school in addition to scheduling performances and running the Jazzcaffe.

Across the street on the south side, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse presents traditional music performances most nights. This nonprofit performance venue is the longest-running full-time folk music venue west of the Mississippi. Excellent acoustics are provided by a sound system designed exclusively for the space by Meyer Sound Lab of Berkeley. Wine, beer, coffee, and light snacks are available.

Many restaurants are just around the corner for pre- or post-performance dining. Especially noteworthy are Comal for excellent Mexican fare and cocktails, Eureka! for an array of burgers and more cocktails, and Jupiter for pizza and beer.

Didn’t get to all the places you’d like to visit? Stay an extra day or come back again!

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