My first experience of Oakland was that it was the first thing I saw when I emerged from the tunnel through which the BART from SF travels to get to the East Bay. It was the sight of its outskirts, lined with 19th century wooden porched-buildings (the kind I in my naivete used to associate with old Western-type movies set in the deep South) that I first attached to its name. At night, on my way back to San Francisco where I stayed for the first couple of weeks of my time in California, Oakland’s docks were like something from a sci-fi film, tens of huge cranes all lit up in a brilliant yellow-orange sparkle in a city of storage crates and concrete buildings. It remains one of my favorite sights in the Bay Area.
But there is more to Oakland (15-20 minutes from Berkeley of the BART) than that. Although I’ve only been there once, and even then very briefly, I quite like it. It’s atmosphere reminded me of home (Glasgow) in its vaguely industrial overtones but occasionally ornate details. It has a few skyscrapers (including the Ask Jeeves HQ!!!), and strikes me as a more urban, office-worker type place than SF or Berkeley, although I’m probably completely wrong. I definitely need to explore it more to even attempt to describe it more to you. But suffice to say it has a reputation as being slightly rougher than Berkeley or SF, has an apparently great hip hop scene, and a great old-school RnB/surf rock ‘n’ roll scene. I’m going to try to explore this more next semester, so keep an eye out for an update on Oakland.
Berkeley is very much a student city. As well as UCB, there’s also a Berkeley College of some sort, can’t remember what it’s called though. It rarely extends beyond two or three story buildings and is largely residential, with one or two main shopping/eating streets (Telegraph, College, Shattuck and Bancroft especially).
The campus itself is amazing. Berkeley was the first university in California, thus earning itself the unofficial name of ‘California’, or ‘Cal’. The oldest remaining building was built in 1860-ish, and rumor has it that bits of Mary Poppins were filmed in there. It’s mainly used for admin now though. I’ll attach some photos of the campus to save me describing it too tediously. It’s major landmark is the Campinelli [probably misspelled, sorry], which is a huge clock-tower modeled on one in Venice. You can go up for free if you’re a Cal student and you get a stunning panoramic view of the Bay Area from the top.
Cal has quite a lot of libraries scattered around the campus (forming one of the largest library collections in the country), and the main ones (Moffit/Doe) seems more like a nuclear bunker than a library at times. There are some pretty amazing reading rooms too, especially in Morrison and Doe (again, I’ll attach pictures). Some of them are linked by underground tunnels. Speaking of tunnels, apparently there’s a dissused steam tunnel running under the whole campus that you can go down and explore (sounds gross, apparently isn’t). Another to do for next semester (I never seem to run out of them).
Although the campus and its surrounding area aren’t all that huge, lots of people use bikes, scateboards, scooters etc to get around. Watch out though, bike theft is frequent and the police expect you to register your bikes with them or potentiall face a fine, which can be tedious. Supermarkets especially are sparse and often a bus ride away from studenty areas – this is a real downside to Berkeley: be prepared to either eat out a lot or have a semi-restricted DIY diet (I lived on low budget PB&J sandwiches, which was pretty good if a little repetitive).
Although I haven’t been yet, apparently it’s pretty easy to get down to Berkeley marina, with a good view of the bay and good sailing territory. Go the opposite way and you’ll find yourself in the Berkeley hills, home to the wealthy due to its stunning views of the Bay Area. There’s a good running route through the fire path, aswell as an outdoor Rec. pool you get free access to if you join the gym (which, by the way, costs $10 for the year for Cal students – just a bit of a bargain). Berkeley’s nuclear research labs are also in the Hills, home of Robert J. Oppenheimer, one of the key developers of the Nuclear Bomb in the ’40’s.
Like San Francisco, Berkeley has a high homeless population. This population differs from SF’s only in that they’re slightly crazier. This might be to do with Berkeley’s 1960’s psychedelic and counter-culture history, combined with the existence of People’s Park, an open space near the Berkeley campus with heavily muraled buildings in which many homeless people sleep.
I think I’ll leave it there, thanks for reading!