For all the media attention to far out fringes of Berkeley, California, particularly those of a political nature, it may come as a big surprise to most that for the vast majority of citizens it is a just a very comfortable and pleasant place to live. People here do appreciate Nature, but who wouldn’t with the temperate climate and beautiful views of San Francisco across the Bay. Beaches and marinas are pleasant places to enjoy some sun, even if you aren’t a seasoned sailor. If the bug bites, the Cal Sailing Club is ready to provide all the instruction you need at a reasonable price. More of a hiker? Tilden Regional Park has valley trails, mountain trails, lakes, even a steam railroad and carousel for the young and the young at heart.
People do enjoy eating at one of the many diverse restaurants, the vast range of ethnic cuisine in part explained by the presence of the university. Having dining choices is wonderful, but you can still get an old-fashioned hamburger at Oscar’s, Barneys, 900 Grayson or Bongo Burger, just to name a few. For the more adventurous, there are Nepalese and Ethiopian places to dine, but my preference is more towards good Mexican or fresh seafood, sometimes one and the same.
Bookstores are kind of old fashioned I guess in this digital age, but for those of old fogies like me who like to let our minds wander as we browse the aisles, it’s pretty darn nice to have Moe’s, Shakespeare Books, Black Oak Books and Books, Inc. When you search the internet, you’re already starting with a direction. The beauty of browsing in a bookstore is the joy of discovering ideas you hadn’t thought of, as well as deepening your knowledge of established interests.
Kids are supposed to go to school from kindergarten through the senior year of high school. Sure, there are some fine private schools to send your kids to, but the public schools offer quality instruction. For the child with a ravenous intellectual appetite, Berkeley High School has classes in astronomy or Swahili, not to mention advanced calculus. For the slow learner, classes exist which enable those special needs kids to reach their maximum potential. It’s nice to live in a town where the unique attributes of each youngster is acknowledged and nurtured.
The public transit system is comprehensive, making it easy to get around by bus, rapid transit or train. You can rent a car by the hour or by the day. Bicycles are in vogue, with many streets having bike lanes and public places providing bike racks. You can combine bus and bike, train and bike. The Oakland Airport is only fifteen to twenty minutes away and offers domestic flights almost anywhere. From the nearby Emeryville Amtrak Station one can catch the California Zephyr to Chicago or the Coast Starlight to L.A. or Seattle. Walking is not all that bad either, and the many small neighborhood centers make a short stroll to the store or coffee shop a pleasure.
When it comes to a roof over your head, it’s true that there are some stunning estates high up in the hills with fabulous panoramic views and iron gates. But for every one of those, there are dozens of craftsman bungalows with fine woodworking from the 1920s, built-ins with leaded glass and cozy charm in modest living rooms with tiled fireplaces. In Berkeley even the smaller homes exude comfort and style, as welcome as an old pair of fuzzy slippers. Trees, lots and lots of trees line the streets and the flowers, well, they bloom just about all year long. It’s a gardener’s paradise with mild temps and great soil. You can get your hands dirty here, whether it’s in politics or in the backyard.
Berkeley sometimes gets a bad rap from the occasional media blast over fringe points of view, but overall I find it to be very middle America: quiet, beautiful and a comfortable place to call home. I guess it would be fair to say that Berkeley is definitely OK by me.