Berkeley’s reputation as an earthy activism hub is a source of pride to its inhabitants. However, visions of protests and patchouli don’t exactly inspire the shopping bug when you're visiting. But there is, indeed, a chic side of Berkeley, and it is located on a four-block stretch of Fourth Street between Cedar Avenue and University Avenue. In this neighborhood, modern housewares and unique gifts are beautifully displayed and sold by knowledgeable but easygoing retailers.
Since browsing on an empty stomach makes for a distracted shopping trip, fueling up is advised. The neighborhood has many options, the most famous of which is Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Their souffle pancakes, soft scrambled eggs, homemade chorizo, and other breakfast items are offered until their 2:30 p.m. closing time on the weekdays and until 4 p.m. on weekends. Expect at least a half-hour wait, especially at brunch. For a quick but satisfying bite to eat, try the gourmet deli offerings at The Pasta Shop, where shoppers have to exercise admirable amounts of self-control to avoid filling up on their samples of cheese, olive oils, and chutneys.
Crucial to the appeal of the Fourth Street District is the abundant amount of specialty stores, many of which are independently owned. Frequent travelers or those simply visiting the Bay Area will appreciate the colorfully packaged toiletries, multi-tasking electronics cases, and neon universal adapters available at Flight 001. A few doors down, the well-read staff at Books Inc. can help with finding a book by a local or yet-to-be-discovered author that everyone else on the airplane or beach isn’t already reading.
Resembling something from a fairy tale, Castle in the Air is a haven for writers and scrap-bookers. In addition to their impressive collection of journals, whimsical gifts, and writing utensils, the shop offers classes in paper crafts and calligraphy. Crafters can also explore the elegant Japanese offerings at Miki’s Paper or customized stamps and stationery at Paper Source. Digital design aficionados can chat up a specialist on the latest tools and software at the new and spacious Apple Store.
If a little creative inspiration is needed for the homestead, a visit to the stylish Z Gallerie or the funky CB2 store can provide ideas aplenty. Those looking for style on a budget will appreciate the Crate and Barrel Outlet store for their entertaining and decorating needs. DIY types can indispensable information on structure,
If the neighborhood’s excess of options and visual delights becomes overwhelming, a visit to Teance will help soothe the nerves. Teance’s tea room feels like a sanctuary, and their educational tea tastings will give even the fussiest of connoisseurs a newfound appreciation for aromatic oolongs and robust Darjeeling leaves. Another great place to decompress is Tacubaya, the lively taqueria and sister restaurant to the esteemed Doña Tomás in Oakland.
Berkeley’s hippie population may be the punchline to many Bay Area jokes, but the Fourth Street neighborhood proves that even Berkeleyites have an appreciation for form, function, and style.
While there are no BART stations within a mile, the neighborhood is incredibly close to Routes I-80 and I-580, as well as the Berkeley Amtrak station. Parking is available at a rate of $1.25 per half hour at the 4th Street Parking Lot, across from Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto on Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue. Metered and street parking is best found along Fifth and Sixth Streets.
—By Nisi Baier
Nisi Baier was raised in Chicago, educated in San Francisco, and currently up to no good in Berkeley. She has worked extensively in the travel industry since 2005.