Despite having visited San Francisco countless times, I’d surprisingly never spent any time in Berkeley; until now. If you’re anything like me, you likely haven’t spent much time there either, but 2 days in Berkeley makes for a fantastic trip all on its own.
Berkeley is a fun, quirky city and this Berkeley itinerary will take you to all the best places. It’s San Francisco’s effortlessly hip and artsy cousin, filled with outdoor activities, plenty of murals, and a myriad of independent shops.
As a foodie, I can’t recommend a weekend in Berkeley enough. It’s the birthplace of California cuisine with lots of farm-to-table options. Even better, the food scene is international. The city has block after block of delicious options from everywhere. Not to sound like a cliche but there literally is something for everyone!
So if you’re looking for the best 2-day Berkeley itinerary I’ve got you; keep reading for my best tips.
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Arrival in Berkeley / How to Get to Berkeley
It’s super easy to get to Berkeley and even easier to get around Berkeley once you’re there. The public transportation system is great, there’s a lot of parking, and there are plenty of rideshares and rental bikes to use.
From San Francisco
You can get to Berkeley from San Francisco by taking public transportation, riding the ferry, or driving. Driving is a nice option because then you have your car to use for getting around Berkeley. Parking is pretty easy to find too.
If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, you can take the BART (San Francisco’s public transportation system) to Berkeley. Trains to downtown Berkeley leave regularly from Civic Center/UN Plaza. It takes about 30 minutes to get there – about the same time as it takes to drive it.
The ferry is also a fun option for getting from San Francisco to Berkeley. San Francisco Bay Ferry has a line that departs from the Downtown Ferry Terminal to Oakland. From there, you’ll walk 12 blocks to the BART station at 12th and Broadway to catch a train to downtown Berkeley.
From Los Angeles (and beyond!)
Los Angeles to Berkeley is a 6+ hour drive. If you’re a road tripper and want to drive, it’s a pretty straight shot up the 5 for most of the way. But still…it’s over 6 hours in the car to drive to Berkeley.
I recommend flying from Los Angeles to Oakland. Oakland is a huge international airport and you can find flights there from both major and smaller airports (hello Long Beach Airport!). I love public transportation so I was pumped to take the BART from the airport to the Oakland Coliseum and transfer to the orange line to get to Downtown Berkeley.
If you’re not into public transportation, you can use rideshare options like Uber or Lyft to get to and around Berkeley. It’s also nice to have a car rental but it’s not an absolute necessity. You can walk most places pretty easily, or use the bike or scooter rentals that are all over the place.
Best Time to Visit
There are fun things to do in Berkeley all year round, but summer (June and July specifically) is the best time to visit Berkeley. It’s a college town, so it’s more chill in the summer since school is out. It’s also when the weather is nicest.
The Best Berkeley Itinerary
Berkeley is a really fun town to visit. If you have more than 2 days in Berkeley, I’ve got some fun additional activities to do or you can just take this Berkeley itinerary a little slower. It’s also a perfect location to add to a visit to San Francisco and Tiburon.
However you decide to plan your trip, this two-day Berkeley itinerary assumes that you’ll have two full days in Berkeley so be sure to get there the night before.
2 Days in Berkeley Itinerary: Day 1
Grab a Coffee at Peet’s
Did you know Peet’s Coffee started in Berkeley? I didn’t either! It was started in 1966 by Alfred Peet of The Netherlands and he actually trained the founders of Starbucks. You can read the entire fascinating story here.
Anyway, after grabbing a quick hotel breakfast, head over to the first Peet’s Coffee at 2124 Vine Street for a coffee. It’s a great introduction to downtown Berkeley.
Engage Your Senses
What is the Aftel Archive of Curious and why is it the best of the unique things to do in Berkeley? Well, the TLDR is that it’s an interactive museum of scents, but it’s so much more than that. It’s seriously the coolest place I visited on my trip.
Upon arrival, you’ll meet Mandy, the collector and curator at Aftel. Each visitor receives a scent kit that has a scent cone, gloves to use when handling the really old books, and wool to clear your nose. There are a ton of scents all over the museum that you get to smell in their original form, including a shocking number from animal glands and poop (really!).
Outside, you’ll get to smell all the essences that go into a single natural perfume (more than a dozen!). I was shocked at how few of them I could really identify! It was so much fun.
The only bummer is that the Aftel Archive is only open on Saturdays. But if you’re in Berkeley on a Saturday, you have to check out!
(Window) Shop Til You Drop
Berkeley is a vibe. It’s artsy and quirky and just super fun. Spend the early afternoon strolling the downtown streets, checking out the murals, and popping into the cute independent shops.
If you start back at Peet’s (around the corner from Aftel), stroll south down Shattuck Avenue and check out the shops and cafes. This is all part of downtown Berkeley.
There’s also a lot to see on Telegraph Avenue if you have time. This area is just south of campus (University of California – Berkeley). If you want to pop over there and explore, you can walk through the Berkeley campus to get there and check it out too.
Lunch at Comal Next Door
I wanted to eat at Gather Restaurant for lunch but it was closed, so we popped into Comal Next Door instead. What a happy accident!
Comal Next Door is a taqueria serving burritos, tacos, and more. The burrito bowl was delicious! But what really blew me away were the housemade chips and salsa. They were crispy and tasty, with just the right amount of salt. I may or may not be drooling on my keyboard right now. You’ll never know.
Treat Your Inner Child
Tilden Park is one of the best things to do in Berkeley. It’s only about a 10-minute drive from downtown Berkeley so it’s super easy to get to whether you drive or Uber.
There are a ton of things to do in Tilden Park: you could easily spend half or even a full day here! One of your first stops needs to be the Lawrence Hall of Science to take in the amazing view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Also, be sure to explore the museum if you’re into science – it’s awesome, with tons of hands-on exhibits.
If it weren’t so hot (I went during a rare heatwave), I would have loved hiking the trails through the hills. It always amazes me when I find such a peaceful place so close to a city.
But I’m not gonna lie. Two of my favorite things to do were ride the old school carousel and the steam train through the redwoods of Tilden Park. Was I on there with a bunch of kids? Yes. Did I care? No way! I had a blast. These are some of the best attractions in Berkeley.
Browse the Stacks
One of the most iconic spots in Berkeley is Moe’s Books. It has been there since 1959 and you can feel the history the minute you walk in the door.
This independent bookstore has four floors to explore. I love how Moe’s has used and new books mixed together on the shelves. The rare books section is a cool place to explore too. As a book lover who has always dreamed of owning a bookstore, Moe’s is a spot where I could have easily spent hours!
Be sure to check out all the pictures on the walls to get a feel for what Berkeley has been like through the decades.
Dinner at Fish and Bird Soukasu Izakaya
There are a ton of places to eat in Berkeley, but you can’t miss eating at Fish and Bird Soukasu Izakaya. Not only was the meal delicious, but they also offered a variety of unique dishes. I’m still trying to figure out where I can find sea beans at home!
The concept is Japanese tapas, so you get to try a lot of different things. Shishito peppers are always one of my favorites, and they didn’t disappoint here. I also loved the curry powder fries and the duck confit. But I’m newly obsessed with sea beans. Don’t miss these!
Fish and Bird’s menu changes based on available ingredients so be sure to check out the specials when you’re there. When we went, the paper-wrapped branzino stole the show. The server opened it up at the table and it was a real sensory experience.
2 Days in Berkeley Itinerary: Day 2
Breakfast at La Note
Firstly, let me just say that the food at La Note is both spectacular and creative. It’s an authentic Provençal restaurant and despite being rarely impressed by brunch, La Note blew me away. Pain perdu, pancakes, omelets – you really can’t go wrong here. We ordered several dishes here and I couldn’t pick a favorite.
However, I’d be remiss to note that their policy about not being seated until the whole party arrives was a tad annoying on an empty Tuesday morning, as was the somewhat frosty attitude of the hostess when we arrived. I still very much recommend a visit, just be sure to have your entire party with you when you go!
Pro tip: If you’re in Berkeley when the weather is nice and the patio seating is open, do it!
Marvel at Plants
It’s no secret is that I love a good botanical garden (reference my Ventura trip to support this claim). And Berkeley’s botanical garden is one of the best, featuring one of the most diverse plant collections in the United States.
Even if you’re as into them as me, you’ll still want to spend a decent amount of time exploring the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
The garden is divided into zones for different parts of the world. My favorite was the African section but the cacti in the Americas sections were super cool too.
Just past the entrance is a greenhouse that shows off rare and exotic plants. The plants in here get added and taken out constantly depending on what’s new or in bloom, so even if you’ve been here before, there’s always something new to see.
Keep going from there to the Asian area and check out the Japanese pond. It’s home to a ton of newts and because the water is so clear, you can actually see them pretty well.
And don’t miss the redwood grove across the street from the entrance. The grove is a great place to catch some shade on hot days. It’s gorgeous there too, with tons of plants and animals to see.
The garden is located up a hill to the west of the campus. You can get there by driving or via rideshare. If you walk, be prepared for some hills. Actually, even if you don’t walk there, make sure to wear comfy shoes. The garden is 34 acres and hilly!
Pro tip: Take a guided tour of the gardens if you can. Docents lead tours every Sunday, so if you’re going to be in Berkeley on a Sunday, head to the botanical garden then.
Make a Coffee Stop
After the filling breakfast I had at La Note, I wasn’t hungry for lunch. But a coffee break was definitely in order.
Damask Rose is a beautiful Syrian refugee-owned shop with unique Syrian coffee flavors like rose and cardamom. I had the pleasure of speaking to the owner and I loved that she wanted to bring a taste of her homeland to Berkeley.
Although I wasn’t hungry for lunch, I wasn’t about to pass up a snack. The minute I saw the pistachio baklava I knew I had to have it. And it was perfect – chock-full of pistachios and just sweet enough. Between that and the cardamom iced coffee, it’s a unique must-try in Berkeley.
Stroll Along the Water
To get a totally different perspective on Berkeley, head down to the water. Berkeley Marina has beautiful views across the bay, and it’s fun to see all the boats at the docks. Take a relaxing stroll down the waterfront paths, catch the breeze off the water, and enjoy people-watching. This was the perfect activity for a hot day!
Enjoy an Amazing Dinner
At Chez Panisse:
If you want to be fancy, make a reservation at Chez Panisse, a well-known Berkeley institution. Chez Panisse is the restaurant that started the farm-to-table concept, and it put California cuisine on the map. It’s upscale but it doesn’t feel pretentious or stuffy.
The menu changes regularly based on what’s available from local suppliers. The bread here was insane. I had to resist the urge to eat it all and save room for the mains.
My friend and I split three mains: a salmon dish, a lamb dish, and a fresh pasta dish, all of which were recommended by the server. Everything was perfectly seasoned with high-quality ingredients, and the service was spectacular. It was a great experience and the perfect spot to celebrate my friend’s birthday!
There are tons of other amazing spots in Berkeley if Chez Panisse isn’t your vibe. For a relaxed yet delicious dinner, make a reservation at Gather. The menu is mostly made up of delicious pizzas, burgers, and daily specials made from locally sourced ingredients. Don’t forget to save room for blueberry bread pudding for dessert!
Check Out Rooftop Views
To finish out your trip to Berkeley, head to Study Hall Lounge on top of the Residence Inn. It has lots of comfy seating and a full bar that has some really good options for non-drinkers. Plus, if you time it right, you can watch the sunset over The Bay. What better way to end a lovely weekend in Berkeley?
Where to Stay in Berkeley
I stayed at the Residence Inn Berkeley and can’t say enough good things, but there are tons of other places to stay in Berkeley too. Here are my recommendations:
Berkeley Y Hostel (Backpack)
The Berkeley Y Hostel is in a great spot right in downtown Berkeley. It’s all private rooms, with a shared lounge and kitchen. The facility is a little outdated, but it is kept clean. The surprising bonus is that staying at the Berkeley Y gets you access to all the facilities in the YMCA like the fitness center and pool.
Aiden by Best Western @ Berkeley (Budget)
Located in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, the Aiden by Best Western is a great find for budget travelers. Clean and comfortable, this newly renovated, modern hotel has all the necessities for a great stay without breaking the bank. Not only is it walking distance from most attractions downtown, but guests can also take advantage of the guest bikes to explore even further. It has everything you’d need as a base to explore the city.
Residence Inn Berkeley (Mid-range)
I said it earlier and I’ll say it again. I can’t recommend the Residence Inn Berkeley enough. The downtown location is great. It’s right by the BART station but it’s still super quiet and chill inside. Everything is clean and bright and modern, and the rooms are really spacious. They even come with kitchenettes and sitting areas with sofa beds.
The shared spaces are incredible too. They have a great fitness center and the lobby has lots of seating. The included breakfast is surprisingly good too. But best of all is the rooftop bar and lounge. It’s a gorgeous, modern space that’s perfect for taking in the stunning views around Berkeley. 10/10 would stay here again!
Graduate Berkeley (Luxury)
If you’d told me a hotel could blend glamour and quirkiness, I wouldn’t have believed you. And then I saw the Graduate hotel. It’s got this crazy mix of furnishings and art and architecture that shouldn’t go together but just do. It’s located a little east of downtown (it’s past Telegraph Avenue) but it’s still in a really convenient location. It doesn’t have typical luxury amenities like a pool or fitness center, but it makes up for it with an onsite coffee shop and bike rentals.
Things to Do in Berkeley in 3 Days and Beyond
If Berkeley in 2 days just isn’t enough, I’ve got you. Here are a few other unique things to do in Berkeley if you find yourself with some extra time in the area:
Go on a Food Tour
One of the first things you’ll notice about Berkeley is the food scene. It’s super international with tons of amazing eats. There’s no way you’ll get to them all with just a weekend in Berkeley. But if you’re a foodie, why not take a food tour of Berkeley? Tours like this one will take you to some of the top places and let you sample the best of what they have to offer.
Soak in Some Art and Film
If you’re into art, don’t miss the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. It’s a bit on the small side but there’s a shocking amount of incredible art inside. The exhibits change regularly and include both permanent art and stuff that’s on loan. When the theater shows unusual classic films, it’s sometimes accompanied by talks from film professors or directors.
Pro tip: If you’re there on the first Thursday of the month, admission is free but it’s worth visiting any time.
Take in a Show
Did you know Berkeley has a world-class theater right in the heart of downtown? Berkeley Repertory Theater hosts traveling troupes and puts on excellent performances. Several of their shows have even made it to Broadway! If you’re into live theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater is definitely a place to check out. Ticket prices are reasonable and all the seats are really good.
Stop and Smell the Roses
It’s at its best from May to July, but hey, the best time to visit Berkeley is in the summer anyway. Try to find some time to check out the Berkeley Rose Garden. It’s a small garden up on a hill north of UC Berkeley that’s simply stunning when the roses are blooming.
I’m so glad I was able to finally make a visit to Berkeley happen and now that I know how amazing it is, I’ll be sure to return again in the future.
Tell me: What do you think of this 2-day Berkley itinerary? What do you think are the best attractions in Berkeley?
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