College Town Getaways: Berkeley's Classy Shopping
April 26, 2006
A male friend described 4th Street in Berkeley, CA, as "a bunch of shops you don't need" -- which is precisely the point! This is a totally fun shopping (and dining) destination. We had a wonderful business lunch at Café Rouge, a lively French bistro where the carnivores reign (including the carry-out butcher counter at the rear), and I splurged on truly mouth-watering steak frites.
4th Street Berkeley -- how can I count thee the ways? You're a few minutes from the University of California-Berkeley and its deliberate disregard of the fashionable, yet you offer Crate and Barrel Outlet, Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, Peet's Coffee, Design Within Reach, Mephisto, Sur la Table and more. Of course, these are the West Coast usuals, but they're not all easily found just anywhere. And then come more local specialities like Cody's Books. After all, this few-block area is still deeply Berkeley-fied, resisting upscale but embracing it with quiet panache at the same time. You get it both ways -- bursts of the unusual and funky mixed in with the predictable.
Let's not forget the theme of this blog meditation. If you are doing the college visits, and you're not fully of the Birkenstock or magenta hair legacies, then 4th Street will provide comfort and familiarity in your Cal-Berkeley journey -- a dose of alternative California balanced by the dependable faces of the high-end mall. Not everyone who's of deep Berkeley spirit, however, is happy about this transformation.
One of the hot new clothing scenes is Shoka, where original style dazzles the imagination. I always flock to Jest Jewels, a San Francisco fave on Union Street, and Margaret O'Leary (1832 Fourth St., 510.540.8241) found also in Marin County's Mill Valley and Montana Avenue in LA. These boutiques exist among quiet gardening stores and West Coast ceramics studios. And there are singular moments -- I plucked a pink dogwood branch, one of my late father's favorites and an East Coast staple, from a bucket at the artistic flower stall.
Word is that Eccolo, former Chez Panisse chef Christopher Lee's new space, is the trendy dining spot to check out, and that O Chamé, delivers the most authentic Zen Japanese ambience and California-Japanese culinary creativity (this from my pals who are frequent Asia travelers).
Northward a few blocks beyond the area is one of the few North Face outlets -- not well-advertised but a necessary pass-through, as you never know...