The San Francisco Bay Area is home to dozens of colleges and universities, both public and private, but two stand out both in national rankings and in the minds of people worldwide – UC Berkeley (“Cal”) and Stanford. UC Berkeley is the flagship, and original campus, of the University of California, which has campuses statewide. Cal was the first, and is still the campus with the best name recognition. In addition, the campus boasts both scenic beauty, and architectural landmarks.
Stanford, (a private university), also is worth a visit when you are in the Bay Area. The only problem is that it is not very convenient from San Francisco if you are using public transportation. You need a combination of BART, CalTrain, and bus. Cal, on the other hand, is amazingly simple. From EC San Francisco, walk one block to Montgomery BART, and get on a Richmond train. Ride about 20 minutes, and get off in downtown Berkeley. From the BART station, it is one short block to Oxford Street, which marks the west side of the UC Berkeley campus.
Cal is built on a slight slope, as it is at the foot of the Berkeley hills, so a walk onto the campus (and up through it) is a gentle uphill stroll. The topography has allowed the campus to retain a great deal of natural beauty, in spite of being densely covered with lecture halls. If you cross Oxford from Center Street (walking up the street from BART), you come rapidly to a lovely woodland path which immediately crosses a small stream, Strawberry Creek, which flows through the campus from the canyon above. The short stretch between the first two bridges has been left in a natural state, displaying California Redwoods, California Live Oak, and California Bay Laurel trees. One often sees California Fox Squirrels in the area. It is hard to believe one is literally minutes away from a busy downtown, and in the midst of one of the great educational institutions of the U.S.
Besides the calming natural areas of the campus, there are noteworthy buildings and architectural features. South Hall is one of the two original buildings of the campus. Near it is the main library. If possible, go into the reference room to have a look at the vaulted ceiling. Just above the library and South Hall is the famous Campanile, a copy of one in Italy, which is a great place to see the campus and Berkeley from above. Atop the tower, you can also see the operating booth for the carillon, a set of massive bells that is played each day at noon. It’s not a great idea to be on the top of the tower when the concert is being given. Those bells are LOUD!
If you want a bit of history as you come onto the campus, duck into the Valley Life Sciences building (on your left just after you cross the second bridge across Strawberry Creek. Scientists from UC have played a major role in the search for, and research on, dinosaurs, and in the lobby of the LSB, you can see a complete T. Rex (resin casts of the original found by Cal anthropologists), as well as other dinos. The display is not extensive, but it does have impact (and it’s free).
There’s a lot more to see if you are interested. The famous Sather Gate (once the entrance to the campus, before UC grew and swallowed a street). Famous Sproul Plaza, which was the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement,” in which UC students claimed their civil rights as Americans to express their opinions (even in opposition to University policies), and Telegraph Avenue, a center of student life, packed with street vendors and Berkeley characters (some of whom have been “hanging out” on Telegraph for over 30 years).
UC Berkeley is really a worthwhile trip from San Francisco, and provides a nice break from the heavy urban vibe of The City. Berkeley itself has many fine restaurants, a folk music club that is world famous (The Freight and Salvage Coffee House), and the Bay Area’s second professional theater company, Berkeley Repertory Theater. Cal boasts Zellerbach Hall, where Cal Performances showcases the finest talent in performing arts from around the world. There’s a huge amount to see and do in San Francisco when you are an English student at EC San Francisco, but, for a change of pace, give the East Bay a try too.