There’s an image of Berkeley that comes to most people’s minds when they think of the historic college city — sidewalks bustling with students and residents alike, protesters marching through the streets, free-spirited hippies filling in the spaces in between. But this image masks the nuances of each individual neighborhood in Berkeley; there’s something unique to be found no matter which area you decide to explore. And when you’re looking for housing, it’s important to keep the personalities of each neighborhood in mind.
High-rise apartment buildings, music venues and restaurants line the streets of Downtown Berkeley.
Located just one block west of campus, this neighborhood transports students who venture into the heart of Berkeley away from the college-student scene and thrown into the city.
Matthew Jervis, director of marketing and vitality for the Downtown Berkeley Association, said an “influx of millennials” is moving into Downtown apartments in recent years — a demographic shift, he said, has prompted the opening of bars and casual restaurants. Jervis added that a defining characteristic of the Downtown area is its diversity in food, art and music.
“That (diversity) really keeps this baseline hum of vibrancy that I haven’t experienced in such a small area,” Jervis said.
West Berkeley/Fourth Street:
West Berkeley is often associated with the name-brand stores such as Apple and Crate and Barrel that line its Fourth Street shopping district, located about two miles west of campus.
Because of its distance from campus, West Berkeley residents are predominantly single families. The area was traditionally a working-class neighborhood, according to Lawrence Grown, the executive director of the West Berkeley Design Loop.
“Historically, it’s a working-class neighborhood, so there’s a lot of small houses, a lot of small bungalows. It also has an industrial character,” Grown said.
Grown pointed out, however, that West Berkeley has not been immune to the gentrification that has impacted Berkeley in recent years, as evidenced by the many chain stores that draw in commercial revenue.
South Berkeley — an area once known for its vibrant Black community — is now home to coffee shops, vintage clothing stores and rising wealth from San Francisco.
“The effects (of gentrification) resulted in having less power — less opportunity — for people of color in Berkeley,” said Ben Bartlett, the City Council member representing the South Berkeley district. “And because Berkeley is so important for the Bay Area at large, it had negative impacts on people of color in the Bay Area.”
Bartlett added, however, that a small Black community still resides in the area, despite gentrification of the neighborhood during the past few decades. He emphasized that the mix of UC Berkeley students, middle-income families and senior citizens that composes South Berkeley’s residential population contributes to its diverse demographics.
“Young, unique and very Berkeley” are the words that Stuart Baker, executive director of Telegraph Business Improvement District, used to describe the Telegraph Avenue district located directly south of campus.
Dominated by students and filled with eccentric businesses that range from secondhand clothing shops to music stores, the Telegraph area encapsulates the vibrant and quirky atmosphere that has for years defined the city of Berkeley.
“There are a lot of businesses that are student-oriented, restaurants that are lower-priced than some other neighborhoods and items that cater to younger people — music, books and various other things,” Baker said.
However, Telegraph Avenue is also home to chain stores such as Chipotle and Brandy Melville, which replaced American Apparel earlier this year. For some, such stores indicate the increasing commercialization of the neighborhood, which poses a threat to its original character.
Directly north of campus lies an area populated by students — but a student population that differs in age from that of the Telegraph Avenue district. Here, many graduate students and professors frequent Euclid Avenue cafés and restaurants.
Carmen Arroyo, a barista at NorthSide Café — located across from the north entrance to campus — said she has noticed significantly fewer students on Northside, as compared to Southside. She noted, however, that some students tend to spend time north of campus during the academic year.
“If school is in season it’s super busy, but if it’s not, it’s a ghost town pretty much,” Arroyo said.
The northside is largely residential and lacks the multistory apartment buildings that are characteristic of Downtown Berkeley. Further north of campus, in North Berkeley, quiet tree-lined streets provide a peaceful — though expensive — living environment for Berkeley residents.
Upscale and family-oriented, the Elmwood neighborhood is known for its College Avenue restaurants that cater to a health-concerned, middle- and upper-class clientele.
Take Urban Remedy, an organic food company that serves juices and vegan meals located on College Avenue. On the same block stands Elmwood Cafe, a restaurant and bakery that often draws long lines for its weekend brunch.
The College Avenue heart of the Elmwood neighborhood is several blocks from campus, which distances it from the student-dominated environment of Southside because of both physical location and higher prices.