UC Berkeley is sometimes a tough nut to crack. It can be tricky to navigate and can often feel like a constant barrage of obstacles to clamber over. Sometimes, however, inside that nut are hidden gems. And one of those gems — a crown jewel, per se — is the Lawrence Hall of Science.
The Lawrence Hall hovers above the campus, a place you’ve probably seen at least peripherally but haven’t actually traversed. It’s perched on the hill that also houses the iconic Big C, on a winding road up into Berkeley’s tree-lined border.
It’s a little out of the way from the typical campus haunts, and it’s a diversion from the dorm-Dwinelle-Telegraph restaurant circuit. Getting there requires a hike, but nothing too time-consuming — maybe 25 minutes. The walk is steep, but the route features other off-the-beaten and noteworthy pit stops such as the Strawberry Canyon Pool or the UC Botanical Garden. There’s also a shuttle option that leaves from various points on campus if you’re looking for something more direct.
Once at the top of the hill, Lawrence Hall has one of the best views of campus and of San Francisco. From this vantage point, a panorama of the entire bay is visible, and on a sunny day, you can see the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s really lovely and also a great place for watching the sunset.
After the trek up, a visit to the hall itself is definitely worth it. Lawrence Hall is full of cool science-related exhibits and activities, many of which are Bay Area-related and often interactive. It’s the type of science museum that evokes all the best and most wondrous parts of sciencey stuff that makes everyone want to be a cryptobiologist (or something). The hall also has a full planetarium to get a rare peek at a full sky of stars.
For other celestial intrigue, there’s also a funky-looking sculpture outside the hall that, if you happen to be there at noon on the autumn or vernal equinox, is positioned to cast a single beam of light through the center of the sculpture. It’s also just cool to look at on a regular day. Or, if you tire of the semesterly llamas that appear on campus, you can pay a visit to Lawrence Hall’s chinchilla trio, Marcy, Peanut and Cashew.
The building itself also has some unexpected panache to it. The hall was built in 1968, and it retains that sort-of-antiquated futuristic design that looks a little out of place, like some of the more brutalist campus structures. Lawrence Hall was used as the control center in the 1970 science fiction film “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” so, at the very least, a visit means the acquisition of some film trivia.
So do it. Bring your student ID (which gets you in for free) and take the hike up to the hall to ponder and decompress from the stress of Berkeley. Or take the shuttle and lean your head out the window to see the redwoods as you pass through a previously unseen part of campus. Maybe you’ll even see a cougar in the hills — but, at the least, you’ll see Pheena, the hall’s resident life-size fin whale replica. It’s a great place to explore with friends or to go for a solo trip. However and with whomever you go, it’s worth the trek up the hill.