Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of The Berkeley Graduate’s new graduate student orientation edition.
As a graduate student in the Bay Area, you are fortunate to be living close to some incredible natural and cultural attractions, many of which are free or very inexpensive. Between BART, AC Transit, CalTrain, Amtrak, CityCarshare and ZipCar, there are many places within easy reach, even if you don’t own a car.
The Sonoma Coast: Best known for its grapes, Sonoma County is also home to a rugged coast that boasts secluded beaches, great seafood, and the only Russian colonial outpost in the lower 48. Don’t Miss: Bodega Bay, home to the Tides Restaurant—parts of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds were filmed there and it has a great selection of seasonal seafood; Goat Rock State Park,where impossibly smooth sections of rocky sea stacks are thought to represent ancient backscratchers for wooly mammoths; and Fort Ross, which from 1812-1841 represented the far eastern extent of the Russian America Company’s vast fur trade empire.
Monterey: Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is now a tourist destination, and Monterey and the surrounding area make a great day trip from Berkeley. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its wide array of sea life and interactive displays. Get up close and personal with sea otters (within the legally established limits, of course) on a kayak tour of Monterey Bay. Just south of town, visit quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea or take the scenic 17-Mile Drive past the world famous Pebble Beach golf course.
The Delta: Just a short drive east of the Bay Area lies the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta, a vast bucolic backwater rich inhistory. A maze of sloughs, levy roads, and free ferries lead you through California’s boating capital. Rio Vista offers some interesting dining options, while Locke showcases the region’s rich Chinese history. On the way home, drive through the Montezuma Hills and marvel at the gigantic modern wind turbines spinning right next to the 19th century windmills of former homesteads.
Golden Gate Park: Closer to home lies San Francisco’s answer to New York’s Central Park. Stretching for 3 miles from the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury District to the Pacific Coast at Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Park is home to various museums and other attractions. The Conservatory of Flowers features a variety of amazing plants; the California Academy of Sciences is open again and offers exciting science exhibits and nightlife; and the de Young Museum boasts an eclectic collection of art from the worldover. Also check out the buffalo herd or attend one of the many annual events such as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass concert in the park. At the end of the day, watch the sunset at the Beach Chalet at the western end of the park.
Point Reyes: Jutting into the Pacific from Marin County, Point Reyes is one of the most beautiful and desolate places in the Bay Area. Legend has it that famous British explorer Sir Francis Drake landed in the area in 1579, and you can take the road that bears his name all the way to land’s end where the National Park Service maintains the historic lighthouse. Or check out the reconstructed Coast Miwok village at Kule Loklo near the Bear Valley visitor’s center. You can also see the Tule Elk herds at the northern part of the park or visit one of the area’s many beaches, such as Limantour or the sheltered Heart’s Desire beach on Tomales Bay. Stop in Point Reyes Station to snack on artisan cheese or hit up one of the many barbecued oyster stands around Point Reyes and Tomales Bay.
Wine Country: Napa and Sonoma Valleys produce some of the world’s finest wines, and it is no surprise that they make a great getaway for bleary-eyed grad students or for vacationing parents. Tastings run the gamut of all price ranges and interest levels; be sure to check the tourist information centers for special deals. If wine isn’t your thing, check out the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, get a mud bath or great BBQ in Calistoga, or visit Mission San Francisco Solano—the last of the 21 Spanish missions to be founded in California and now a state historic park in downtown Sonoma.
More options: If you’ve got a whole weekend to spare, there are a number of other exciting destinations within a few hours’ drive from Berkeley. Go skiing in Tahoe, double down on your GSI paycheck in Reno, admire the majestic beauty of Yosemite, go condor-spotting at Pinnacles, become one with it all at Big Sur, gaze upwards among the redwoods in Humbolt County, or check out California’s golden heritage in the hills around Placerville.