A Gold Mine of History

Take a trip down Telegraph Avenue's storied past.

To visit Telegraph Avenue and the UC Berkeley campus is to embark on a time trip that spans the university’s Gold Rush-era foundation, the hippie 1960s, and post-millennium yuppiedom. In this topsy-turvy world, Nobel laureates share the sidewalks with street punks, student Olympians, frat guys, and, every so often, nude protesters waging a sit-in. You just never know who will show up or what they might do. Opened in 1869 with ten faculty members and forty students, UC Berkeley today boasts hundreds of acclaimed instructors and a diverse student body of more than 35,000. The site of some of the world’s greatest discoveries (vitamin E, the flu virus) and most-influential social movements (Free Speech, free love), the campus boasts historic architecture, serene glades, towering trees, and bronze statuary just steps away the ever-evolving and often rowdy culture of the avenue. What a trip.

A UC Berkeley campus tour starts with Sather Tower (aka the Campanile), which offers spectacular views, California’s largest clocks, and a thrice-daily carillon. Built in 1873, nearby South Hall is the oldest building on campus, and it joins the magnificent, recently restored Hearst Memorial Mining Building in the National Register of Historic Places.

Eisenhower was president when Moe Moskowitz founded the paperback shop that would eventually tower over Telegraph Avenue, and Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2087, MoesBooks.com) still carries the torch. New books and publishers’ seconds share the shelves with secondhand books on a mind-boggling range of topics, and rare treasures are curated in the antiquarian nook.

Fans of trip-hop and shoegaze, Ethel Merman and the Boredoms shop side by side at Amoeba Music‘s (2455 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-549-1125, Amoeba.com). Even local bands find space in the store’s vast acreage of bins, where flipping through new and used CDs and albums could commandeer the better part of a week. Posters, collector’s vinyl, videos, and — gasp — cassettes round it all out.

Update your Burning Man wardrobe or score a pair of perfectly worn-in vintage jeans at Mars Mercantile (2398 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-6711), Berkeley’s best source for vintage polyester, letterman jackets, crocheted vests, pinup swimsuits, girly blouses, and the shoes, hats, and maxi coats to go with them. Bring your high-quality cast-offs in for trade, and walk out with a whole new look.

Tie-dye is Berkeley’s signature look, and the weekend street vendors (Telegraph Ave. from Bancroft Way to Dwight Way) hawk a rainbow of groovy designs to outfit peaceniks of all ages. As you check out the belts, jewelry, ceramics, and message T-shirts, chat up the vendors for stories.

South of campus, the Smokehouse (3115 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-845-3640), has been charbroiling burgers and dogs since 1951. Light eaters can stick with the single; big appetites will lean toward a double chili cheese, plus a bag of thick, greasy fries and a soft-serve shake so thick, it barely gets through the straw. The meat-centric menu also includes a veggie burger (this is Berkeley, after all).

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