There is some debate among those who’ve lived in and around Rockridge over whether the neighborhood’s qualities make it more Oakland or Berkeley. Officially, it lies in Oakland, but since the neighborhood sits on College Avenue, the main drag connecting UC Berkeley and California College of the Arts, there is a collegiate aspect to the neighborhood that is somehow distinct from other Oakland ‘hoods. It may have million-dollar craftsman houses indistinguishable from the ones in Berkeley’s neighboring Elmwood, but Rockridge still has some Oakland swagger.
For the best cup of coffee — and the best people-watching — head over to Cole Coffee (307 63rd St., 6255 College Ave., 510-985-1958, ColeCoffee.com), where locals line up for a filter-brewed cup, made to order. Along with describing the flavor profiles of each variety, the menu denotes which are shade-grown, fair trade, or organic. If you want to take some home, you can buy freshly roasted beans at the store next door to the cafe.
À Côté (5478 College Ave., 510-655-6469, ACoteRestaurant.com) isn’t necessarily a secret: It’s been known as one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area for years, collecting accolades from Bon Appetit, Esquire, and The New York Times for its exquisite small plates. If the danger of dining at any tapas restaurant is that the bill fills up long before your stomach — the secret is to visit À Côté for late drinks and order a couple of items à la carte, like their famous mussels (cooked in Pernod) or the pommes frites.
While the East Bay certainly has a wide selection of vintage stores, if it came down to choosing just one, Pretty Penny (5488 College Ave., 510-594-9219, PrettyPennyClothing.com) would be the pick of the litter. The store consistently offers a meticulously curated selection of pieces in near-perfect condition. And, as a bonus, they recently expanded their offerings in both men’s clothing and footwear, now in a nifty new loft space.
A line of fine establishments (Bill McNally’s, George and Walt’s, Ye Olde Hut, and Barclays, to name a few) make this section of College Avenue a prime pub-crawl strip, but if you’re looking to pull up a chair and stay a while, the Graduate (6202 Claremont Ave., 510-655-8847) is the spot to do it in. With its busted neon sign, jukebox full of classics, $6 pitchers of PBR (or buck-fifty pints), $3 well drinks, and free popcorn, the Grad has all the fixings of the perfect dive bar.
The Shawl-Anderson Dance Center (2704 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley, 510-654-5921, Shawl-Anderson.org) started above the liquor store on the corner of College and Alcatraz in 1958, which means that the dance studio has been a Rockridge staple for more than fifty years. Today, the studio is located in a large, light-filled house just across the street, where you can find everything from ballet classes for kids to multi-level modern, jazz, and hip-hop classes for adults.
Don’t miss: If you’re in the neighborhood in the morning, don’t miss the jam-filled breakfast cornettas at Oliveto Cafe (5655 College Ave., 510-547-5356, Oliveto.com). … For more substantial fare, head across the street to Crepevine (5600 College Ave., 510-658-2026, Crepevine.com) (for the banana and caramel crepe) or Cactus Taquería (5642 College Ave., 510-658-6180, CactusTaqueria.com) (for empanadillas). … If you’re cooking something up at home, take a number at Ver Brugge Meats and Seafoods (6321 College Ave., 510-658-6854), where the helpful butchers will tell you how to prepare your purchases. … For any grooming needs, put yourself in the talented hands of the beauticians at the Brow Lounge (5916 College Ave., 510-428-9888), and you won’t be disappointed.