What Every Student Should Know About Cal

Where to find a date, a protest, or a cheap textbook.

By the time that you’re a senior, your understanding of UC Berkeley is likely to exceed the one that you’ll get from the university’s printed orientation materials. But three years is a long time to wait for the down-low. Here’s a quick jumpstart on your education, starting with what they won’t tell you on the Cal web site: where to meet other hot college geeks.

Gyms are always prime pick-up territory, and as a student, membership to Cal’s Recreation Center costs a mere $10 per semester, which is not bad for unlimited access to weight rooms, handball courts, and did I mention exercise classes? Cafe-hopping on Bancroft may be a better technique for those whose appeal is based more on brainpower than brawn power. Grab a laptop and make some friends at the International House Cafe. If you’re not successful there, you can work your way down the hill to Strada and then Cafe Milano. For free wi-fi and decent food, check out Brewed Awakening on Euclid or Sufficient Grounds at Durant and Telegraph.

No luck in the cafe scene and over 21? Drown those lonesome sorrows in suds at Triple Rock in downtown Berkeley, where Cal grad students gather in bookish-droves on Thursday nights. On Wednesdays, the Shattuck Down Low offers $4 margaritas and discounts for students on salsa dancing lessons complete with live accompaniment. Two-left footers can skip the dance floor and hit up Blakes on Telegraph, where even the underage can frequently enjoy good shows at affordable prices.

Speaking of cheap, once you’ve roped in a date, you’ll need to find some inexpensive things to do together. The Pacific Film Archive offers $4 movies for students and free showings each first Thursday of the month. Albany Bowl also offers some great deals for students on certain nights of the week, including one where groups of ten or more students can rent shoes for free with their games. For daytime activities, head into the hills and tour the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and don’t forget to check out the neighboring Mather Redwood Grove while you’re there. The Botanical Garden is one of the best on the West Coast, and boasts more than 9,632 different species of plants. The Student Organic Garden can’t boast that kind of variety, but is closer to campus — plus, if you hang out there long enough you’ll make friends with the Berkeley Farmers’ Market crowd and soon find yourself drowning in tasty vittles.

For those of you who don’t make it to the garden or the market, Berkeley is a restaurant mecca. Hidden gems around campus that won’t gouge your wallet include Koryo for Korean barbeque, Cafe Intermezzo for salads and sandwiches, Top Dog for hot dogs, and the so-called “Asian Ghetto” at Durant Square for everything else. But the list wouldn’t be complete without La Val’s on Euclid, which deserves hidden-gem status for its stellar combo of pizza, beer, and entertainment at its downstairs “Subterranean Theatre.”

If you don’t mind spending a little more on evening entertainment, hit up a show at Zellerbach Hall, Cal’s classiest performance venue. Even with the student discount, going to a show at Zellerbach may require some serious penny-pinching — but as the school year proceeds, a little starvation will start to feel like a worthwhile exchange for a dose of non-dormitory culture. Another worthwhile investment is tickets to a show at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley’s largest outdoor music amphitheater, which boasts an eclectic lineup of shows. And if you can’t afford tickets, you can enjoy the show from adjacent Tightwad Hill, along with other monetarily challenged fans.

Up the road from the Greek is a landmark that has recently become better known for its foliage than its function thanks to the Save the Oaks campaign to prevent Cal from retrofitting the stadium and removing a grove of oak trees. That controversial treesit notwithstanding, fans still flock to Cal’s Memorial Stadium from all over the country and fill the stands on game days. It’s especially hard not to get sucked into the hype surrounding The Big Game, when Cal takes on its hated football rival Stanford. The tailgating and people-watching alone make this event a must-do for anyone who can enjoy an afternoon in the sun (or fog).

And if you truly want to see any changes on campus, skip the treesits and the protests on Sproul Plaza and go straight for the jugular. The nineteen appointed and seven ex officio members of the UC Regents make all the big decisions for the entire UC system. In other words, they’re the Man, and bosses to UC President Mark Yudof and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. The Regents meet six times per year in two-day meetings, most of which are open to public commentary. Birgeneau, Yudof, and the regents all have the unenviable task of dealing with a heap of state cuts to higher education.

Speaking of public commentary, thanks to its Free Speech Movement roots, Cal and its host city have a reputation for drawing liberals like moths to a flame. The most progressive student co-op on campus is a vegetarian, clothing-optional community called Lothlorian. Members of Lothlorian tend to be involved in the most radical student movements on campus, including efforts to Democratize the Regents and Free the UC from corporate affiliations. When they’re not eating tofu or composting food scraps, you’ll typically find these students in trees or at student government meetings protesting everything from nuclear proliferation to animal rights. These are the students on the frontlines of some of the better-known campus controversies, including Cal’s recent $500 million-dollar deal with oil giant BP to research biofuels.

But Cal isn’t all Al Gore-wannabes and crunchy granola hippies: the university also boasts plenty of treehugger-haters, as evidenced by the Facebook group, “Students Against Hippies in Trees,” which cropped up not long after the December 2006 treesit began. In addition to such purely reactionary groups, there are plenty of moderate to conservative groups on campus, such as the Berkeley College Republicans, which happens to be the largest college GOP organization in California. It provides support for Cal’s conservative magazine, the California Patriot, and its associated blogspot, the Cal Patriot Blog.

But the most popular spot to look for campus news and beyond is in the Daily Californian. And if you like the Daily Cal, you’ll love the Daily Clog. Like the paper, the Clog has a campus focus, but often covers citywide news and events relevant to student life. Another great online resource for students is the Berkeley Livejournal, which is a handy interactive forum for new students to learn about professors, classes, housing, and gripe about things like how impossible it is to navigate Cal’s online scheduling tool, Telebears.

Once you’ve mastered the tool and scheduled all those classes, it’s time to hit the books. But instead of spending heaps on overpriced books at the student store, first look for your required reading at Half-Price Books in downtown Berkeley or Moe’s on Telegraph.

Last but not least, head to the following online resources for more info on everything “Cal,” including progressive issues (Cal Disorientation Guide), online lectures (YouTube UC Berkeley), and Cal Greek life (CalGreeks.com). And read the East Bay Express to keep up with news and events around the East Bay.

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