Happy Wanderer: Berkeley by App


HILLS NEWSPAPERS: March 4, 2011

Three little letters are changing the way we travel. Around the world, “apps” are helping tourists navigate the most interesting and exotic locales.

Take Berkeley, for instance. Exotic doesn’t begin to describe this unique destination, which now has its own iPhone, iPad and iTouch application, thanks to 30-year resident Lee Foster. Foster is a decorated travel journalist with 10 books, four apps and 200 worldwide articles and photo subjects on his website at www.fostertravel.com. For just $2.99, you can download his Berkeley Essential Guide on the Apple iTunes App Store and be ready to see our famous East Bay neighbor in a different light.

For instance, did you know that you can take a free guided tour of the Cal campus any day of the week? I’ve covered Berkeley every way but inside out over the years and didn’t know this tidbit. But there it is, included in Foster’s top five things to do in Berkeley — along with 119 other attractions. The campus tours include two architectural icons — Sproul Plaza and Sather Gate. “These are the narrow entry points into the university,” writes Foster, “which made them such a powerful focal point for political activists in the 1960s-70s.” You can also take the elevator to the top of the 307-foot high Campanile with its 61-bell carillon that chimes three times a day to see sweeping views of the East Bay and beyond.

Foster’s top picks also include The Cheese Board Collective, the famed employee-owned shop where you can taste cheese from around the world and hear live music during dinner when they serve slices of their eclectic pizza-of-the-day; Cesar Chavez Park, a scenic bayside park and wildlife refuge with a two-mile paved trail around the perimeter; three farmers markets (one each on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) where street-fair fun meets locally-grown produce and specialty foods; and the Berkeley Rep and adjoining Aurora Theatre — both highly professional, cutting edge companies that anchor the Downtown/Arts District.

Foster’s app organizes Berkeley’s attractions several ways, including alphabetically, by neighborhood and by category. He includes maps and myriad exquisite original photos, his specialty. Here are some of my favorite destinations, which he details beautifully:

Adventure Playground near Cesar Chavez Park — a free, hands-on park where kids (and their charges) can check out hammers and nails and wood and paint to build virtually anything their hearts desire. The biggest attraction is the zip line, which whizzes you down an exhilarating stretch of guide wire to a soft, sandy landing.

Looney’s Smokehouse — a barbecue joint and sports bar with big-screen TVs and some of the best short ribs in town. Sides include everything from cornbread to collard greens.

Wood Tavern on College Avenue (technically in Oakland but near the border) — an airy and unpretentious eatery with overstuffed sandwiches served with light, tangy slaw. I live and die for their pastrami.

Indian Rock Park (corner of Indian Rock Avenue and Shattuck) — a small but mighty spit of land with an impressive outcropping of rock that’s a favorite of climbers. Foster says noted environmentalist David Brower learned to climb here and even developed a manual on rock climbing that was used to train soldiers in World War II.

And finally — it’s not Snakes on a Plane, but rather snakes in a store. The largest collection of reptiles in a retail store in the country is located at Berkeley’s East Bay Vivarium. Foster says they even have a website with a virtual store “where you can pick up an 18-24 foot python for perhaps $500.”

From snakes to slow food, this new app at http://sutromedia.com/apps/Berkeley_Essential_Guide) proves the old idiom — only in Berkeley.

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