Guidebook Review: Berkeley Walks

Berkeley is a walking town. No doubt about that. If you’ve got stamina and strong legs, you can visit or live here and spend your days walking to events, running errands, walking your dogs, or just going out for the fun of walking.

I’ve based myself in Berkeley and around The East Bay since 1985 and I’ve spent many days walking Berkeley’s streets, exploring its neighborhoods, or finding and climbing stairs and trails that meander up through the hills.

One afternoon a couple of months ago a copy of Berkeley Walks landed in my mailbox for review. I thumbed through it and noticed that it had a walk through my own Elmwood neighborhood. It occurred to me that while I walk a lot in this neighborhood, the only things I really know about it are the things that have happened since I started living in this neighborhood ten years ago.

It was time to change that!

Berkeley Walks: Revealing Rambles through America’s Most Intriguing City , by Robert E. Johnson and Janet L. Byron

One sunny Sunday, not long after getting the book in the mail, I set out on a walk of my neighborhood with my camera and the book open to page 146.

Berkeley is known for its foodie culture, brown-shingle Craftsman homes and diverse architecture, as well as its world famous university. It’s also known for its large population of smarty-pants, eccentric, and famous residents that live here. While walking on any one of the guided walks in this book, you’ll run into at least two of the things that Berkeley is known for – if not three or four.

As I walked around Elmwood I got to ask myself a number of surprising questions … Who knew that the painters Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff used to live in this neighborhood? Or that Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA just down the street? I actually did know that, but I didn’t know which apartment building she was abducted from. Bill and Hillary also stayed in the hood for a summer in an apartment building a few blocks away from where I park the pod. And who new that I’ve actually stood in Ted Kaczynski’s old living room when the place was for sale a few months ago. I thought the place had a strange vibe to it … :)

Along the way I met my neighbors, both those I knew and those I didn’t. They were curious as to what I was up to, hiking along with my camera slung around my neck and my nose in a book, and they stopped for the sake of curiosity and to allow me to read to them about the homes we were standing in front of.

The apartment that Patty Hearst was Kidnapped from.
The apartment that Patty Hearst was Kidnapped from.

The book is architecture-centric with a little bit of history. There are a few architect bios included within the pages. It doesn’t dive deep on each site, but you can always research things later. On my three-hour walk through the neighborhood I learned a little history about homes and buildings I had often wondered about but I also noticed the missing bits that only someone who lives in the neighborhood would know – like Farmer John’s spectacular corner veggie garden, the stylish eccentric woman who lives in a pod on the corner, the flaming yellow Gingko trees in the fall, or all of the dogs’ names – and that’s just my block!

My only finding-fault with the guidebook was the newspaper quality of the black and white images. (I know that having color images would have made it a heavier and more expensive book.) Otherwise, the book has excellent maps and the walking directions are easy to understand and follow. The book is a celebration of all things Berkeley and if you use it as your walking guide, you’ll feel just like a local. It’s an excellent guide for visitors and locals alike and it’s one of those books that’s nice to have around for when friends or family visit and you want to send them off on their own for an afternoon.

The authors, Robert E. Johnson and Janet L. Byron, are both long-time Berkeley residents with a true fondness for walking.

You can read more about them and the book here.

Gingko Trees on Hillegass
Gingko Trees on Hillegass