Blake Walsh

16 Free Things to Do in Berkeley, CA

  • Published 2022/12/27

Berkeley is one of the most famous cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, part of California‘s Alameda County.

It’s known for its liberal and diverse open culture, championed by the world-renowned University of California Berkeley, where the Free Speech Movement was founded during the 1960s.

Besides its university, Berkeley has rich arts and sciences and abundant natural wonders.

You can find lots of free attractions here, such as museums, gardens, hiking trails, and other recreational parks, making it one of the best tourist destinations in California.

Traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area can be costly, so these free things to do in Berkeley, California, will help you a lot during your trip.

Tour the Historic Telegraph Avenue

A sushi restaurant at Telegraph Avenue

Sheila Fitzgerald /

Telegraph Avenue is both the heart and symbol of Berkeley, historically known for serving as the main thoroughfare for the Free Speech Movement protests during the 1960s.

Today, Telegraph Avenue is as bustling as ever, this time because of its culturally diverse establishments all over the historic district.

While you can simply get lost along Telegraph Avenue, there’s a free app called the Telegraph Berkeley Historical Tour App that you can download for a self-guided tour of the district.

Shops at Telegraph Avenue

BrokenSphere, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can find specialty shops and boutiques here that blend rich 20th-century culture with present-day trends.

On top of its establishments, its wooded sidewalks and historical building facades add a lustrous charm to Telegraph Avenue, making it a must-see destination for photography and appreciation of American history.

Street vendor at Telegraph Avenue

BrokenSphere, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go Birdwatching at McLaughlin Eastshore State Seashore

McLaughlin Eastshore State Seashore is a bird-watching area located at the bayfront part of Berkeley along the Eastshore Freeway.

There are a lot of grasslands and wetlands here that are home to several small animals like squirrels and migratory birds.

It’s a scenic place that’s away from the densely populated urban districts of Berkeley, making it a great relaxation spot.

While it doesn’t have a beach, you have access to the San Francisco Bay through this park as well.

Best of all, McLaughlin Eastshore State Seashore is a state park, so access here is completely free.

See the Two San Francisco Bridges at Berkeley Marina

Aerial view of Berkeley Marina

Mark Schwettmann /

Right across McLaughlin Eastshore State Seashore is one of the most popular spots in the city: Berkeley Marina.

Berkeley Marina is a gorgeous scenic spot where you can take harbor photos as souvenirs.

Plenty of yachts are stationed here, glistening amid the strong San Francisco sun during a clear day.

Sunset over Berkeley Marina

Woodsg3 (talk) (Uploads), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are a couple of viewpoints here where you can see both the Golden State Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, making this a must-visit during your trip to Berkeley.

If you’re hungry or want to enjoy the views over coffee, there are a couple of cafes and restaurants here.

Cycle at Cesar Chavez Park

A cute owl at Cesar Chavez Park

DanielNevares /

A short walk from Berkeley Marina lies Cesar Chavez Park, a vast prairie with gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay.

Cyclists will have a relaxing and fun time at Cesar Chavez Park—few things are as pretty as cycling along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Besides biking, this park is also famous for kite-flying.

Landscape of Cesar Chavez Park

Staeiou, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re lucky, you might witness some of the largest kites you’ll see from the locals.

Full of picnic areas, Cesar Chavez Park also welcomes dogs without a leash.

Go an Urban Exploration of Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza

While the Berkeley Marina area is a popular tourist spot in the city, its bustling downtown area is just as good.

Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza is the ultimate location for urban exploration and people-watching.

There are benches throughout the plaza, and if you’re hungry, there are a lot of food stalls and cafes within walking distance.

Besides the establishments here, Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza is famous for its live music that accentuates the urban charm of the area.

Conveniently found at Shattuck Avenue near the train station, Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza is a great destination for city immersion.

Check Out the Campus of the University of California Berkeley

Entrance to the University of California Berkeley

David A Litman /

Few universities worldwide have the pedigree of the University of California Berkeley, so it’s a must to check out this public university on your trip.

Publicly accessible through Barrow Lane and Frank Schlessinger Way, the university features sprawling buildings with prestigious architecture.

There’s a lot to see here, most prominently the Museum of Paleontology, where you can visit the lobby to see a couple of dinosaur exhibits.

The grounds of University of California Berkeley

Sundry Photography /

You can also take photos of the iconic Sather Gate, which serves as the symbol of this prestigious university.

The University of California Berkeley is a must-see during your trip, as it’s the heart and soul of the city.

Library at University of California Berkeley

chuckstock /

Catch Events at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park

Just a block away from Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza lies Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

It’s a small park commonly used for all sorts of festivals and events because it’s in Downtown Berkeley.

One of the famous pop-up events here is the city’s farmers’ market, a great addition to your itinerary.

Even if there’s no interesting event during your visit, you can see the beautiful facade of the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center, which also doubles as the office of Berkeley’s city hall.

Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park is also a great place to interact with the city’s locals.

Enjoy Some Quiet Time at Berkeley Rose Garden

Daytime view of Berkeley Rose Garden

NicholasGeraldinePhotos /

Berkeley Rose Garden is perhaps one of the most romantic spots in the heart of the city, situated along Euclid Avenue.

A free city garden, this place is renowned for housing a thousand roses in varying colors, many of which you can see in its beautiful amphitheater.

Whether you go during the early morning or in the late afternoon, Berkeley Rose Garden is an ideal dating spot if you’re traveling with your spouse or lover.

Signage of Berkeley Rose Garden

BondRocketImages /

It’s large despite being within the city, making it an ideal place to explore for a few hours.

This place also has great views of the San Francisco Bay Area skyline.

A rose at Berkeley Rose Garden

Tzvi Miller /

Climb Indian Rock Park

Aerial view of Indian Rock Park

SnapASkyline /

Indian Rock Park may seem an unassuming place since it’s tucked away in a neighborhood, but it is one of the best free attractions in Berkeley.

As the name suggests, this park features massive, high-arching boulders that provide panoramic views of Berkeley’s skyline.

There are several ways to enjoy Indian Rock Park—you can watch the sunrise and sunset or admire the gorgeous city skyline at night.

Hikers at Indian Rock Park

Burkhard Mücke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the views, the rocks themselves are a sight to behold, a must-see for bouldering enthusiasts.

There are several climbing areas here with varying difficulties, accommodating all age groups.

You can access Indian Rock Park along Arlington Avenue.

Enjoy Sweeping Views of the Bay at Grizzly Peak

Stunning view from Grizzly Peak

Chris LaBasco /

If you want a higher elevation that gives you sweeping views of not only Berkeley but also San Francisco Bay, Grizzly Peak is your go-to place.

A hilltop area found in Tilden Regional Park, Grizzly Peak can be accessed by car through Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

It has one of the best views not only in Berkeley but also in the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Vegetation at Grizzly Peak

SRGK Studio /

If you’re into photography, you can get astounding evening cityscape shots of the two San Francisco Bridges here, glistening with all the city lights.

A free activity that won’t take much of your time, Grizzly Peak should be atop your list of attractions in Berkeley.

Sunset at Grizzly Peak

Arfactor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Animals at Tilden Park Little Farm

If you’re planning to go to Grizzly Peak, Tilden Park Little Farm is another free attraction within the regional park.

Tilden Park Little Farm is home to various farm animals that you can see up close and pet.

Closeup of a cow at Tilden Park Little Farm

Novelle Raylene /

Because it doubles as a petting zoo, this farm provides a great experience for young children fond of animals.

If you want animals to get chummy with you, bring lettuce and celery, as these are their favorites.

Tilden Park Little Farm can be accessed by car along Canon Drive.

Explore Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden

People strolling around the Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden

Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden is the third Tilden Park attraction that you can visit for free along Wildcat Canyon Road.

It’s a beautiful botanical garden that’s a great stop for nature lovers or those looking for a place to relax.

Sprawling with all kinds of plants and flowers, the scenic trails here make it an excellent spot for nature exploration.

Greenery at Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden

Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of endangered plants that are cared for here as well, so botany buffs will appreciate the place.

Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a beautiful spot for families and couples, providing one of the best outdoor experiences in Berkeley.

Brazilian room at Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hike Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

If you’re itching to hike, Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve is one of the best hiking areas in Berkeley.

Only about a mile long to complete, Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve is a great hiking destination for all age groups.

Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve covered with fog

DanielNevares /

The preserve is adjacent to Tilden Park, near the University of California Berkeley, making it a popular hiking spot because of its proximity to the city proper.

Like Grizzly Peak, you’ll get sweeping views of both Berkeley and San Francisco Bay here.

Indulge in Recreational Activities at San Pablo Park

San Pablo Park is one of the most famous urban parks in Berkeley, found along Ward Street.

It’s home to several sporting amenities such as tennis courts, basketball courts, and baseball fields.

If you’re not looking to break a sweat, San Pablo Park is also a famous spot in the busy districts of Berkeley for picnics and relaxation.

There’s a large playground here, making it a popular place to bring children.

If you have some downtime during your trip, the park is an excellent place just to kick back and take a breather.

Enjoy a Lakeside Stroll at Aquatic Park

Signage of Aquatic Park

Ameer Mussard-Afcari /

Aquatic Park is located south of Berkeley Marina, named because of a man-made lake that utilized a portion of San Francisco Bay.

The park became a sort of lake after a part of the bay got enclosed by the Eastshore Freeway, creating a scenic spot in the city’s busy streets.

There are many things to do at Aquatic Park, including a famous disc golf course that many locals enjoy.

Scenic view of the lake at Aquatic Park

Gareth Bogdanoff /

Even if you’re not into disc golf, you can simply enjoy the lake that’s home to a lot of ducks and fish.

There is also a unique wooden playground castle here for children, along with picnic tables for the whole family.

Duck at Aquatic Park

Gareth Bogdanoff /

Take the Kids to Adventure Playground

Play area at Adventure Playground

BR Fairbanks /

Adjacent to Berkeley Marina, Adventure Playground is a famous destination for families because of its quirky playground facilities that are fully enclosed.

The place is free as long as children are with their parents—otherwise, a fee is required if children will be left behind.

There are a lot of playground activities here that you won’t commonly find, such as a Game of Thrones throne replica, climbing spider nets, and a kiddie zipline.

A kid playing a piano at Adventure Playground

Paul Marcus /

Since it’s by Berkeley Marina, the place gets a great breeze from the bay, making it a relaxing place for visitors.

Quirky and unique, Adventure Playground is a must-visit destination with young kids.

Tunnel game at Adventure Playground

BR Fairbanks /

Final Thoughts

Berkeley is an amazing city in many aspects, most specifically its historical relevance, scenic outdoors, and multicultural urban life.

Places like Berkeley Marina, Grizzly Peak, Telegraph Avenue, and the University of California Berkeley are must-visit attractions that you won’t experience elsewhere in the country.

Best of all, many free attractions add to your adventures, like Indian Rock Park and Berkeley Rose Garden.

There is so much to unpack in this city, and this list of the free things to do in Berkeley, California, proves that you won’t have to spend much to enjoy your trip here.

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