“This is the kind of shopping district you wished you lived near,” said my wife after we had parked and started walking toward a two-block-long stretch of what some might consider retail paradise. Although by no means shopaholics, we both appreciate a clean and inviting retail environment, especially an outdoor one (i.e., not a mall) that is often doused in Bay Area sunshine when winter brings a chilling fog to Sacramento. This day, we would stroll and savor the tree-lined, neatly kept and people-packed cluster of desirable shops and eateries that constitute Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping district.
Shopping: Compactness and walkability are among the many strengths of what is perhaps Berkeley’s most affluent yet artsy shopping street, a destination for folks throughout the Bay Area and beyond. For the purposes of our afternoon visit, we adopted a “horseshoe” approach, beginning on the northern end (at Fourth and Virginia streets), hoofing down by the west-side shops, making a U-turn at the Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (1919 Fourth St.) just before University Avenue, then heading back up the district’s east side. All the addresses listed below are on Fourth Street.
First we encountered Hydra (No. 1710), a cheerful health and beauty shop whose many wares include a quack collection of rubber duckies. Housed in what used to be an auto-body shop, spacious Cody’s Books (No. 1730) is the one remaining outlet of this Berkeley institution (the original Telegraph Avenue store closed in 2006) and has something to satisfy any reader. Look above the shelves to study black-and-white photographs of the many writers who have held book signings here (don’t miss the droll picture of David Sedaris). NapaStyle (No. 1760), one of several coveted upscale chain stores along Fourth Street, many without a presence in Sacramento, could be described as a fusion of Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma, with a heavy dose of Tuscany. Earthsake (No. 1772), another home accessories store, does 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winners proud with eco-friendly items such as 100 percent organic cotton sheets. At Peet’s Coffee & Tea (No. 1776), the shopping district does a cul-de-sac detour with a half-dozen more establishments, including The Pasta Shop (No. 1786), which is full of specialty cooking items, olives, condiments, cheeses and baked goods. Across the way, cookware-peddling Sur La Table (No. 1806) will delight shoppers who wish some Sacramento-area mall contained the popular store.
Back on the main drag, The Ark (No. 1812) struck us both as a charming, lower-tech toy store, what with its superballs, marbles and puppets. Inside, you don’t hear a lot of artificial toy noises, just children’s happy voices. The Gardener (No. 1836) merits more praise: a serene store of lovely high-end, nature-inspired items for the home and garden. Kiehl’s (No. 1848) and MAC Cosmetics (No. 1850), abuzz with 20-something trendsters when we walked by, are two of a number of popular cosmetics boutiques we spotted; Aveda (No. 1846) and Benefit Cosmetics (No. 1831) are right across the street.
After making a quick pilgrimage over to vintage-hip clothing and accessories mecca Anthropologie, just off Fourth Street at 740 Hearst Ave., we started heading up the district’s east side, where we came upon several women’s designer clothing boutiques—Lilith (No. 1833), Margaret O’Leary (No. 1832), CP Shades (No. 1829) and Erica Tanov (No. 1827)—all showcasing original, modern yet understated bohemian designs in gorgeous fabrics. Perfectly poised next to them is Rabat (No. 1825), a shoe establishment brimming with artfully displayed, superstylish yet comfortable-looking European lines. We passed Japanese handmade-paper store Miki’s Paper (No. 1801) and a trio of familiar home stores—a Crate & Barrel outlet (No. 1785), Restoration Hardware (No. 1733) and Z Gallerie (No. 1734)—before arriving back at our car, which we had parked for free just north of Virginia Street.
Eating: Breakfast is served all day at popular Bette’s Oceanview Diner (No. 1807), a longtime Fourth Street breakfast-and-lunch establishment with that classic mid-century diner ambiance. Next door, Bette’s To Go beckons with baked goods, pizzas, salads and sandwiches. For a casually elegant sit-down meal, consider Cafe Rouge (No. 1782) or Eccolo (No. 1820). Somewhere in between in terms of cost are Spenger’s, the venerable seafood dinner house (it opened in 1890), and Tacubaya (No. 1788), a Mexican taqueria that was bustling the day of our visit.
NEARBY ATTRACTION—Catering to the sophisticated tastes of Fourth Street shoppers and chocolate lovers everywhere is Scharffen Berger, an artisanal chocolate factory about 12 blocks away from Fourth Street at 914 Heinz Ave., between Seventh and Eighth streets. Take a free tour to learn all about cacao, see how these premier chocolate bars are made and sample a few of them post-tour in the temptation-packed gift shop. Reserve your tour in advance by phoning (510) 981-4066 or visiting scharffenberger.com.
How to get there: Take Interstate 80 west to Berkeley. Exit University Avenue, cross the overpass heading east toward the university, then turn left on Sixth Street, left on Hearst Avenue and right on Fourth Street.