Why Berkeley, Calif., Is a Top 100 Best Place to Live

A College Town and More, Berkeley Ranks No. 6 on our 2015 Top 100 Best Places to Live

Matt Carmichael
On Friday, September 19, 2014 - 13:17
Sather Gate, the heart of the University of California, Berkeley's campus

When asked what makes Berkeley a great place to live, Mayor Tom Bates dives into a lengthy monologue. He cites the climate, people, university campus, transportation and proximity to San Francisco – all of which are valid answers. Then he sums it up with a laugh, “It’s all because of the mayor.”

Whoever deserves the credit, he’s right that this city of 113,000 has a lot of varied strengths. The city hasn’t lost its hippie-central charm – a walk down Telegraph Ave. will confirm that – but it’s added to it.

Now, Berkeley’s downtown is thriving, its startup culture rivals those of larger cities, and people and energy flock to the restaurants and clubs 24-hours a day on foot or via the BART subway. It continues to evolve. More than 1,000 apartment units are planned for downtown, according to Mayor Bates. Center Street is being converted to a ‘slow street’ to allow for a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment. The downtown subway station is getting a remake. The university continues to grow and expand. There is some tension between the city and the University of California campus that calls it home. Among other things, the student population is becoming more of a year-round presence, but many see the advantages of having a built-in, nonseasonal customer base.

Much effort has gone into keeping the graduates in Berkeley when they graduate, too. It’s paying off. Berkeley is increasingly seen as a hot destination for the 20-somethings, helping drive its foodie-culture and spur the new development downtown.

“More and more people who are moving in are the Millennials,” Mayor Bates says. “These are the innovators. These are the creators. These are the people who take chances.”


Matt Carmichael is a contributing editor and former editor-in-chief of Livability.com. He is a recognized authority on demographics, consumer trends, economic development and best places to live.