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Berkeley’s reimagined art museum and film archive takes center stage downtown

Reopened in 2016 in a splashy Diller Scofidio + Renfro building smack-dab downtown, BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive) has quickly become the city’s vibrant showpiece, and one of UC Berkeley’s standout cultural institutions. It’s hard to believe that some of the museum’s 83,000-square-foot space once housed a printing press. Now, it’s a soaring modern facility with ramps connecting minimalist art galleries and reading rooms. BAMPFA also doubles as a serious film destination, and art-house fans file into a 232-seat, state-of-the-art theater (the sound system was designed by the same company that recently overhauled Carnegie Hall) for screenings of everything from Golden Age of Hollywood classics to edgy new releases from all over the world. Talks with actors and filmmakers often accompany showings.

If you’re a fan of innovative contemporary art, this is one of the top museums in the country to visit. Since becoming part of the institution in 1978, the Matrix Program for Contemporary Art series has featured more than 275 exhibitions for the purpose of encouraging and nurturing new modes of artistic expression. Paintings and sculptures are joined by video, web pieces, mixed-media and musical performances, photography, and more.

Families visiting will find something for everyone—such as numerous hands-on activities, performances, and participatory events. On the second Saturday of every month, the museum offers Gallery + Studio two-part workshops, for kids ages 6–12 with accompanying adult(s), which include interactive gallery tours along with a related art project. A slightly less structured artistic experience can be had via the activities offered at the Fisher Family Art Lab.

Up in the building’s cherry-red eaves, Babette serves coffee, pastries, and full-on meals in a swoop of a space with peek-a-boo views over downtown and the Cal Campus. It’s a wonderful place to retreat after a movie, or share ideas on one of the museum’s intriguing exhibits.