High in the hills above the University of California, Berkeley campus, the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre is an idyllic place to see concerts by leading musicians in an incomparable open-air setting. Surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees, the Greek Revival theater with its stately columns looks out on such campus landmarks as the Sather Tower campanile, then over Berkeley and to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
The first events took place here in 1903 and the Greek Theatre is considered the country’s longest-running outdoor amphitheater. It certainly has an incomparable pedigree. After all, how many venues can boast a history that ranges from a commencement speech by President Theodore Roosevelt to a pair of appearances by the 14th Dalai Lama and a 2021 concert by singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers? Not to mention 29 performances by the Grateful Dead. Other artists who have played The Greek in recent years include Bob Dylan, Brandi Carlile, Yo-Yo Ma, and John Legend.
While most people just call it “The Greek,” the theater’s full name honors the legendary mogul and newspaper publisher (and builder of Hearst Castle) who financed the construction. Noted architect John Galen Howard designed The Greek and is also responsible for such nearby campus landmarks as the University Library and Sather Gate. Howard was assisted by Julia Morgan, the pioneering and prolific architect of more than 700 buildings in California, whose works include Hearst Castle and the Berkeley City Club. About a mile from The Greek, the club’s hotel and restaurant (named in honor of Morgan) are both open to the public.
A national historic landmark, the venerable theater may seem unchanged from the early 1900s but it has undergone a series of improvements over the years that blend beautifully with Howard’s original design. In 2019, the North Plaza and Terrace areas were added near the box office. The North Plaza has food concessions, and you can enjoy a specialty drink or a glass of sparkling wine from the Terrace while taking in a panorama that includes views of the stage and San Francisco Bay. Insider tip: Regulars at the Greek Theatre recommend bringing seat cushions to help soften the hard benches and to pack a blanket or two in case the night turns cold and foggy.
Berkeley has one of the country’s liveliest dining scenes and before or after a show you can savor dinner at a number of outstanding restaurants nearby—including the farm-to-table cuisine at iconic Chez Panisse and the Oaxacan-inspired modern Mexican dishes at Comal.
A few blocks from The Greek near the corner of Hearst and Euclid Avenues, you’ll find a number of quick-and-casual restaurants with a diverse range of global flavors. Try the authentic Nepalese and Tibetan specialties at Momo Masalas. For more than 50 years, Bongo Burger has been a go-to spot for Cal students, thanks to its Persian-style lamb burger served on a long roll. Seoul Hotdog is a more recent arrival and has brought Korean-style hot dogs to Berkeley. Think corn dogs with attitude, because these creations come not only in beef but with three vegetarian alternatives, plus and squid ink and sweet potato batter options.
While you’re in Berkeley, be sure to take advantage of this unique city’s eclectic cultural destinations. Music lovers should definitely set aside time to browse the virtually limitless collections at Telegraph Avenue’s Rasputin Music and Amoeba Music. Also on Telegraph, Moe’s Books has been the place for Berkeley bibliophiles since 1959 and carries a huge inventory, including a thoughtfully curated selection of rare books. And since its 1968 founding, the Tony Award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre has premiered a number of plays and musicals that made it all the way from the Bay to Broadway, including American Idiot, the stage adaptation of the album by the East Bay’s own Green Day.