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D.J. LaCap Shares Essential Tips for Urban Exploration

D.J. LaCap Shares Essential Tips for Urban Exploration

Walking tours, amazing views, and inspired dining all help make Berkeley an unforgettable destination

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For D.J. LaCap, a career in hospitality is more than just a job—it’s practically kismet. Born and raised in the Bay Area, LaCap currently works as the director of rooms for the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Berkeley Marina. But LaCap got his very first on-the-job hotel experience before he was even born. 

While expecting her son, LaCap’s mother served as a guest room attendant at the Parc 55 Hilton Hotel in San Francisco. Fast forward two-plus decades, and LaCap found himself holding a similar position at the very same establishment. His mom’s former colleagues got a kick out of the coincidence. “‘There goes the Parc 55 baby!’ they’d say,” LaCap laughs. Clearly, the hotel life was in his blood. 

Berkeley is not your ordinary metropolitan city,” according to LaCap, who notes that the reformist roots that made Berkeley a hotbed for the Civil Rights and Free Speech movements are still central to the community today. “It’s a revolutionary town. The people here are focused on creating a better place, not just for Berkeley, but for the world.” 

Explore the beating heart of Berkeley’s progressive streak at the university which, according to LaCap, lends the city its “college town” feel. Take a self-guided walking tour of University of California, Berkeley to learn about the campus’ rich history and find the 23 bear statues hidden throughout. LaCap recommends enjoying some people-watching—as well breathtaking bay views—from atop the Campanile, a stone clocktower that sits above campus. Don’t miss the Botanical Garden at UC Berkeley, which features 13,000 plants from around the world, as well as a local redwood grove.   

Sample local cuisine in the birthplace of the California farm-to-table movement with a meal at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famed restaurant that started it all. Other exceptional eats include “the best tacos in the Bay Area” at Tacos Sinaloa; boba tea from Purple Kow (“a classic”); and LaCap’s favorite sushi at Iyasare. The DoubleTree’s Berkeley Boathouse is also a great choice for guest-favorites like kung pao brussels sprouts, the cheeseburger, and the fried chicken sandwich. Go there in the early evening to catch a stunning sunset. “If Karl the Fog isn’t interrupting us,” LaCap notes, using a local moniker for the marine layer, “you get the beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco.”

Don’t leave Berkeley without bringing something special home. The area’s family-owned focus makes it easy to search for unique finds. Score one-of-a-kind art at 4th Street Fine Art or Acci Gallery Arts & Crafts. Satisfy your sweet tooth with per-pound candy and gifts at Sweet Dreams Candy and Boutique. Or find something with a unique Berkeley feel at Fern’s Garden, a mesmerizing little shop full of windchimes, crystals, and wall art. 

No matter where you go in town, if you find yourself at the DoubleTree, LaCap says he’ll make sure you have a great time. “One of the reasons I’m in hospitality is to see people smile,” he says. “Meeting strangers and having them trust me with their itinerary is such a privilege.” 

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LaCap loves these local hotspots too—they’re popular with longtime residents and first-time visitors:

Perfect pizza: “For a slice and a beer go to Jupiter on Shattuck. It’s definitely my brewery-and-pizza-joint spot. One of my favorite things about the restaurant is their outdoor patio—it’s kind of like a beer garden surrounded by red brick with heat lamps and fire pits.” 

Happy trails: “For a beautiful hike, go to Tilden Regional Park. There’s a 4.5-mile loop that starts in the redwood trees and then goes into the foothills of Grizzly Peak and works you back down the outskirts of U.C. Berkeley with lots of inclines and declines. You can take your dogs there—I go with my German shepherd and my little dachshund.” 

Art houses: “Find emerging local artists at 4th Street Fine Art (an art gallery and working studio) and Acci Gallery Arts & Crafts. They’re great places to meet artists, see art, and you can shop there, too.” 

Special sprouts: “The best Brussels sprouts in the area are made by Chef Matthew Thomas at our hotel’s restaurant, The Berkeley Boathouse. They are covered in peanuts and a kung pao glaze. Really great. We have hotel regulars come back to stay with us and ask, “Do you guys still have the Brussels sprouts?” 

Best of wurst: “For a kid-friendly restaurant that has really good food, go to Gaumenkitzel. It’s German organic slow food.” 


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