No. 48: Claremont, Hillcrest Road, The Uplands, Plaza Drive and Parkside Drive

ginkgo trees, hillcrest road, berkeley

Ginkgo trees provide fall color along Hillcrest Road.

While the intersection of Claremont and College avenues is in Oakland, the neighborhood called Claremont is mostly in Berkeley. Hillcrest Road is about two-thirds of a mile from the Rockridge BART station — a pleasant enough walk in itself, along a commercial stretch of College and the broad, tree-lined and fashionable stretch of Claremont.

Chicken mailbox

Mailbox, The Uplands

For a 1.5-mile walk, start at Hillcrest and Claremont, heading uphill through a massive pair of stone pillars marking the neighborhood boundary. Two young ginkgos are covered in brilliant yellow leaves, and have shed a golden carpet over the sidewalk. As you climb, you pass an eclectic mix of brown shingled houses, Tudors and Mediterranean-style manors. It’s architecturally similar to the Trestle Glen neighborhood, but with a less-formal feel. You’re unlikely to find a rustic mailbox shaped like a chicken in Trestle Glen!

Hillcrest makes a sharp switchback as it climbs the hill. You could take a shortcut using The Steps, one of a half-dozen named pedestrian ways in the neighborhood, or stay on the sidewalk. California’s whimsical idea of “fall” means that, while you’ll pass flaming liquidambars and naked persimmon trees covered with brilliant fruit, you’ll also see roses and bougainvillia in full bloom.

I chose another passage, The Crossways, to cut downhill through a tunnel of trees to The Uplands. This street is popular with joggers and dog-walkers; it’s steep enough to provide a real workout. Turn left on El Camino Real and use The Cutoff, another pedestrian way, to drop down again to Plaza Drive. 

At this point, you have a choice: Turn left and use Plaza to return to Claremont Avenue, or right and use Parkside Drive. There is a mini-park at the corner of Plaza and Parkside, and a trail that threads the narrow median between Parkside and The Uplands. Both routes have their charms; the shingled houses along Plaza are especially lovely, but I also like the relatively modest bungalow on Parkside that has its own tiny polled-sycamore alley .

As you get close to Claremont Avenue and rejoin The Uplands, you will suddenly hear Claremont Creek chuckling beneath your feet. It comes above ground in the yard of a large white Victorian with a grapevine fence, then runs along Claremont Avenue down to Hillcrest. Perhaps drawn by the open water,  wild turkeys have been seen crossing Claremont in this block.

Getting there: Hillcrest Road crosses Claremont Avenue east of College Avenue and west of Ashby Avenue. Rockridge BART is about two-thirds of a mile away, and buses run along Claremont.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Dark Carnival Bookstore, at Claremont and The Uplands, specializes in science fiction, fantasy and  mystery novels. Its narrow aisles and overstuffed shelves make it a unique shopping experience. The complete geek will want to visit The Escapist comic book store, two doors down. If you want more elevating literature, head uphill a few doors. Turtle Island Book Shop specializes in antiquarian and out-of-print books, and Afikomen carries books with Jewish themes along with other Judaica. Both Star Grocery and the Semifreddi bakery and cafe nearby sell refreshments.

More information/accessibility note: Claremont Avenue and The Uplands are accessible (although strenuous) for reasonably fit people using manual wheelchairs. Plaza and Parkside drives would make a short, nearly level loop. None of the pedestrian ways I saw was accessible; most are too steep and others use steps.

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