Berkeley and Stanford: college rivals, on and off the field

 
LA Times | Travel
 

Spend four days as a student at Berkeley or Stanford and you'll owe the registrars about $200 in fees. But come as a tourist and they can't touch you. So now I know whose tower is taller (sorry, Stanford) and how to get up there. I know who took more of Frederick Law Olmsted's landscaping adv...

By Christopher Reynolds // 10.31.08
 

Spend four days as a student at Berkeley or Stanford and you'll owe the registrars about $200 in fees. But come as a tourist and they can't touch you.

So now I know whose tower is taller (sorry, Stanford) and how to get up there. I know who took more of Frederick Law Olmsted's landscaping advice (sorry, Berkeley), which campus has a nugget from early in the gold rush of 1849, which has the golden spike that connected the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. I know which owns reams of Mark Twain's papers, which owns Huey Newton's and which 19th century Stanford football team manager grew up to be a Depression president. I know which community rescued a beloved and faltering bookshop in 2005 and which didn't in 2006.

More to the point for travelers, I know where in Palo Alto to find one of the greatest ham sandwiches ever, where in Berkeley to lay hands on an ice-cream sandwich of jaw-dropping goodness, where you can swim in a Hearst-worthy swimming pool designed by Julia Morgan and where to look if an Umbrian hill town reports the theft of its glittering polychromatic church.

Why? Because my family and I headed off in late September for a look around these two schools, which, with all respect to USC and UCLA, represent California's original big-college rivalry.

In fact, if you think the presidential race is the only enduring blue-red rivalry that will come to some resolution this month, think again. This year's Big Game, the 111th since Berkeley (blue and gold) and Stanford (red and white) started squaring off on a football field in 1892, is Nov. 22 at Berkeley. (And, I'm told, we shouldn't call it "the big game." It's just Big Game, like Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Bird.)

Cal students warm up for it by lighting a huge bonfire and doing a war dance. The Stanford kids psych up by, um, staging a wicked musical theater production called "Gaieties." Say what you like about that -- Stanford leads the series, 55-44, with 11 ties.

Perhaps I should point out here that neither my wife, Mary Frances, nor I attended Cal or Stanford. In fact, one of us was rejected by both, and one didn't dare apply to either college. Also, although our daughter, Grace, can now count herself alongside the thousands of students who will check out these schools this year, Grace has not yet expressed preference. Then again, she's 4. (What, too soon?)

Anyway, the trip is a good time. Though incalculable distances in attitude and atmosphere separate these campuses, they're only 40 miles apart on the map. Beyond the considerable campus resources at both places, Berkeley and Palo Alto offer a range of lodgings and restaurants (although Berkeley's range is wider and Palo Alto's sidewalks are tidier).

And both schools send out undergraduates just about every day to lead free tours. Especially if you live in the orbit of UCLA and USC (which didn't play their first football game until 1929), there's a certain thrill in probing this exotic territory and no admissions officer to block your path.

For more lessons from Cal and Stanford:
• Embraced by the 'Stanford bubble'
• Berkeley changes with the times