With upscale boutiques, relatively few panhandlers, and not a head shop to be found, the artsy and upscale Fourth Street area defies some of the less flattering Berkeley stereotypes without devolving into a soulless yuppie wasteland.
A visit to the East Bay Vivarium (1827 Fifth St., 510-841-1400, EastBayVivarium.com) is exciting enough on its own to warrant a trip to West Berkeley. The country's oldest and largest retail herpetological (that means reptile) store, the Vivarium sells snakes, turtles, spiders, lizards, and other exotic animals — some for $1,000 or more. Even if you have no intention to bring home a new pet, wandering through the store is always fascinating, especially if you're lucky enough to catch them at feeding time.
For a more relaxing experience, check out Teance (1780 Fourth St., 510-524-1696, Teance.com), a beautiful artisanal tearoom and shop offering high-end teas and tea accoutrements from all over the world. The staff can talk about tea varieties much like a sommelier would describe wine, and the shop offers Friday evening classes on the tastes and nuances of different types of tea.
One of the neighborhood's most exciting and best-kept secrets is the low-profile consignment shop Sola Lucy (803 Delaware St., 510-526-8611), which strikes the perfect balance between thrift (think cheap and ragged) and vintage (think rare and expensive) secondhand shopping. This tiny store has racks full of barely used designer clothing at very reasonable prices: A recent trip turned up three new-looking Marc Jacobs sweaters for $30 each.
Don't miss: Chocolatier Blue (1809 Fourth St., 510-665-9500, ChocolatierBlue.com) offers a delicious "aphrodisiac collection" of truffles in creative flavors like red wine, sassafras, and "champagne & popcorn." ... You could easily miss the Ketér Salon (1815 A Fourth St., 510-849-0306, KeterSalon.com) with its small sign on the second level above the Builder's Bookstore, but this chic and colorful hair salon is among the best in the East Bay. ... Castle in the Air (1805 Fourth St., 510-204-9801, CastleintheAir.biz) sells lots of beautiful things that you probably don't really have to have but will surely want to buy anyway, such as fancy paperweights, vintage craft supplies, art books, and stationery. They also offer art and craft workshops.