Explore artist studios and upscale, irresistible stores

When Berkeley was young, Fourth Street was where work got done.Odoriferous tanneries softened hides into fine leather, andmetalsmiths made sparks fly while potters spun wet clay and laboredin the mouths of red-hot kilns. Today, this popular shopping streetis a marketplace for artful housewares, retro furnishings, woodentoys, and other tactile delights. Bins of polished stones at theGardener (1836 Fourth St.; 510/548-4545) beg to be touched. Thethick Japanese paper at Miki's Paper (1801 Fourth; 510/845-9530)beckons to be folded between one's fingers. And it's impossible tostep inside Cody's Books (1730 Fourth; 510/559-9500) or BuildersBooksource (1817 Fourth; 800/843-2028 or 510/845-6874) withoutflipping through a volume.

If so much fine craft leaves you yearning to make things, stopat one of the newest additions to the street, the Art Gym (1717DFourth; 510/527-0600), a reminder of the devotion to manual workthat once defined west Berkeley. It's a studio structured like agym: for a $10 day pass (or a monthly fee), you can rent space topaint, draw, or model clay and, if you wish, display theresults.

"When the Art Gym opened, we expected to get people who made artpart-time at their kitchen tables," says artist and volunteerElizabeth Taylor. "We ended up with quite a few professionals,people who have studios but get tired of working in isolation.Where else can you interact with other artists, then take a breakand walk to Bette's Oceanview Diner (1807 Fourth;510/644-3230)?"

If you're willing to venture beyond the main commercial strip,you'll discover, within walking distance, places where the artisantradition lives on. In the area stretching from Gilman Street toUniversity Avenue west of Sixth Street, nine pottery studios formthe bulk of the West Berkeley Artisan District.

The Berkeley Potters Guild (731 Jones St.; 510/524-7031) is theoldest and largest clay-arts guild on the West Coast, with studiosfor 19 ceramic artists as well as a gallery. On Saturdays (or byappointment), wander through a pretty back garden at Mary LawPottery (1421 Fifth St.; 510/524-7546) to find Law's Asian-inspiredwares, or check out the high-fired porcelain and stoneware at HoltCeramics (1449 Fifth; 510/527-4183). All three will remind you thatthe most beautiful objects retain the touch of human hands.

FINDING FOURTH STREET Fourth St. is in the middle of the WestBerkeley Artisan District, bounded by Gilman St., Sixth St., andAshby Ave. To reach the area, exit I-80 at University Ave., make aleft on Sixth, then left on Hearst St., then right on Fourth.

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