Like the serene and regal oak that stands in its center, the Kensington Circle community has seen many changes over the years, endured and flourished. Though most online searches list the small, neighborly village as “Berkeley,” it lies where Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and unincorporated Kensington share borders. Colusa Avenue makes a ring around the oak, then continues on in both directions, and the village also extends a little way into connecting Oak View Avenue. A leisurely stroll will introduce many great finds.
When the Kensington Farmers’ Market set up tents 12 years ago, it quickly established itself as a resource for fresh, locally grown produce, and has since expanded to host up to 40 vendors, selling everything from seafood, poultry and meats, to bagels, French pastries, cheeses and foods to go. Live music makes the market a party every Sunday from 9am to 2pm. (Note: Many other local merchants are not open on Sunday, or not open until later in the day.) 379-389 Colusa Ave. kensingtonfarmersmarket.org
Fitness, Wellness, Rejuvenation
Fuse Fitness, where co-founder Pascha Brown and fellow trainers teach clients of all ages and fitness levels, offers classes every day. Drop-ins are welcome to book online. They offer full-body training, focusing on strength, mobility and balance, using TRX suspension weight training, bosu balls, rowing machines, bands, squat racks and more. Private and semi-private training is also available, but a consultation must be booked in advance. “We love our clients, and really get to know them,” said Brown. 370 and 377 Colusa Ave. thefusefitnessstudio.com
At Nubo Spa, clients find cutting-edge skincare, rejuvenation solutions, injectables and more under the guidance of founder Jen Guthrie. This physician-owned med spa prides itself on blending science, art and medicine in its treatments, along with a focus on superb service. 379 Colusa Ave. nubospa.com
“Ancient meets avant-garde” at Natura Health & Wellness, where owner Jane Gajano-Blythe is a licensed acupuncturist, and the studio specializes in “functional medicine” for skincare and overall wellness. Chinese medicine treatments are available, along with hydrafacials and an extensive apothecary product selection. 396 Colusa Ave. hellonatura.com
Fleurs and Galleries
Owner Janet Johnson of Freshly Cut florist was a mainstay in Berkeley for decades before moving her business to Kensington a year and a half ago. No “paint-by-number” arrangements here; she creates custom floral designs with seasonal flowers. In March, she’ll feature tulips, lilacs, peonies, plum and quince blossoms, and more. One may drop in for an onsite-created bouquet, or order online for special occasions. 378 Colusa Ave. freshlycut.com
Walking into Nan Phelps Photography, one can see that the quality of the black-and-white, gelatin silver prints on the wall makes a statement. Phelps explains that she uses museum and archival-quality paper, printing her own images for the family, mother-and-child, solo and pet portraits that often become family heirlooms. “I love photographing people in their homes,” she said, and enjoys documenting a family’s evolution, from new babies to grandparents. “There is a lifetime of learning in photography,” she noted, “the mystery of people and animals, the infinite personality of light, the nuances of the camera and the darkroom.” 398 Colusa Ave. nanphelps.com
Ceramicist Carolyn Hiersoux is no longer creating new work. But according to her daughter, Karen Hiersoux, her Hiersoux Gallery is continuing to sell her remaining pieces, as well as a book documenting her 60 years of clay artworks, Herein Lies the Magic ($95). Hiersoux is known for her wood-fired sculptural pieces, using Japanese techniques. The gallery space is also being used for exhibits of other artists’ work. On March 4, a show by watercolor painter Pam Johnson opens. Open Saturdays noon-5pm, or call Karen Hiersoux for an appointment, 510.517.8596. 437 Colusa Ave. hiersoux.com
Where the Eatin’ Is Good
For those strolling around the neighborhood during the day, they may stop into bakery Semifreddi’s for an almond croissant, or a ginger cookie and a take-out coffee. The tiny shop has no inside seating, but there are benches nearby. One won’t be able to resist taking home one of their sourdough loaves, and maybe also a bag of kalamata olive croutons. Closes at 3pm. 372 Colusa Ave. semifreddis.com
Another option for daytime noshing is Benchmark Portavia, the “grab-and-go” outlet opened last September by the owners of nearby Benchmark Pizza. Here one will find prepared sandwiches, soups and salads, alongside a range of Italian cooking essentials. 380 Colusa Ave. benchmarkportavia.com
For evening pub grub, one may head straight for Kensington Circus Pub. Alongside classic Brit fare such as bangers & mash and shepherd’s pie, they also feature entrees such as fish tacos, New York steak and an assortment of pastas. Drinks motto is “Best of Britain and Ireland On Tap.” Adventurous? One may try a “Black Velvet,” made from Guinness and cider. On Friday and Saturday nights, the pub rocks out with live music. It’s sure to be extra-lively on St. Patrick’s Day, with music by the Missing Man Quartet. 389 Colusa Ave. kensingtoncircuspub.com
Benchmark Pizzeria has been widely praised by critics and foodies for its innovative takes on pizza and other time-honored Italian dishes. Personal experience recommends the Fried Sage Pizza, made with fresh mozzarella, brown butter, lemon and shaved garlic, while sipping a very European Aperol Spritz. Or one may choose from a wide range of salads and entrees, which change weekly, according to co-founder Melissa Swanson, who describes the restaurant’s food as having a “true sense of terroir.” Benchmark is a Certified Green Business, using 100% renewable energy. 1568 Oak View Ave. benchmarkpizzeria.com
Last, but certainly not least, one may stop in at the Colusa Market for a taste of what neighborhood markets used to be, and still are inside this homey store, which has served locals for more than 35 years. Organic produce nestles next to a fine selection of Asian noodles and sauces, alongside carefully chosen meats and poultry. It’s one of those places shoppers walk in for one thing, and come out with five… or 10. And go back to, just like the Kensington Circle neighborhood itself. 406 Colusa Ave. No website; 510.527.7035.