Solano Avenue winds from the lovely Thousand Oaks district of Berkeley to the auto repair shops, strip malls and dive bars of San Pablo Avenue. On its way, it serves the needs of the Berkeley hills and the small town of Albany.

While you could say it's just another shopping area, it's much more than that. For one thing, it's dominated by small businesses. Some of them are family-run institutions, while others represent  local residents reaching for a dream.

In general, though, the people you deal with have some sort of personal connection to where they work, which makes wandering along Solano very different from a trip to your local mall. Solano's businesses also reflect the area's diversity, especially in the home furnishings stores and the dozens of restaurants. You can find spots that are upscale, down home, unique or possibly all three; it was impossible to cover all the good ones here.

Albany itself boasts many distinctive attractions among the restaurants and small businesses of many varieties: the near East Bay's only bowling alley, the huge racetrack and the wildest bit of shoreline (in an urban kind of way) for miles. A mile and a half square, Albany is truly a small town in the midst of the megapolis known as the Bay Area. It combines good schools and cultural life.

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Based on information from the Bay East Association of REALTORS® All data, including all measurements and calculations of area, is obtained from various sources and has not been, and will not be, verified by broker or MLS. All information should be independently reviewed and verified for accuracy. Properties may or may not be listed by the office/agent presenting the information.

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* All data pertains to single-family homes