While there is an understandable homeless issue facing the Berkeley area, people who are not used to being asked for handouts should beware. There are some, most notably on Telegraph Ave. and even then the younger set, who are not really homeless, but dress up in rags and panhandle as a way to make some extra cash. There were a series of articles on this years ago, about how suburban teens (who had quite a bit of money) showed up to bum cash off of unsuspecting tourists and students so they could party. Really ruins your feelings about the area and about giving to people, for there are those who are on the streets who could genuinely use your help.
Unique Suggestions: Well, if you are there and are approached by someone, keep an eye on their age. Younger people are more often (note: not more likely) the ones who try to trick you by dressing up as a homeless person. And you can always do the "let me get you something to eat/drink" instead of just dumping off change or a bill onto them. That might weed out those who are looking to score cash, as they do not really want food cause they're not very needy. Just keep your eyes and ears open.
Poor shopping, bad food, and insane homeless people that actually kill people randomly in the middle of the day. This street became the hippie mecca after Regan teargassed the students here back when he was Governor of California. This is only a reasonable place to go if you don't know where Santa Cruz is, or if you want to hang out with other 'homeless' street punks and beg for change for a bit before you head back to blackhawk and your parents' $2 million ranch house.
Unique Suggestions: Avoid the homeless people, they won't remember if you give them some money, and may just kill you if you don't. Avoid the tie-dye clothing unless you're from another country and it might actually be cool there. Avoid the food, clothing, bongs, tattoos and jewlery, the quality is shoddy. Look for original tshirt and print art. Local booksellers Moe's and Cody's far outshine Barnes and Noble.
Fun Alternatives: If you're looking to buy into an authentic hippie experience just like the hippies did, try visiting Haight street in San Francisco, your favorite drug dealer in Santa Cruz, or anywhere in Thailand.