To me, college is about more than just grades and classes. I wanted my college years to be a time of exploration and excitement. Berkeley didn't disappoint. Over time, I learned to appreciate all that that Berkeley and the Bay Area have to offer. It's true that it feels a little dirty and cramped at first, but soon I discovered all the amazing restaurants and shops, and all the little things that make it such a vibrant community. And then there's San Francisco, filled with fun things to do on weekends (Japantown, SF MOMA, Max's Opera Cafe, the list goes on...). And for greenery and outdoor activities, there's Tilden Park nearby, the Berkeley Marina, Marin County a little bit farther out, and for the truly hardcore (e.g. Cal Ski & Snowboard Club), Lake Tahoe is only about 3 hours away.
Not to mention the excellent education I received in my classes... they really teach you the fundamentals and the theory behind engineering concepts, and then they challenge you to put your knowledge into practice. It's true that many of the projects I completed at Berkeley (esp. CS162, operating systems) required a huge amount of my time, but they were also very fulfilling and exciting. Another great thing about Berkeley is that it's strong in so many different areas; the non-engineering classes I took were top-notch, and the the school is filled with brilliant faculty and students. For those studying computer science, the proximity to Silicon Valley is a definite plus.
Admittedly, housing is a big issue in the Bay Area; it can be very expensive, and you will have to get used to sharing a room. The cost of living in general is fairly high, but in my opinion it's well worth it. Also it is a big school, which has its downsides. Some of the classes are enormous, and it's easy to feel lost in the system. The advantages are the diverse student body and the amount of activities on campus.
I graduated from Berkeley last year and I'm currently a grad student at MIT. I like it here as well, but I still miss Berkeley...