Isabel is … vacationing with Grandma

Exploring the Bay

When I decided on UC Berkeley, my grandmother took me out for a celebratory dinner at Skates on the Bay, an upscale restaurant with phenomenal views in the Berkeley Marina. Although I grew up only an hour away from here, I thought that I’d never been to Berkeley. As I gazed out at San Francisco, however, passing Adventure Playground and the beautiful windswept trees along the shore, I realized with a start that I’d been here many times before.

It was a memory I had dismissed as fantasy: a memory of the sun setting over the water, my grandma by my side, the sound of waves splashing, of deep green trees and a swingset.

My first memories of the Bay Area, like many of my youngest memories, are of my grandmother. Growing up, I never went to day care, instead spending weekdays at Grandma Ruth’s house. And as Grandma Ruth can never sit still, we went on innumerable adventures together. We still do.

We’d head into San Francisco to see a show, whether that be a play, musical or concert. Perhaps she would take me to the Legion of Honor, my favorite art museum in the city. She’d people-watch, catching up on the most recent styles, finding new ways to wear all of the bright colors she loves.

Mostly, though, she admired the pretty shoes. Grandma loves a strappy sandal. To wear a practical shoe would be unthinkable.

This weekend, my grandma and I flew out to Washington, D.C., where she has an old friend, Fred. There’s always been a spark between the two of them. She set up the hotel room, and I came up with our plans for each day. Together, we saw as much as we could of the city in a swift three days.

“Your grandma is so posh. She has her life together,” my best friend Tess, who is interning in Washington, said over lunch. “And she knows it.”

For once, I hesitated to go on the trip. In the thick of the journalism summer minor program, skipping a few days of work added stress. More than that, it was a weekend away from the Bay Area, away from the home that Charlie and I have built this summer. After two years of going to school in Berkeley — one semester of which was spent abroad in London — this city is finally becoming home, widening for me into a place not only for school, but for a life.

Like Grandma Ruth, I just cannot stay still. I get uncomfortable as soon as I feel stuck. This feeling makes sense, of course, as I’ve always lived in what feels like a state of perpetual movement, with long commutes and many smaller homes to alight in. I boasted in high school that I could live for two weeks out of my basketball duffle. I’m finding this new feeling of having a home base, a place I want to come back to each evening, absolutely thrilling.

Ultimately, my curiosity to see a new city got the better of me, and I happily agreed to the trip. Besides, grandma and I travel well together. She loves travel as much as I do.

In Washington, we saw lots of museums, a comedy show and the musical “Cabaret” at the Kennedy Center. With each step, Grandma’s pretty shoes cut into her bunions, but she refused to give up. We stayed up late, wandering the city. And I certainly got an earful about the humidity, the shoes, the heat, the shoes and the distance, but I have to hand it to my 78-year-old grandmother that she never once wanted to go home.

In fact — and I should have seen this coming — she outlasted me.

When it came time for me to head to the airport, she had more traveling to do. We were sat at our hotel, enjoying one final meal together, when her friend Fred called. “Fred is here,” she said to me.“May I have the bill?” she called to the waiter. With a hug and a kiss and a sweeping signature on our lunch bill, Grandma whisked away out of the hotel. I held the door of Fred’s sports car as she climbed in, said a brief hello, and they were off to a dinner party.


Call your grandparents this weekend, if you have a chance. Or, visit Skates on the Bay ( for the best views in Berkeley of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Isabel writes the Thursday column on discovering Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Contact her at [email protected].