The Honolulu Coffee Experience Center in Waikiki


I love a good cup of coffee. One of the great things about Hawaii is that we have a rich coffee history and we grow a wide variety of different coffees here. Our climate, our soil, our location – they are all perfect for coffee. I’ll talk more about that in a coming post…

For now, I wanted to let you know about a fun coffee experience I had yesterday in Waikiki. Technically, The Honolulu Coffee Experience Center sits on the edge of Ala Moana and Waikiki, but it’s close enough to just call it Waikiki. It’s right across from the Hawaii Convention Center on Kalakaua Avenue on the western end of Waikiki.

The building used to be a Hard Rock Cafe – or maybe a Planet Hollywood – and it went through some other businesses as well. It’s one of those places I drive by all the time and never pay attention to. My friend and I meet for coffee in a new location every couple of weeks and since neither of us had been here – it was a great option.

There is ample parking on the other side from the photo above. Inside there are terrific displays to educate you about coffee, where you can see the coffee beans being roasted while you sit at the bar, and you can watch the talented pastry chefs making their treasures behind the glass wall. A small gift shop and a closed in glass room that I never really figured out the purpose of – there was an espresso machine in there and a college age girl who appeared to be doing her homework inside. I know I missed something there…

The coffee itself was nice. I had an espresso with a croissant and was pleased that it was served on a small wood tray with some mineral water – the espresso itself was tasty with very little of the bitterness I usually find at other places that start with an S. We were able to order our coffee for there so we didn’t have to throw away paper cups and contribute to the garbage issues we face on Oahu. My friend had an Americano and no complaints about it.

The seating was fun with the aforementioned bar seats in the lowered center, a few tables around the lower center edges, and then scattered tables of different sizes on the upper (ground) level and a number of umbrella covered tables outside as well. Overall, it was a nice experience and a good cup of coffee. I recommend it.

HONOLULU COFFEE EXPERIENCE CENTER
1800 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

King David Kalakaua – The Merrie Monarch – Last King of Hawai’i

King David Kalakaua was a champion of Hawaiian culture, the last King of Hawaii, and is celebrated as the Merrie Monarch – but he also had dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire and was the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe.

He was both a celebrated musician and composer and a dedicated archivist and writer. It was King Kalakaua who first gathered together the Myths and Legends of Hawaii. Friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Edison, he was a technology geek, and all around cool guy – King David Kalakaua was an awesome monarch.

He had a passion for music, dancing, parties, and the finest food and drinks during his 54 years and he lived up to the title of Merrie Monarch. The king’s reign, however, was also marked by tragedy, pain and dark clouds hovering over the Hawaiian kingdom.

Born on November 16, 1836 in Honolulu to High Chief Kahana Kapaakea and the High Chiefess Analea Keohokalole. Per Hawaiian custom, the infant was adopted by the chiefess Haaheo Kaniu, who took him to the court of King Kamehameha III on the island of Maui. When Kalakaua was four, he returned to Oahu to begin his education at the Royal School.

He was fluent in English and Hawaiian when he began to study law at the age of 16 and by 1856, he was a major on the staff of King Kamehameha IV. He was also a leader of a political organization known as the Young Hawaiians who used the motto “Hawaii for the Hawaiians.” At the time, American business interests and missionaries had already subverted the Kingdom and begun the process of making Hawaiians 2nd class citizens.

In December 1872, King Kamehameha V died without having designated an heir and pursuant to Hawaiian law, an election was held to determine his successor. Kalakaua made his first bid for Hawaii’s throne in 1873. The Hawaiian legislature, comprised largely of native Hawaiians and haoles qualified by wealth or landownership to be either electors or elected representatives in the legislature, was presented with two choices: Kalakaua, who ran on a campaign slogan of “Hawaii for Hawaiians,” a sentiment that did not endear him to the islands’ white power brokers, and William C. Lunalilo.

Lunalilo won easily, but he died a year later, leaving no successor. Another election was held to determine Hawaii’s monarch. Buoyed by the support of the influential Walter Murray Gibson, Kalakaua was victorious in the 1874 election over Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV – the bad feelings from this election lasted throughout the two candidates lifetimes. Supporters of the queen rioted and Kalakaua requested help from American and British warships in the harbor, and the uprising was quelled.

The triumphant Kalakaua toured the islands, stopping in every district to affirm his primary goals. “To the planters, he affirmed that his primary goal was the advance of commerce and agriculture, and that he was about to go in person to the United States to push for a reciprocity treaty. To his own people, he promised renewal of Hawaiian culture and the restoration of their franchise,” wrote Ruth M. Tabrah in Hawaii: A Bicentennial History.In late 1874, Kalakaua sailed to the United States amid much fanfare. In Washington, he negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, which eliminated the tariff on sugar and other Hawaiian products. As a result, Hawaii’s sugar industry boomed and the kingdom enjoyed a period of economic prosperity. Ralph Kuykendall reported in The Hawaiian Kingdom that American minister to Hawaii Henry Pierce successfully argued that a treaty with Kalakaua’s kingdom would hold the islands “with hooks of steel in the interests of the United States, and … result finally in their annexation to the United States.” Kalakaua was the first King to visit the United States.

Upon his return, Kalakaua moved into his palace with his wife, Queen Kapiolani, the granddaughter of King Kaumualii of Kauai. He decided he needed a more luxurious home, however, and had Iolani Palace built at a cost of $350,000—an unheard of sum at the time. It was one of the first buildings in the US to have both electricity and indoor plumbing. Kalakaua’s friend Thomas Edison also came and made the first movies in history of Hawaiians and Oahu.

Many of his ministerial appointments went to native Hawaiians, a reflection of the king’s consistent loyalty to his core constituency. None of this made him popular with the haole community who loathed both him and Walter Murray Gibson, Kalakaua’s American premier, whom they viewed as a traitor. Kalakaua’s white opposition grew increasingly frustrated with their lack of power, and their rhetoric grew increasingly bigoted in tone as their anger grew. “Attempts to build a strong political party of opposition ran into the dismal fact that Kalakaua and Gibson controlled too many votes,” wrote Gavan Daws in Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. The king though dominated the legislature.

Kalakaua was the first sovereign to circumnavigate the globe and he did it not just once (the first trip in 1881) but twice. On January 20, 1881 His Majesty David La‘amea Kalakaua departed Honolulu Harbor aboard the steamship City of Sydney on a nine-month diplomatic mission around the world. The voyage was one part of a strategic plan to achieve greater recognition throughout the world for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i as a legitimate and sovereign nation-state. Many of the American business interests who had backed Kalakaua in his election victory over Queen Emma were now quickly moving towards greater control of the government. The King also witnessed the loss of sovereignty by Native peoples in New Zealand, the Marquesas and elsewhere, highlighting growing imperialism in the Pacific. Kalakaua saw a formal procession of state visits from the King himself, along with the signing of treaties and conventions, as powerful steps in protecting his nation’s sovereignty.

As the ship carrying Kalakaua touched the landing, the Emperor of Japan had his military play Hawai‘i Pono , the anthem the King himself penned seven years prior. At a luncheon at the Imperial Palace on March 14, the Japanese Emperor conferred on Kalakaua the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the highest honor in the Japanese Empire. In a later audience with the Emperor Meiji, Kalakaua proposed an Asiatic Federation to link the two countries, along with others, in mutual support that would attempt to balance British and American dominance. The King sought to further tie the two Nations through a proposed future marriage of the Princess Ka‘iulani and the Japanese Prince Komatsu. Neither of these efforts came to fruition though he was successful in his decision to welcome increasing numbers of foreigners (especially Chinese and Japanese people) to the islands. In 1883 a government representative delivered a speech in Tokyo in which he declared that “His Majesty Kalakaua believes that the Japanese and Hawaiian spring from one cognate race and this enhances his love for you,” reported Kuykendall. “Hawaii holds out her loving hand and heart to Japan and desires that your people may come and cast in their lots with ours and repeople our Island Home with a race which may blend with ours and produce a new and vigorous nation.” Thousands of Japanese families accepted Kalakaua’s offer, to the chagrin of white landowners and businessmen who feared further loss of influence.

The white landowners were also not very keen on Kalakaua’s plan to grant universal suffrage to women and the poor. Such a move would have made the wealthy white male votes far less significant.

Although Kalakaua’s visit to Japan was one of the trip’s highlights, it was certainly not seen as the only success. On this first circumnavigation of the globe by any monarch, the King of Hawai’i met with leaders of nations that included China, India, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Wales, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and others.

The second trip was an incredible journey that began in 1887 and took the King to the Unites States of America, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Siam, Singapore, Malaya, India, Egypt, Rome, London, Belgium, Vienna, Spain, Portugal, France, and back to Hawaii through the United States again. A unique and insightful glimpse into these states and elites at the end of the nineteenth century full of fascinating events, encounters, and stories can be found in Around the World with a King.

The Hawaiian culture enjoyed a revival under Kalakaua, including hula and chants, surfing and indigenous handicrafts. In July 1887, however, an organization called the Hawaiian League which was made up of mostly disgruntled American planters and missionaries forcibly took control of the government and presented the king with a new constitution. Called the “Bayonet Constitution” (for obvious reasons), Kalakaua had no choice but to sign it. The new constitution severely restricted his powers and signaled the end of the monarchy. It also destroyed his dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire in the pacific. When you consider all of these events, it causes one to severely rethink the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hawaii, after all, was offered to the Japanese but stolen from Kalakaua’s sister and successor Queen Liliokalani by the U.S. government.

In November 1890,after sailing to California for medical treatment. He died at a hotel in San Francisco on January 20, 1891. His final words were, “Tell my people I tried.”

He is remembered fondly in Hawaii with festivals such as the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. The main street in Waikiki – which is Hawaii’s busiest and most expensive street is named for King Kalakaua – a state of hom stands at the western end of the street and greets visitors as they enter Waikiki. In pop culture, Officer Kono Kalakaua on the popular series Hawaii 5-0 carries his name, though there are no direct descendents of the King living today.

Saturday Slideshow – Lucky Live Hawai’i – Lucky Live Oahu – Lucky Live Honolulu

In Hawai’i we have a local language called Hawaiian Creole or Pidgin for short. You’ve heard it when you’ve watched Hawaii 5-0, you’ll hear it on the new Magnum P.I. You’ve heard it on Dog the Bounty Hunter and if you’ve been here – you’ve heard the bus drivers, valets, maids, surfers, beach boys, and other local folks use it. You probably didn’t understand it – and that’s okay. It has a sing-song quality that varies from island to island and consists of words from a dozen languages plus a bunch of made up words that are usually onamatopia. Example: Brah, like go kaukau? Or Howzit? Or Hoh, Lucky live Hawai’i. Yea, Lucky live Hawaii, Lucky live Oahu, Lucky live Honolulu. That’s what I’m feeling – this week’s slideshow might show a bit of why.

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Makapu’u Point Lookout and Lighthouse on Oahu, Hawaii

Makapu’u Point. One of the most visually striking places on the island of Oahucomes as you head around the south side of Oahu through rocky, volcanic, cactus filled and generally desert island vistas and you turn north onto the Windward side of Oahu. People think of Oahu and generally they think of Honolulu – a large and wonderful city of right around 1-million people – but here is the secret – most of the tourists on Oahu stay in Honolulu and Waikiki – on the other islands they go everywhere. That’s just one of the reasons why Oahu is my favorite of all the Hawaiian Islands…but of course there are many reasons beyond that.

As you turn North and start to head towards the Windward side – don’t be in a hurry – Kailua, Kaneohe, Laie, and the North Shore can wait…right now you are on sacred ground. This is where the climactic zone you are in suddenly and without warning does a handstand.

Pull into the overlook at Makapu’u Point…take the walk up to the viewpoints. Look north and take a deep breath…suddenly, all is green and blue and wonderful. There are a dozen shades of blue and a dozen shades of green here – your camera can’t capture all those colors – but your eye can. Still, even the pictures can take your breath away. This is Hawai’i. This is the amazing land of Aloha. This is where the magic happens.

When you get back in the car and start heading North, you’ll drive along the rocky cliff face and see a pull out where you can park your vehicle, get out, and look back. Do it!

You’ll see the stunning Makapu’u Lighthouse. It was built in 1906 and has the largest lens of any lighthouse in the USA. Plus, it’s scenic as hell.

For an even better view go down into the Makapu’u Beachpark parking lot across from Sea Life Park. If you do it at sunrise, it’s even better – but don’t leave your valuables in the car. The cockroaches love breaking windows and stealing valuables…and you’ll never see them do it. 

I have been all over the world, I’ve seen a lot of places, but there is nowhere that is like Hawai’i.  Especially at sunrise.

The Dole Plantation on Oahu – A Wonderful Pineapple Tourist Trap in Hawaii

One of the top requests among my guests is to visit the Dole Plantation in the center of the island of Oahu. It’s easy to understand why people want to go there. For most American’s, Dole was the first pineapple they ever experienced. Straight from the can, usually, but sometimes it was an exotic and fresh pineapple with that colorful Dole logo on it. For other’s (like me) Dole is intimately connected with Disneyland or Disneyworld – I’ll never be able to disassociate Dole from that first Dolewhip ice cream cone I had outside the Enchanted Tiki Room with its animatronic birds and exotic tropical decor. But, equally, I’ll never forget being a little kid and my mom opening those cans of Dole Pineapple Juice or pulling out those magical donut rings of pineapple from a Dole can. And it’s not just me….so I never wonder why such an obvious tourist trap ranks so high on the lists of so many people when they come to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It makes sense to me.

The other reason people love to go to the Dole Plantation is because it’s just fun. It’s a great attraction that ticks all the boxes of a must-see. There’s a 20-minute train ride through the pineapple fields that appeals to youngsters and historians alike as the narration on board shares the rich plantation agricultural history of Oahu. There is the World’s Largest Pineapple Maze (it’s shaped like a pineapple, not made out of one). You can stroll through the free pineapple gardens or buy a ticket to explore the beautiful tropical gardens past the ticket booth. And then there is the visitor center where you can find thousands upon thousands of pineapple products as well as local coffee, soaps, textiles, ukuleles, tropical candy, koa wood carvings, and learn how to cut a pineapple, sample local macadamia nuts, and get pretty decent lunch. Oh, and don’t forget to get a Dole Whip or a Pineapple Float, or a Pineapple Split.  The lines may be long, but they move pretty quickly.

Hours and Directions: To get there, just head towards the Central Oahu town of Wahiawa. If you’re coming from town, go past Wahiawa. If you’re coming from the North Shore don’t quite go to Wahiawa. You won’t miss it. The Dole Planation is open everyday except Christmas from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. There is no charge for admission but the train, the maze, and the garden tours all will require a paid ticket. Parking is free.

Honolulu, Hawaii Architecture: Saturday Slideshow

It’s no secret that I love Honolulu. It’s an incredibly walkable, bikeable, and public-transportation-able city. The weather is perfect. It has fantastic architecture and wonderful distinct neighborhoods – not to mention beaches, rain forest hikes, and more. But let’s get back to that architecture – I will get into the nitty gritty of the art deco, moorish, modern, and classic styles you find here in the future – but for now – I’d just like to share a gallery of pictures of buildings I’ve snapped in Honolulu. These are just pictures I’ve taken as I go about my daily life…and I think they illustrate a bit of why I love this city as much as I do.

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For now just enjoy the wonderful architecture of Honolulu and ahui ho!

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii

There are few places that can inspire awe and contemplation as those where important historical events – and thousands of human deaths – took place. Pearl Harbor, once the jewel of the Hawaiian Islands – a protected harbor with many streams flowing into it and oyster beds that some say produced the most beautiful pearls in the world – then the catalyst for the overthrow of an ally and eventually a different jewel – the showplace of American military power in the Pacific Ocean – ships and planes lined up on display to deter an enemy from thinking they could attack – and then – the unthinkable – on the morning of December 7th, 1941 – the United States learned never to underestimate an enemy, to never forget to look upwards, and the cost was so high that the nation still bears the scars.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a triumph for the Japanese – a total success with the exception of two factors – the aircraft carriers were not there by a lucky quirk of fate and the Japanese did not destroy the fuel reserves on the hillsides – which would have crippled American naval power. The United States was brought into World War II by this attack – awakened from a nationalist and isolationist period of navel gazing while the world fell into chaos. The warnings were there, but the USA never saw it coming. There are many lessons that could be taken from this with direct relevance today…but the beauty and power of the memorial are such that the only way to truly feel it – is to visit.

The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center is open from 7 am to 5pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission is free to the visitor center and also to the USS Arizona Memorial which involves watching a powerful film and then a US Navy launch to the memorial itself.  With 4000 daily visitors, tickets go fast – so it’s not a bad idea to reserve them online through recreation.gov. Any other site you reserve through online is a private tour company. Recreation.gov will charge you $1.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was opened to the public in 2010 as part of the newly-designated World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The new visitor center has welcomed millions of tourists from all over the world just as the old visitor center did for decades.. The center was built to further enhance the visitors’ Pearl Harbor Tour experience.
Admission to the visitor center is free and within the grounds you will find two free museums, a comtemplation garden, and the Remembrance Circle along with the anchor of the USS Arizona, the statue of the Lone Sailor, and the other Valor in the Pacific Attractions – the USS Missouri Tour, The Pacific Aviation Museum, and the USS Bowfin Submarine and Submarine Museum.  The free museums on site are named ‘Road to War’ and ‘Attack’ and detail the events leading to the war and then the attack itself. The Attack museum has a twenty-three minute documentary as well as artifacts, memorabilia, and historic timelines.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center works in partnership with the National Park Services and Pacific Historic Parks as well as the United States Navy. The memorial itself was built in 1962 by Honolulu Architect Alfred Preis over the top of the sunken USS Arizona Battleship where 1177 sailors lost their lives on that fateful morning.

Visiting the Kamaka Ukulele Factory – A Family Business with 101 years of Experience in Hawaii Ukuleles

The Kamaka Ukulele is the gold standard in fine ukulele quality and there is a reason for that. The Kamaka family has been making the best ukes in the world since 1916 when Honolulu resident Sam Kamaka Sr began making the instruments in his Kaimuki basement. Since then the Hawaiian ukulele has made it’s way around the world in the hands of celebrities, musicians, comics, vaudeville stars, visitors, and Hawaii residents. Four generations of the Kamaka family have kept the Kamaka Ukulele factory running with the guiding principle of quality first.

Sam Sr and his two sons Fred Sr and Sam Jr are all three inductees into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. The elder Sam was the inventor of the ‘pineapple’ ukulele – it was 1918 and he just liked the idea of making the body a little more round – turns out it made the sound a little more rich. Sam Kamaka Sr. said to his sons, “If you make instruments and use the family name…don’t make junk,” and lucky for all of us, they listened. Fred Kamaka Sr and his brother Sam Kamaka, Jr –  still run the Kamaka Ukulele Factory where  twenty-five employees – mostly family members – continue to make the world’s best ukes.. The factory produces a maximum of 17 ukes per day…

As a long time ukulele fan, it was awesome to get to meet Fred Sr. (And Fred Jr.) and get to talk story with them and learn about the history of my favorite istrument…the true Hawaiian Ukulele.  I also met Sam Jr’s son Chris Kamaka. He is the quality control officer and rejects one out of every five ukes produced in the factory because of inferior grain, sound defects, or other imperfections that would be invisible to the rest of us.

If you would like to visit the Kamaka Ukulele factory and meet some of the family, see how these beautiful instruments are made, and maybe even learn how to play a simple tune – it’s still possible. The factory, located in downtown Honlulu near Kaka’ako is open several days a week. 

Matsumoto Shave Ice – Matsumoto General Store on Oahu’s North Shore

If you ask any child in Hawai’i what they want for dessert or a treat – chances are you are going to hear most of them say the same thing- shave ice.

That’s shave ice, not shaved ice because Hawaiian language doesn’t have a ‘D’ in it and our local language ‘pidgin’ officially known as Hawaiian Creole – also tends to leave the ‘d’s off words. It just flows better to say “Like get shave ice?” Instead of the mainland haole version of “Would you like to have some shaved ice?” Right?

The number one shave ice place in Hawaii is up in the little surf town of Hale’iwa. Matsumoto General Store. Back in the 1950s, Hale’iwa was more about sugar cane production than surfing and while there was a hotel (the upscale Hale’iwa Hotel) where people could come to see the ‘country’ of Oahu, mostly it was a place where people worked, went to church, went to school, and just lived. The Matsumoto General Store was a local Japanese owned place where residents could buy grocieries, toiletries, gas, and whatever else they might need.

In 1956, Momoru and Helen Matsumoto made a decision that would change the store forever. They bought a little hand cranked shave-ice maker from Japan. The Japanese had been shaving snow-fine ice to provide treats for nearly a thousand years. Momoru figured it would be a nice treat on hot days. Stanley, the son of Momoru and Helen, was five-years-old when it arrived. According to him it was the first shave ice machine in Hawai’i. The Matsumotos decided to create a different shave-ice experience than that of the Japanese.

For starters, they decided to take tropical Hawaiian flavors and mix them with sweet sugar cane syrup as well as going with the more traditional berry flavors. Soon there were pineapple, lilikoi, coconut, and mango shave ice syrups. Later they put ice cream on the bottom (which might be the most genius decision ever made in regards to shave ice). The ice cream keeps the ice from melting as quickly and absorbs the syrups as the ice above is eaten. Later still they decided to bind the flavors with a ‘snow cap’ topping of sweetened condensed milk. Other innovations included the addition of sweet azuki beans, mochi, and fresh fruit. The classic Matsumoto Shave Ice is vanilla ice cream, ice, three flavors, and the snow cap. Pick your favorite flavors or just go for the rainbow – strawberry, banana, pineapple.

Little Stanley grew up and took over the operation in 1976. At the time the North Shore was booming with surfers, tourists, and development. Matsumotos moved out of the grocery business and became almost 100% shave ice. It continued this way until the early 2000s when the building was remodeled and they brought back t-shirts, souvenirs, and country store items.

The Matsumoto Shave Ice is famous all over the world. When you get there, the line will probably be long – but don’t worry – Stanley has streamlined the process and local teens will make your shave ice with expert precision in a very short time. While you are standing in line, don’t be surprised if Stanley (usually wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon version of himself on it) comes over and starts talking story with you. He’s seen his family store and the entire North Shore change over time – but the shave ice – it’s still as good as it ever was. Maybe even better. Definitely ono.

Saturday Slideshow: I Love Honolulu – It’s Perfect – Even if it’s not Perfect

I love living in Honolulu. I work all the time and still don’t make enough money to pay all my expenses. I rarely have time to go to the beach. I have a smaller and much more expensive living space than I’ve had in a decade. I am stuck in my car looking for parking all the time. And still, I love living in Honolulu. There is no better place in the world as far as I’m concerned. Yes, it could be better, no it’s not perfect, yes, I run the risk of running out of money. It’s hard to explain…if these social and economic conditions, the crowding, the traffic, the expense, the need to work so much…if these conditions were somewhere else, I would be miserable, I would probably be suicidal – but here, I put a record of some goofy tiki-beach songs on or I step outside and see a rainbow or an old auntie crossing the road so slowly in her mumu that I end up being late for work or some gnarly looking truck driver just stops and tells me to go in violation to all traffic rules and common sense – or a homeless guy sitting in the median is playing his ukulele as I drive by or there is an art exhibit in city hall where the employees and their kids are the ones who have their art on display. I’m not kidding. I love living in Honolulu. It’s not easy – in fact, there’s nothing easy about it. Free time is hard to come by, it’s loud at night, the homeless make me cry, the zoo has gone downhill, the lines are long, the prices are insane, the beaches are crowded – and yet…there is no place like it in the world. I am so happy this city is my home.

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