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

Flashback Friday: Staying at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki in Honolulu on Oahu in Hawai’i

First let’s look at that title. I can’t stress this enough because I hear it all the time. You are never IN an island unless you have crawled into a cave ON an island. Just like you would never say “We stayed ON Waikiki” or “We stayed ON Honolulu” (because you don’t stay ON districts or ON cities, you stay IN them) – so the same thing with islands – If you are talking about the STATE OF HAWAII then you can say you stayed IN Hawaii, but if you are talking about the ISLAND OF HAWAII (aka Big Island) then you stayed ON Hawaii. So, it’s possible to stay ON Hawaii and IN Hawaii at the same time but as far as I know, it’s never possible to stay IN Oahu because it’s the name of the island and not a town, city, county or state. So – hopefully that makes sense – it’s one of those things that really can get under your skin if you live here…which I do…but – now that the lecture is over – let’s look back to the first day I returned to Oahu with my family back in 2017. We played tourist for a couple of days and we stayed at the beautiful Hilton Hawaiian Village.

I knew we were going to need a hotel the first few nights because even though we had an apartment – it was empty – so I booked us a room far above the crowds in the Kalia Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village – Waikiki’s most well known tourist resort. Yes, I could have booked longer in a room a bit farther from the beach and I could have gotten us a full week in a hostel private room – but I wanted my wife and daughter to know what it’s like to be a tourist and to stay in a big, nice, well appointed hotel room in a luxury resort with waterslides, five pools, and no need to go anywhere else. You never get to come to Hawaii again for the first time.

About a month before moving I’d gotten three new credit cards – a Hilton Honors American Express, a Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard, and an Alaska Airlines Visa. I knew that moving would be expensive and each of these cards offered generous sign up bonuses if you spent a certain amount in the first few months.

WARNING: TRAVEL HAWAII PRO-TIPS AHEAD!!!

Using the Hilton Honors American Express, I got a discount but then using the interenet. I found a cheaper rate than Hilton had sold me and I was given that price and a 25% discount as part of Hilton’s price guarantee.  When we checked in, they had a Hilton Honors express check-in – so I was able to zip us right past the massive crowds lined up to check in at 3pm and get us settled right away – at the express check-in, I asked for any available free upgrade (part of the card benefit) and was  upgraded from a partial view on a mid-floor to a full ocean view on a top floor. So, all told, I got the room for less than a third of the rack rate which was right aroung $625 – our room rate was $176 – which almost made me regret not booking more nights – except that $176 is still a lot of money to pay for a hotel room – at least for my income level.

The lines of people checking in were horrifying and I was incredibly grateful for the experss check-in. Our room was absolutely lovely. The view was wonderful, the wi-fi was complimentary (again part of Hilton Honors).  From this point forward we didn’t leave the resort until we checked out.

We swam in three of the five pools, ate Japanese breakfast at the little Japanese restaurant downstairs, and explored the grounds which had a water slide pool,  lots of beautiful Hawaiian plant landscaping, koi, tropical fish, tropical birds and more. I’d been telling Sophia about the penguins that lived there and she didn’t believe me and it turned out that she was right, the penguins had been moved to a mainland zoo.  But they used to be there – it’s probably best for the penguins that they are not there any longer.

We swam and played in the lagoon, had ice cream, went to the beach, paid way too much for sunscreen, swam in the waterslide pool, enjoyed the sun and heat with rain and rainbows while swimming in a different pool, and finally went back up to our beautiful room and enjoyed the view from the balcony before sleeping wonderfully in the big plush beds with big fluffy pillows in a perfect climate controlled room.

It felt wonderful to be back in Waikiki and it felt even better to have my family back here with me.

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.

Flat Stanley’s Hawaii Vacation on Oahu

I have a friend in Toronto, Canada named Henry. He’s a second grader (like my daughter) and as a project for his class – he was suppossed to send Flat Stanley – a character from a book his class is reading – on a trip to somewhere. Henry’s family and I became friends when they visited Oahu several months ago. I spent a lovely day showing them around Oahu and by the end of it, we were all fast friends. Henry and my daughter have the same birthday, lost their first baby teeth at the same time, and are both amazing 7-year-old dancers – so of course, when he asked if I would show Flat Stanley around Oahu and Honolulu – I agreed.

Flat Stanley arrived and we decided to hit all the best spots. First, we went for a morning swim at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Next we admired the views of Honolulu high rise buildings and of Waikiki and Diamond Head in the distance.

We went up to the North Shore and visited Kaena Point, the Westernmost point on the island where Stanley got all crazy on the ‘mana’ emanating from such a powerful point and he grew huge and began jumping on cars with the Waianae volcano in the background. Luckily a friendly pohaku (stone) calmed him down.

After that we went to the world famous Banzai Pipeline where we watched surfers on some decent sized waves and saw a deflated unicorn on the beach.

We then drove all the way down the Windward side of the island and I stopped to get a coffee at my favorite Kaneohe coffee shop ‘Muddy Waters’ – the coffee gave me energy and we stopped at my daughter’s school and then headed down to the South shore of the island where we watched dolphins at the Kahala Hotel – we made sure Flat Stanley was safe and wore a life jacket.

From there we drove back to the center of Oahu where we visited the Dole Plantation – Flat Stanley was excited about the train and the pinapple maze – but mostly he loved the Dole Whip!

We were going to take Flat Stanley snorkeling at one of our favorite spots…but it started to rain and it was getting a little late. So with that, we packed Flat Stanley back up, said goodbye, and put him on his way back to Toronto!  We wished him Aloha and A Hui Ho! And also send the same wishes to Henry, his brother Charlie and their Mom and Dad. We’ll see you next time! ALOHA!

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.

Flashback Friday: Returning to Oahu After a 9-Year Trip Around the World

In 2008, I graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, moved out of my apartment in Manoa, said goodbye to my sweet landlady Mrs. Arizumi and then I stayed in a Waikiki hotel before flying to Portland, Oregon for Christmas. From there I took trains across the USA, flew to Europe, took a ferry to Africa, hot air ballooned in Turkey, rode horses to the pyramids, hitchiked into the Korean DMZ, hitchhiked and walked across Canada, sailed in the Aegean, got married in the Sahara, emigrated to California with a foreign wife and child, started and sold an antique shop and a newspaper in Oregon, went through the citizenship process with my wife as she became a naturalized citizen, and then after nine years of being away, I came home and got things ready to bring my wife and child back to Oahu.

It was the completion of my trip around the world. I arrived back on Oahu in June of 2017. I rented a car, and then I drove to the SGI culture center on the Nuuanu Pali Highway where I chanted Nam Myoho Renghe Kyo in gratitude for returning home and the completion of my adventure. After that I drove to Kailua on the windward side of the island and went directly to Ninja Sushi where I ordered the meal that I’d thought about constantly but not had since 2008. A Shogun Dunburi from Ninja Sushi.
It was as delicious as I remembered. The years had not magnified it. I was not disappointed. I ate every bite.

There were lots of new expensive houses. I had thought that perhaps I would move my family to Kailua when I brought them to Oahu a few weeks later – but Kailua seemed to have moved out of our economic range – for the moment. Still, I stopped at my favorite beach park and bodysurfed a dozen waves before sitting on the sand and staring out at the Mokulua Islands in rapture.

I looked through Kailua a bit noting that Kimo’s Surf Hut still survived but had been moved because a shopping center had gone up filling that block. Daiea – the Korean Superstore had disappeared – replaced by Target and Safeway. Other loved businesses had also disappeared…but there were new ones. Then I drove around the South Shore of the Island with Hawaiian myth, story, legend, geography, and more flooding into my brain. All that I used to share as a tour guide started to return as I passed Pele’s chair, Rabbit Island, Makapu’u, and Koko head. I was hit hard with memories of my epic walk around the perimeter of Oahu as I saw familiar stones, heaiau, and landscapes. I drove to Waikiki, remembering the traffic, the roads, and the feel. One sad note – I saw far fewer people stopping to let pedestrians cross traffic than I used to. Especially in Kailua where people seemed surprised as I let them cross and an impatient driver even honked at me. My hotel, the Waikiki Ambassador was a fake internet bargain. Comfy bed and pillows but a concrete box with 1980s furniture and no real comfort. It was on the opposite end of Waikiki from where I began at the hotel named for deposed Queen Liliuokalani.

I drove to Waikiki and paid my respects to Duke Kahanamoku and then went up to Manoa and visited Mrs. Arizumi and her daughter Clare and her little dog Choo-choo. Mrs. Arizumi must be near a hundred now – maybe older, I don’t know. She is still sweet and I was hugged and welcomed back like a part of their Ohana. After that I returned to Waikiki and took a long walk. Being a person who doesn’t enjoy crowds or shopping, I shouldn’t love Waikiki, but I do. My whole heart does. This is home. As I stood by a favorite Niu next to the jetty I leaned against it and I swear this old coconut tree was happy to feel me leaning against it again. The waves were welcoming me home and the sunset kissed me and welcomed me home. Yes, I was home and after looking all over the world – I know for certain that Hawai’i is the best place in it. This adventure had come to an end.

And then, on that day, a new adventure began. Home is where the heart is. My heart is always here on Oahu.

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.