Waikiki – America’s Tropical Resort Neighborhood

WaikikiThere are songs and dreams of Waikiki. All over the world there are cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops named for this little slice of paradise on the southern end of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Waikiki is properly written Waikīkī if you use the script that German missionaries created for the Hawaiian people – but mostly it’s really a word and a name you should say. The Hawaiians went for more than a thousand years without a written language and to be honest, written language seems to have brought more problems than solutions – so I don’t get too uptight about the punctuation – but some people do.

Waikiki

Waikiki might be the most famous tropical beach in the world. It is not the only beach in the Waikiki neighborhood though. There are actually seven of them. Queens, Kuhio, Kaimana, Gray’s, Fort DeRussy, and Duke’s (also known as Kahanumoku Beach and named for Duke Kahanamoku .) The name Waikiki means spouting fresh water and while it’s hard to believe today, it was once a swamp – but one without mosquitos (introduced by ship about 1840), snakes, gators, or other unpleasantness. Instead it was a paradise. The beach portion was pretty minor back then…and actually, the beach is almost entirely man made with sand brought from a variety of locations to make it.

Waikiki

The Ala Wai Canal on the ‘back side’ of Waikiki, was built to ‘drain the swamp’ and the emptied wetlands were filled with the dredgings. Prior to that, this was a retreat for Hawaiian Royalty – the literal Kings and Queens of Surf would lounge about in little more than their birthday suits among wetland agriculture, swimming ponds, and some small beaches . In the 1800s there were a couple of guest houses but the first ‘resort’ was at Sans Souci beach (now Kaimana). Many more would follow. And of course the resorts wanted beaches so they built them with sand from the North Shore, California, Maui, Fiji, Australia…an astounding number of places – but the truth is, Mother Nature doesn’t want a beach in Waikiki and she erodes the sand away constantly. If the beach were not ‘replenished’ or ‘nourished’ or more accurately restocked with foreign sand – it would not exist. The sand which washed out has also impacted the reef and changed the surf breaks.

Waikiki

Seawalls, piers, pillows, groins, and sand bags have all done their part to try to protect the commercialy important beach, but you can’t stop Mother Ocean. Still with scores of hotels that charge $500 per night for rooms – there is plenty of money to spend keeping the tide at bay. The first big hotels were the Moana Surf Rider and the Royal Hawaiian – built by the Matson Shipping company but the age of jet travel brought a lot more tourists and the cabanas at Halekulani were upgraded to Hawaii’s poshest hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was born, and others have kept growing to match the ever increasing number of tourists who fulfill their dreams by coming here. You would think the resorts would pay for all of the beach ‘nourishment’ but actually, that falls on the people who live and work here for the low wages tourism offers. Tax dollars foot the bill and corporate dollars buy the politicians that distribute it.

Waikiki

Still, no one blames the tourists, the hotels, or the government because quite frankly, the beach is nice and even if most locals don’t get to enjoy the beach as much as they would like – we all get down there from time to time.  There are surf competitions, a nightly free hula show, the lighting of the torches, and every high end shop or restaurant you can imagine all competing for those coveted tourist vacation dollars.

Waikiki surfing

Waikiki is essentially the neighborhood from the Ala Wai Canal to the beach to the Diamond Head Lighthouse including Kapiolani Park, bequethed by and named for Queen Kapiolani, the wife of King Kalakaua (see statue of her above). The main roads in Waikiki are Kalakaua Avenue (named for King Kalakaua), Kuhio Avenue, and Ala Wai running parallel with the beach along with Kapahulu running inland (which will lead you to Leonard’s Bakery). There are also a large number of smaller cross roads. Kalakaua is the main drag for high end shopping. Kapahulu takes you out of Waikiki and to some great restaurants. Ala Wai takes you back to Ala Moana – and Kuhio is a little bit of a red light district – though not as bad as it used to be.

Waikiki is primarily a place known for surfing with a wide variety of breaks and waves. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku draws admirers and each year there are numerous competitions held there. If you want to learn how to surf, it is possibly the best place in the world to do so. Other attractions here are the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the International Marketplace .It is also where most people start and finish their Hawaii vacations…which is a bit of a shame – because with a great guide, it’s easy to realize that Waikiki is just another manufactured tourist destination next to the beach – but Honolulu, Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai are where you will actually discover Hawaii. I’m not saying that Waikiki isn’t great, because it is great, but it’s not the best that Hawaii has to offer – though it is the best place to start and finish your trip here.

Oahu – Hawaii’s Capital Island – The Gathering Place

The name Oahu has no meaning in the Hawaiian language except for the place itself. The island is nicknamed ‘The Gathering Place’ and for over a millenium, this small 596 squrare mile patch of land in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean has been exactly that. A gathering place. Oahu is the third largest but the most densely populated of the Hawaiian Islands. Oahu is my home. I love Oahu. And I love sharing Oahu.

Oahu

The highest mountain on this island is Mt. Ka’ala at 4003 feet and the coastline stretches about 227 miles. Oahu is not a circle, it has more of a diamond shape at 44 miles by 30 miles at the longest and widest points. There are roughly a million people living here but as many as a quarter million visitors at any given time.

Oahu was formed by two ancient and massive shield volcanos which have eroded away over millions of years leaving two towering and dramatic mountain ranges – The Wai’anaie and the Ko’olau. There are amazing waterfalls, hikes, and other treasures hidden in the mountains.

The largest city on Oahu is the largest city in the state as well – Honolulu. Over 80% of the population of Oahu lives in the Honolulu urban area – and everyone on this island is within both the city and the county limits since we are administrated by the City and County of Honolulu. If you live in Honolulu or on Oahu, you are not an Oahuan or a Honoluluite – you are simply a ‘local’ – although if you are white, you are a haole no matter what – so deal with it. Honolulu though, is only a small portion of the total island.

Oahu

Even if you’ve never been to Oahu or heard of it – you have probably heard of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline,  and the North Shore. These are a couple of the very well known places, but this island has many towns (even though they are all technically Honolulu). Looking at the map, Oahu is divided into five distinct regions. North Shore, South Shore, Windward (East) Side, West Side, and Central Oahu. Another distinction is ‘Town Side’ which indicates Honolulu itself if you are anywhere on the island but also includes Kaneohe and Kailua if you are on the less populated parts of the Windward Coast. Other distinct towns are Kapolei, Waianae, Makaha, Ewa, Makaha, Kahuku, Laie, Hale’iwa, Waialua, Milalani, Wahiawa, Waipahu, and more. Honolulu also has many distinct neighborhoods such as Kaka’ako, Waikiki, Salt Lake, Chinatown, Downtown, Historic District, and Kaimuki.

Oahu

Directions can be confusing – Ewa means West but only if you are East of Ewa – and Diamond Head means East unless you are East of Diamond Head. Mauka means towards the mountains. Makai means towards the ocean.

It rains somehwere on Oahu every day. This is the land of rainbows. In fact, the longest rainshower in the world happened on this island from August 27, 1993 to April 30, 1994 – 247 days of rain. Take that and smoke it in your ark, Noah. Even when it rains the weather is pleasant ranging from 68 F – 92 F. It is hotter and dryer in summer and a bit cooler and definitely wetter in winter.

Oahu has been inhabited for around 1600 years but Europeans didn’t come here until 1779 – a year after Captain Cook first visited Hawaii. The first haole here was Captain Charles Clerke. Europeans brought disease, mosquitos, capitalism, missionaries, and invasive species – all of which still have a large influence today.

Oahu

Oahu has been attacked only a handful of times – mostly by Hawaiians from other islands prior to unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Kamehameha the Great. In modern times it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. There are massive numbers of U.S. Military here at all times as well as over five million tourists per year.

Oahu

Oahu is a visual delight and has been used as many different places in the world by countless films and TV shows.  The island has ten of fourteen global microclimates which makes it an ideal film location. Some noteable people who are from Oahu are Barack Obama, Bruno Mars, Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Theroux, Duke Kahanamoku, Jack Lord, Marcus Mariotta,  Jack Johnson, Daniel Inouye, Michele Wie, Don Ho, and Jake Shimabukuru.

Oahu

North Shore Soap Factory in the Waialua Sugar Mill on Oahu

North Shore Soap FactoryOne of my favorite places to take guests and visitors on Oahu is to the world famous North Shore of Oahu. A day up there usually includes visiting the famous surfing beaches like Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay – but it also includes stops such as a Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa and a trip to the old Wailua Sugar Mill which for more than a decade now has been home to the North Shore Soap Factory.

My friends Jerry and Deb saw that sugar was never coming back and when there was talk about tearing down the historic old sugar mill (the last to close on Oahu) – they knew they had to do something – so they moved their home-grown soap and botanicals operation into the old drying cone. Jerry is a surfer, builder, and tinkerer and over time he converted the old rust bucket building into a full blown soap factory.

North Shore Sugar Mill

Since that time, other businesses have moved in. Some of the best surfboard shapers, glassers, and designers in the world occupy the run down buildings around the property. A coffee roaster moved in. A surf shop moved in next door. Eventually, the Waialua Farmers Market started operating on the grounds.

The great thing about the North Shore Soap Factory is that it is so much more than a soap factory. It’s a museum, because during the course of building the soap works, Jerry and Deb saved all the memorabilia they found from the old sugar mill. It’s also a place to rest and have a free cup of coffee. You can try out the soaps and rubs in the showroom – and it’s one of the best places on the island to find the miracle kukui nut oil – which will help you recover from a sunburn…and which, by the way, is the basis for all their soaps. No nasty chemicals or pig fats used in these soaps.

People have fun at the North Shore Soap Factory – even if they don’t think they will. Sometimes when I have a group of married couples – the women (or the men) might get excited but the rest of them roll their eyes or talk about how they want to see the ‘real’ Hawaii and not take some factory tour. The funny thing is that you can’t really get any more authentic than the Waialua Sugar Mill and once you get there you realize this was a place where men and women worked and supported their families. This was the lifeblood of these islands. Sugar was king.

I grew up watching television and one of the most iconic commercials was always the C&H Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii commercials. This is where some of that happened. Even better – today it is where something is still happening. This isn’t one those tours of places where people used to work but now tourists are the only work…Deb, Jerry, and their crew are actually creating something

And I don’t mind telling you – I’m a big fan of their products. After you buy a bar (or six) don’t forget to stamp your soaps with the old canoe paddle stamps Jerry created in his workshop. And by all means…take some photos.

 

Slideshow Saturday: The Natural Beauty of Oahu

Oahu continually blows my mind with its beauty and awesomeness. Whether it is the North Shore, the West Side, the Windward Side or the South Shore this island’s beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. When you go into the mountains or into the center (the piko) of the island, you find stunning and scenic wonder – and if you get lucky enough to venture into the water you will find plenty above and below the surface to keep you smiling in delight. All of this and then you have the man-made beauty of the historic district, downtown, waikiki, the plantations, and the various statues, memorials, and more. But I don’t want to make you too giddy with the power of Oahu – so just enjoy these for now.

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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 express 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 Oahu comes 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 Honolulu, 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.