Hike Oahu’s Diamond Head Volcano then Surf Diamond Head Break in Hawaii

As a guide, one of the top requests I get is to ‘see Diamond Head’ – which is funny, because often when I get the request – it’s in Waikiki where Diamond Head is most visible!  Diamond Head is just one of those monuments that people have heard of but don’t really know what it is – sometimes they know it’s a volcano, sometimes they know it’s a hike, sometime’s they know it’s a surf break – but Diamond Head is that and more. It’s also a neigborhood, a road, a direction, a crater, a park, a National Guard base, a historic military lookout, a lighthouse – and quite frankly – an experience and feeling – a sense of actually being in Waikiki.

Geologically speaking, Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that last erupted about 400,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called it Le’ahi which means ‘forehead of the tuna’ and from Waikiki – that’s exactly what it looks like. Western sailors gave it the current name because it was a visible landmark from sea – also known as a ‘head’. The shape of the top is roughly diamond shape which makes sense to me but there are other stories about sailors finding calcite crystals they thought were diamonds and even about the way the light refracted off of it at sunset.  At it’s tallest point, it is 762 feet tall (232 m). Diamond Head was the last gasp of the Oahu volcanos and took place millions of years after the main island-forming eruptions of the Ko’olau and Waianae Volcanos. The Pali Lookout sits at the top of the Ko’olau Volcano rim – sometimes people get the lookouts confused.

In modern times, the crater and nearby areas outside the crater were part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ruger. Today there is still a National Guard Unit and Hawaii Civil Defense inside the crater. It was used as a lookout point for the U.S. Military in Hawaii during both world wars and the pillboxes at the top of the popular interior hike are the remnants of those bygone days.

Diamond Head is a U.S. National Monument and Natural Landmark – so it is protected. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge Woodstock style concerts in the crater with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more.  I would have loved seeing the Grateful Dead in there.

Today, most people who come to Diamond Head want to do the hike. It is less than a mile each direction but with some serious elevation gain (about 560 feet). Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen,  and take breaks if you need to. The trail was built in 1908 by the U.S. Army. In ancient times, there was a Heiau (temple) dedicated to the God of Winds up near where tourists take in the view today. You’ll see why – so hold onto your hat! Admission is $5 per car if driving or $1 per person if walking. It is open every day of the year from 6am to 6pm with last entrance at 4:30 pm daily.

Parking is cheap but you may have to wait for a few minutes. To get there just drive up Diamond Head Road to Kapiolani Community College and turn right at the sign, drive through the tunnel into the crater, and pay for parking at the gate.

After you take the hike, drive back out through the tunnel and continue on around Diamond Head’s exterior. You will find several pullouts where you can take in the view of the surf on one side and the exterior of the Volcano on the other. Between the lookouts and the Diamond Head Lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard – you will see a trail that leads down to the surf break. Diamond Head is one of the most consistant and popular surf breaks on the island of Oahu. You will have to hike your board down (and back up) but it will be worth it. If you just want to watch the surfers, the lookout with the Amelia Earhardt memorial is the best spot.

Further down the road, you will enter the Diamond Head neighborhood, one of Oahu’s most exclusive and expensive places to live. Just a bit further and you will be back in Waikiki at Kapiolani Community Park. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the beauty and grace of Diamond Head as you enjoy Waikiki.

The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout on Oahu – See Hawaii from Above

Pali Lookout HawaiiOne of the most spectacular viewpoints in the world lies just a few miles from Honolulu and Waikiki. The word ‘pali’ in Hawaiian language means cliff – and the Pali Lookout won’t disappoint you as you get an amazing view up the Windward Side of Oahu and down into the beautiful towns of Kailua and Kaneohe. The lookout itself is a magnificent section of cliff which sits at the top of the Nu’uanu Valley and just on the town-side of the Nu’uanu tunnels (Route 61) which go straight through the walls of the ancient Ko’olau volcano. The tunnels date back to 1958, before that the road went up and over the lookout.

From the lookout you can see Kualoa Mountain, Chinaman’s Hat, Coconut Island, and Kaneohe and Kailua Bays.

Driving from Honolulu, you will take the Nu’uanu Pali Highway and turn off at the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside – don’t forget to pay for parking- the attendants are vigilent! If you wear a hat, hold onto it because there are often strongtrade winds barrelling through the pass. Before the tunnels, this was the main road across the Ko’olau connecting town-side with windward side. The road up from the town side has always been important and today there are consulates, church headquarters, Buddhist missions, a synagogue, and nice neighborhoods. The Nu’uanu valley has been inhabited for more than a thousand years. Hawaiian royalty built their summer homes in the valley to avoid the higher temperatures from June through September.

Historically, the lookout is celebrated as the site of the unifying battle of the Hawaiian Islands where King Kamehameha the First brought ten thousand warriors and slaughtered the defenders of Oahu – who were mostly conquering Maui warriors. He forced Kalanikupule to the edge of the cliff and then threw him from the edge along with four hundred of his soldiers. This happened in 1795.

Fifty years later, the first road crossed the Pali. Hawaiian legends abound about the Pali – there are ghosts and goddesses and magical dogs and enchanted lizards – but mostly you will see chickens and cats.

One of my favorite of the stories goes that you should never have pork in your car when you cross the Pali – mainly this is because Pele, the goddess of the Volcano had a terrible relationship and bad breakup with Kamapua’a – the pig god. Since that time, she won’t let any pork or pigs come across the Pali and if you try…your car will break down until you remove the pork from the vehicle. So you better not pack ham sandwiches for lunch!

 

Tour ‘Iolani Palace – Hawaii’s Royal Residence in Honolulu’s Historic District

King David Kalakaua was the last king of the Hawaiian Kingdom. His sister, Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown by American sugar planters and American military interests. King Kalakaua built the palace as a symbol to the people of Hawai’i and a message to all the nations of the world that Hawai’i is an educated, civilized, and advanced society ready to take the place as one of the biright lights of advanced human civilizations.

King Kalakaua had met Thomas Edison and arranged to have electric lighting installed into ‘Iolani Palace as early as 1887. After meeting Alexander Graham Bell, he had a telephone installed in the palace. Indoor plumbing (with flush toilets) was original in the palace when it was completed in 1882. ‘Iolani Palace had a telephone, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting before the White House had any of the three.

To tour the interior of the palace you must first visit Hale Koa aka the ‘Iolani Barracks – this is on the palace grounds and should not be confused with the Hale Koa Hotel (House of Warriors) in Waikiki which is for U.S. servicemen and women. ‘Iolani Barracks was moved from the Diamond Head side of the palace grounds to where it currently sits. It was built in 1870 for the household royal guards of King Kamehameha V. Today it is where the gift shop, the ticket office, and a small video theatre are located. It was designed by Theodor Hacek, a German architect who also designed Queen’s Hospital.

On the ocean side from ‘Iolani Barracks is the Coronation Pavilion built in 1883 for the coronation of King Kalalkaua and his wife Queen Kapi’olani. On the grounds are large banyan trees originally planted as saplings by Queen Kapi’olani and a large kukui nut tree (candle nut) planted by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

‘Iolani means royal hawk in Hawaiian language. The palace itself is built a a unique architectural style called American Florentine. The tour is a poignant reminder of all the Hawaiian people lost. Their kingdom, their monarchs, their self rule, and for many years – their heritage. There are docent tours in the morning but later in the day you can take the self guided audio tours provided. Tour and admission is $27 for adults and $6 for children (5-12). Babies and toddlers under five years old get free admission and there are discounts for kama’aina and military. You can also download the Iolani Palace app here. This is a surprisingly kid friendly tour and our seven-year-old had fun seeing where the real King and Queen of Hawaii lived. She was also livid when she found out that the conspirators charged Queen Liliuokalani with treason and imprisoned her in her bedroom after the kingdom was overthrown. Plan on spending 2-3 hours and if you bring a picnic, you can eat your lunch on the palace lawns after (or before) your tour.

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How To Enjoy A Free Dolphin Show on Oahu

A trip to Hawai’i is not a cheap adventure. You are going to be paying for everything and let’s face it – nothing is cheap. Your hotel is expensive, your rental car, your food, your drinks, your sunscreen…and if you live here…well, you already know…every day is expensive.

Isn’t anything in Hawai’i cheap? Isn’t anything in Hawai’i free?

Well, as a matter of fact, the answer is yes. In fact, if you know where to look, there are lots and lots and lots of free attractions, events, and activities in the beautiful state of Hawai’i and nowhere is that more true than in my hometown of Honolulu.

Check out the following…how much would you expect to pay to see this?

$30, $40, $100? That’s what I would think. And then add into it that you can explore a private beach, a beautiful waterfall, pools filled with tropical fish, a sting wray and even sea turtles…and the price is $0, nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch.

So here is a great secret I’m going to share with you. If you want to swim with dolphins, you are going to pay $800 to $1500 for the experience at the Kahala Hotel and about half of that if you want to do it at Sea Life Park… but if you want to watch a dolphin show, you can go to the Kahala Hotel on the south side of Oahu and you can park at the beach park nearby, then walk down the beach to the Kahala. A beautiful beach, a swimming float, and everything mentioned above.

Are you suppossed to be there? I can’t really answer that. I suppose the hotel would prefer that only their guests are there – but as long as you aren’t making problems, the chances are you will be able to stay and enjoy the show…

 

Mini Golf on Oahu – Tropics in Waimalu – Pearl City – Aiea

My wife works during the week and rarely gets to have time by herself at home on the weekends – so I’ve taken to giving her a few hours each weekend in which she can luxuriate in a bath, catch up on her favorite series, or chat with her friends on the phone. It makes her happy and one of the best pieces of advice I was given before marriage was the simple “Happy wife, happy life”. It’s not just me that needs to find something to do though, we have an intelligent and active 7-year-old that usually wants to get involved in whatever her mama is doing – so the two of us will frequently head out on adventures together to give Mama a break. It’s a win-win-win. My wife gets some much-needed time to herself, my daughter gets to get outside of the house on her weekend and I get to spend time with my daughter having fun on Oahu

Back in February, I decided it was time that Sophia learn how to golf. I had fond memories of mini-golfing with my father when I was a kid in the 1970’s, so I was almost as excited as she was when I told her my plans. Oahu has four putt-putt courses. Tiki’s Family Fun Center in the Dole Cannery offers a small glow putt course; there is another small glow-putt in the Windward Mall; Bay View in Kaneohe  has a standard outdoor miniature golf course; and then there is Tropics Miniature Golf near Pearl Ridge Mall in Aiea which offers 9-holes in the great outdoors. We opted to go to Tropics because it was rainy on the Windward side and sunny in Pearl City. 

There are a couple things you should know before you go. 1) This is an old course and while it is fun, it’s not a fancy-pants working windmill or flashy designed course. Many of the holes are falling apart and some of the trick shots (for example, the challenging hole on the volcano) don’t give you any advantage if you hit them. 2) There is a lot of foliage around the course and we got bit by a few mosquitos, so bug spray is a good idea. 3) Most of Tropics is shaded but it can still get pretty hot because of the lack of a breeze – make sure you bring water or go in the evening.

The facility is clean and all the people who work there are very friendly. This is cheap family fun with admission at $9.50 for adults and $6.50 for kids 3-7 years old. Kama’aina and military save a buck off the general admission and kids under three play for free. Admission is good for unlimited play on the day you go – so this is really one of the best bargains going on Oahu. The food at Tropics is good and fairly priced but nothing to rave about – still, it’s nice to be able to get a hot dog, slider and tater tots, or a variety of snacks on site. There are bathrooms on site, located right behind the food/ticket booth. 

As I mentioned before, it’s an old course and not everything works exactly like it is supposed to but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. We played two rounds for a total of 18-holes. Par is either two or three but we both managed to hit a hole in one at least once and both dogged it on the challenging 6th hole to end up well over par (our house rule is five is the maximum you can score). We lost one bright pink ball somewhere in the jungle rough but the girl in the booth gave us a new ball with a smile and no problems. Since my wife wasn’t with us, we were able to have hot dogs, chips and a soft drink for lunch (Mama doesn’t let us get away with that kind of junk food when she is with us!) 

When we got home, my wife was happy to see us and insisted that next time we bring her along when she heard how much fun we’d had. We have been back many times since…and Mama enjoyed it too. 

 

Ice Skating in Honolulu – An Unexpectedly Cool Thing to Do in Hawaii

We live in the Salt Lake neighborhood of Western Honolulu and there are a couple of unique attractions nearby – Pearl Harbor, the Aloha Stadium, the Battleship Missouri, and the Ice Palace – Honolulu’s only ice skating rink.

Not long ago, I took my wife and daughter to the Ice Palace and we skated. We had some falls, we used the cheater carts, and we had fun. It was surprisingly hard physical work and it was cool inside on a particularly hot day in Hawaii. We had a blast until a particularly hard fall took my wife down. At that point the fun was over and we headed on to do something else. But not before I had the chance to introduce my daughter to the Zamboni! Everyone should meet a Zamboni at least once…

When I was working as a guide in the early 2000s, I passed the Ice Palace hundreds of times and never went in – I made jokes about it during the ice (crystal meth) epidemic back in the noughts, and I always wondered how it would be to ice skate in Hawai’i.

Bizarre Personal Remembrances that Having Nothing to Do With Hawaii But Something to do with Ice Skating

I grew up in Big Bear Lake, a ski resort in the mountains of Southern California – we had skiing, but even though the lake froze over every winter – people never seemed to ice skate on it – if they did, I never saw them do it. We had a roller rink and as an adult I had ice skated once in Memphis (which is another strange place to ice skate) and once in New York City which was pretty iconic. In neither place did I acheive anything resembling proficiency. The truth is, ice skating is difficult! It looks easy but it’s not. At least not for me.

I once lived in a squat with a strange 40-year-old virgin who drove an Iowa cab with Indiana plates (and we were in Bellingham, Washington) – he dreamed of being a figure skater and one early morning he forgot to take out the garbage and chased after the truck in his pink tights…it was surreal, but that’s another story too.

 

 

Location and Hours

The Ice Palace is located at 4510 Salt Lake Blvd and to get there from Waikiki you just head West on the H-1 and follow the signs for the stadium. Admission is $10.50 per person regardless of age and the hours are posted here.. And, if you are interested in actually learning how to skate – there are pretty reasonably priced classes available.

The Honolulu Zoo – Go Early to See the Animals

When I first moved to Hawai’i back in 2001, I lived in Waikiki where I was managing a hostel. It was a good life, but when you live in a hostel, you have to find places where you can get away from the backpackers. For me, it was the Honolulu Zoo. I used to grab a book, pay my kama’aina admission and go sit in front of the chimpanzees (and yes, I found it funny that I’d leave the monkeyhouse of the hostel to go hang out in the monkeyhouse at the zoo).
I’d wander the paths of the zoo, sit in the grass, try to psychicly link up with Rusty the Orangutan (who was in a much smaller enclosure by himself in those days) or see if I could spot the lions, wild African dogs, or other shy predators in their world class enclosures. The Honolulu Zoo was magnificent.
I was excited to go back and visit old friends – in particular, I wondered if Rusty would still be alive. The good news is that he is. The bad news is that he was hiding in his enclosure and wouldn’t come out. The other bad news was that the zoo is sadly a bit dilapidated. There were still crowds of people in the zoo – attendance isn’t the problem.

I doubt that those crowds will be going back though. The chimp enclosure has closed several times in the past few years. Once, because a wily chimp named Pu’iwa managed to put holes in the concrete, scale the wall, and jump over the two electric wires back in May of 2017.


Rusty’s newer, more expensive, bigger enclosure has sort of slipped into being about the same as his old enclosure and his much fan-fared mate, Violet, who was brought so that he wouldn’t be alone – she was on one side of the enclosure and Rusty was all the way on the other – not nubial bliss – that’s for sure – more like ten years of unhappy marriage in a cage.

Granted, we were there on a hot day and after about 10 a.m. most of the animals were hiding – but it wasn’t just that. The grounds appear to be less well kept, the grass less watered, the overall feeling of the zoo was kind of – let go. The aviary was far from the spectacular exhibit it once was, the reptile house was closed along with the chimp cage and other exhibits  (a new ectotherm outdoor reptile exhibit has since been opened, but I haven’t seen it yet).

Louise the Hippo was alone and seemed depressed which isn’t surprising after her friend Rosie died suddenly amidst complications arising from construction of a new enclosure – hint – new enclosures shouldn’t kill the animals they are built for. The petting zoo had been updated and the zoo probably spent a lot of money to do that – but there were fewer animals and frankly, it wasn’t as good as before. In short, the Honolulu Zoo is a bit of a mess and to compound things – they actually raised the price of admission ($19 general admission/ $12 kama’aina or military) while closing exhibits – I felt a tiny bit cheated. That’s not a good thing. My daughter – who is six – had a great time – but honestly, she has a good time anywhere we can buy her Dippin Dots and see some animals. My wife couldn’t wait to leave – she found it depressing – and couldn’t understand why I had talked about it so fondly.

Sadly, not only did the Honolulu Zoo not live up to my stories, but it lagged behind smaller, less well funded, less interesting (well, less interesting before) zoos.  A look at Trip Advisor reviews shows that it wasn’t just us feeling the dilapidation…words and phrases like ‘disappointed’ ‘eh’ ‘small’ ‘didn’t see any animals’ ‘too expensive for what we got’ pop up again and again.
It doesn’t make me feel good to write this, but I can’t recommend the Honolulu Zoo as a place to visit any longer. The price just isn’t worth what you get for it. I hope that changes. I hope that the city and the zoo administration can figure out how to solve the problems. Here’s a good start – water the grass as much as your average golf course on Oahu and maybe hire a golf course grounds keeper, post the feeding times of the animals, lower the admission price by three dollars until all the exhibits are reopened, reopen the exhibits, get more baby goats and other baby animals in the petting zoo, put out a call for volunteers to help with feeding, groundskeeping, animal care, and more. And probably this is the biggest piece of advice I can offer – stop trying to earn more money and instead try to give more value – that’s the biggest issue with the zoo right now – there seems to be no one trying to give value and unless that happens – attendance and revenue will continue to plummet, enclosures will continue to degrade, accredidations will continue to be taken away, and eventually the zoo will just be another natatorium waiting for a developer to turn it into a resort.

If you decide to go to the Honolulu Zoo anyway…here are some tips 1) Go early or catch one of the concerts in the zoo or twilight specials 2) Set your expectations low 3) Don’t go on a rainy day as it often floods and visitors are forced to leave and 4) If you have military or Hawai’i ID, be sure to bring them since the discount is worth it. 4) Go to the zoo first and then go to the Waikiki Aquarium – the fish don’t care about the time of the day or the heat!

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.

The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu, Hawaii – Get to know Hawai’i Underwater

Right off the bat, let’s get it straight – The Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu is not Fishtanbul or even The Oregon Coast Aquarium – it’s not Monterey or the San Francisco Aquarium. It’s small, it’s a little bit dated, and it’s a great way to pass an hour or two when the weather isn’t great or you just want to escape from the beaches and the shops in Waikiki. A combo trip to the Honolulu Zoo on the same day works really well.

The Waikiki Aquarium is open from 9am to 5pm daily and adult admission is $12. It’s located at 2777 Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki. Just get on the road next to the beach and walk towards Diamond Head. Walk past the zoo, past the bandstand, past the statue of Queen Kapiolani and then you will see it on the water side (makai side).

My favorite exhibits are the sea horses and sea dragons and also the jellyfish but there are good exhibits about aquaculture, coral reefs, corals, clams, and even Hawaiian Monk Seals. The kids always love the touch parts where they can hold a hermit crab or touch a sea anenome. The sustainable fish farming exhibit is pretty awesome and if you are just looking for a break from the beach, there are plenty of places to set up with a laptop and enjoy the free wifi. Enjoy the Waikiki Aquarium!

Aloha Stadium Marketplace – Where Locals Go To Shop

Aloha Stadium, near the Salt Lake Neighborhood,  is a well known Honolulu landmark, not only is it where the Pro-Bowl used to get played but it is also the stadium where UH football games happen and more importantly for many – where the three-times-a-week Aloha Stadium Swapmeet happens. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays – for a dollar per person locals and tourists alike wander through hundreds of vendors selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to aloha shirts and shave ice to just good old fashioned junk – along the circular route you will find those and everything in between – antiques, coins, clothing, ukuleles, tools, fishing gear, surfboards, video games – this is truly where the locals come to do their shopping – or selling.

I’ve loaded up my junk and treasures on dozens of mornings and set out hopefully for the swap meet – and so far – at the end of the day, I’m not any closer to being rich than I was at the start. It’s hard to get even good garage sale prices from the shrewd bargainers who haunt the junk sections – but with a stall price of just $15 and tent rentals at only $20 – you don’t have to sell a lot to make a profit and a big part of going is the fun of interacting with tourists and locals. There are a whole host of colorful characters who are regulars there – homeless guys who use their meager earnings to buy things to sell at thrift shops, professional garage salers, hoarders, people who are trying to make their social security checks stretch, junk addicted hustlers, video game junkies, displaced otaku, retired policemen, crusty fishermen, treasure hunting aunties, and local farmers and artisans. There is nowhere else in Hawaii where you can mingle with such a wide array of real Hawai’i folk.

The Stadium was originally built for Hawaii’s AAA baseball team, The Hawai’i Islanders, but that didn’t work out and the Islanders moved away. The stadium is still there though despite calls to tear it down and build another over the past twenty years. And the marketplace is still there – as far as I can tell, this is the last regular marketplace for low dollar vendors since the International Marketplace and Dukes Lane have been gentrified and turned into yet another Waikiki Beverley Hills. The Aloha Stadium Swapmeet is a place to find art by the artists, people selling the contents of storage locker auctions, farmers selling produce, people selling discount produce from wholesalers, and as mentioned above – nearly everything else. What you generally won’t find at Aloha Stadium Swapmeet are guns or knives or weapons of any kind, fireworks or flammables, pornography, drugs or vaping, alcohol, or anything else that doesn’t fit with a family atmosphere.

So, go ahead, buy expensive produce and souvenirs at other places – or head to the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet and get them for the kama’aina price. The swap meet happens Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday (unless there is a game scheduled). You can show up as early as 6am but if you show up later than 10am, don’t expect to find any treasure or good apple bananas – those go early.

Ulupo Heiau in Kailua on Oahu, Hawaii – Ancient Hawaiian Temple Site

An often missed but fascinating site on Oahu is the Ulupō Heiau on the Windward side of the island near the beach town of Kailua. It sits on the eastern edge of Kawai Nui Marsh which is off to your left as you come into Kailua down the Pali Highway. Stories say that it was created by the Menehune, an ancient race of leprechan-like pre-Hawaiians who inhabited the islands before Tahitian voyagers got here. There are many such large Menehune credited structures throughout the islands. The name Ulupo means ‘night inspiration’. I can only imagine what it is like at night.

As you drive by, you can see the huge stone platform through the mango trees just past the Windward YMCA – if you go to the YMCA, you can park and walk around the back to acces the heiau. A heiau is a Hawaiian temple site. The Ulupo Heiau measures 140 x 180 feet and is as high as 30 feet at some points. The stones were brought from all over the island and at one point – it was a very important cultural site for the Hawaiian people of Oahu.

The area it sits in was important for Hawaiian agriculture with the production of banana(maya), taro (kalo), sugarcane (ko), breadfruit (ulu) and many other fruits and vegetables. In addition there were ancient fishponds in the area. All of this has led archaeologists to suppose that it was an agricultural temple site that grew into a more important heiau luakini – which would have had much more power associated with it.

Kailua, though a laid back beach town today, was once an important seat of power. The kings of Oahu maintained their residences here – as did the later conquering kings of Maui and King Kamehameha the great who united all the islands under his rule. After the conversion of the Hawaiian people to Christianity and the missionary and territory periods – the site lost much of it’s importance and was part of a cattle ranch.

In the 1960s, the site was partially restored and a plaque was put up but the accumulated rubbish of nearly a century filled the site. In the early 2000’s, I worked with groups of other volunteers to clean out the rubbish, restore the lo’i (taro ponds), and clean the site. Until recently, there were members of the reinstated Hawaiian government living on the site – or maybe they were simply homeless Hawaiian guys living on the site and taking care of the aina. In any event, they were forced out and I don’t know the details. I know that it was nice to have them there in the mid 2000s but when I visited in 2017 there was a somewhat creepy and dangerous feel to the place.

Yesterday’s visit seemed to be an improvement over that.

The Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii

The Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii is one of the top attractions on the island of Oahu. The entrance fee is $25, which is a little steep for a musuem, but if you are an aviation buff or a military history fan – this is a must-see. Two hangars filled with aircraft and exhibits as well as the iconic red and white control tower on Ford Island and outdoor aircraft displays.

There are some pretty cool displays including a Flying Tigers Exhibit and a Boeing Sternman Model 75 flown by former President George H. W. Bush. Exhibits include a focus on the attack at Pearl Harbor, a B-17 Bomber recovered from the swamps of New Guinea, and a wide range of military, civil, and civilian aircraft.


The Pacific Aviation Museum is an interesting stop and it should be since construction, maintenance, and acquisition costs most likely add up to $50 billion dollars or more.

We had a great day there. We found a day when admission was only $5 each (online only) because of a conference promoting careers in aviation for women and girls. There were special exhibits, information booths, and lots of fun to be had. There are frequently online deals like two admissions for the price of one, free aircraft simulator tours, and more on the museum website.

To get there from Honolulu, you take the H1 Freeway towards the Airport and Pearl Harbor. Since this is part of the Valor in the Pacific (Pearl Harbor) set of attractions -you will park at Pearl Harbor and go into the entrance of the main visitor center. Once inside head straight towards the ticket booth on the right side where you can purchase tickets to the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

Once you have your ticket you will catch a bus from inside the facility that will take you across the bridge to Ford Island – this is the same bus that will take you to the Battleship Missouri. Just like Pearl Harbor, you can’t bring backpacks, bags, purses, or fanny packs with you – there is bag storage before the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

There is a small tourist gift shop and a so-so canteen for sandwiches and snacks. Expect to spend 1-1.5 hours for a casual visit. Longer if you want to really dig into the museum and displays.

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.

Tropical Farms – A Family Run Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Farm Outlet on Oahu

I love taking people to Tropical Farms, also known as the Macadamia Nut Place on the Windward Side of Oahu. It’s a different world compared to the rest of the tourist stops. Sure, there are still the Robert’s of Hawaii busses filled with Japanese, Chinese, or Middle American tourists (fun fact which may or may not be true – the average American bus tourist takes up at least twice the space of the average Chinese or Japanese tourist).

As you’re driving up the lush windward side, before you reach Kualoa Ranch, you see a couple of flags and a steep driveway – and you turn into it. Once you park you are greeted by an aloha shirted local with a big smile and a genuines sense of aloha. “Aloha, Welcome to Tropical Farms” – inside there is free coffee and plenty of free nut samples – garlic, cinnamon, caramel, honey, salted, plain – try them all. Also local jewelry, artisanal products, and products made from the miracle fruit – Noni. If it does even a quarter of what people claim – it’s truly a miracle.

In the back there are bins of fresh macadamia nuts you can crack open on lava rocks and of course, no shortage of chickens. One of the most authentic luau’s on the island takes place back there and there are tropical farm tours available with Samoan story tellers. On the property you will find guava, coffee, plenty of tropical flowers, and of course, macadamia. Macadamia, by the way, come originally from Australia – but they grow a little different here. You’ll see plenty of Aussies lining up with full baskets – because Tropical Farms charges half what the mac-nuts go for at home.

The best part about Tropical Farms though, is that it is a family place. You’ll find pictures of ‘Mom and Dad’ and ‘Dad’s’ surfboard (probably great-granddad’s now, actually) and much more. The crew working there are locals or family members and the aloha is genuine.

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.

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