Whether you live in Hawaii or you are visiting – one destination that you have to go to is the mall! I know that sounds funny in the age of brick and mortar retail dying out – but Ala Moana Shopping Center is much more than just a mall. It’s actually the largest open air shopping center in the world and it’s a place that both residents and visitors to Oahu love to go.
It’s hard to believe, but the land that Ala Moana now sits on was once a swamp. It was purchased from the Bishop Estate in 1912 by Walter Dillingham, a dredger with a dream. He filled the land with the dredgings from the Ala Wai Canal and Pearl Harbor. His son, Lowell, took the next step – getting the ball rolling on construction of the mall in 1957 and opening in 1959 – the same year Hawaii became a state. At the time it was the largest shopping mall in the United States. Today it is still the ninth largest in the USA and the largest open air mall in the world with nearly 2.4 million square feet of retail space. There are well over 300 stores, restaurants, and vendors in Ala Moana – among them Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and all of the many luxury brands you can think of as well as Target, Ross, and other discount stores. Food courts, stages, entertainment venues, and the Shirokiya Japanese marketplace – a large Japanese street food themed food court with cheap beer and delicious food.
Getting to Ala Moana is easy – it’s between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki and sits between Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapiolani Boulevard. It is mauka (mountain direction) from Ala Moana beach park. Parking is plentiful. Ala Moana is a huge part of local life here in Honolulu – malls may be dying everywhere else, but not in Hawaii.
High on the list of many visitors to Honolulu, Hawaii is the chance to visit the USS Missouri, the last of the great American battleships – which is permanently anchored as an attraction at Pearl Harbor as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
The ‘Mighty Mo’ was the last American battleship commissioned (1944) and the last of the great ships to be decommissioned (1992). The ship still serves, but now it is as a monument to those who have served on American Navy ships.
To get to the Missouri, you will first need to go to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where you can purchase a ticket if you haven’t already bought one online. The entire complex contains the Missouri, USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. From the visitor center you will take a military operated bus to Ford Island.
Don’t be surprised by the size of the ship. It is huge! At more than 18 stories tall from top to bottom and over three football fields long, be ready to climb lots of stairs and do lots of walking- there are elevators available for those who are mobility challenged.
The ship is kept in a state of what seems perpetual readiness and the smell of diesel fuel and paint is strong wherever you go. The passageways, galleys, and chambers on the ship feel ghostly alive with the sounds of the crew that no longer serves on board, recorded in the past and piped in on speakers in the present. Most of the ship feels as if you have arrived just as the crew is taking a break and has gone elsewhere – it’s eerie to look into the empty medical offices, machine shops, galleys, berths, mess halls, and quarters and not find a soul there (except for other tourists)
The Missouri is most famous as the site where the formal Japanese surrender happened. That and the site where Japanese kamikaze pilot smashed into the ship are both memorialized. The kamikaze display below decks, where the faces and final letters of the young men who committed suicide by smashing their planes into American ships is perhaps the most disturbing of the many museum displays on board the ship. It’s important to remember the high cost of war while you visit this huge machine of death – World War II killed an estimated 88 million people of which as many as 55 million were children, women, senior citizens and other civilians and non-combatents.
If you are not a patriotic American or a true fan of war machines or history, the first part of the tour can be a bit rough. You are required to take a docent guided tour where patriotism and gushing anthropomorphic descriptions of the ship are shared from a well memorized script. This portion can run from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you book and your guide’s enthusiasm The guides always refer to the big ship as ‘her’ or ‘she’. After the guided portion, you can wander through the ship at your leisure – watch your head and don’t trip as you crouch through the hatchways.
There are two tours available – the standard guided tour (Mighty Mo) – which shows you the main decks and the nearly three times as long ‘Heart of the Missouri’ which takes you to below decks and through some of the museums and displays.
As with most attractions in Hawaii, Kamaʻāina and military members with photo I.D. get discounted prices. Visitors cannot bring purses, backpacks or bags into the entire complex. There is bag storage available or just leave it behind.
The Valor in the Pacific Memorial and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located at
1 Arizona Memorial Place Honolulu, HI 96818
Open daily. 8 am- 4 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day
Honolulu, Hawaii is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.
Over the past year, I’ve written a large number of posts that detail the different neighborhoods, cities and towns of Honolulu – which includes the entire island of Oahu. I have not included the outer islands that are part of Honolulu City and County which stretch all the way up to Midway Island but not including it (or Johnston Atoll). Thousands of uninhabited little islands, atolls, reefs, etc are included but since they have no people, they have no neighborhoods. This post is an attempt to share all of those neighborhood articles in a bit of an orderly way. My purpose in writing these articles has been so that I can share more than just the names when I write about places, activities, attractions, restaurants, or beaches on Oahu.
Neighborhoods in ‘Town’ include those places formally inside the metro city limits. East Honolulu goes from Diamond Head to Koko Head. Windward Side stretches from Waimanalo up to Kahuku on the east side of Oahu. North Shore is from Kuhuku to Mokuleia. Leeward is the ‘West Side’ and goes from Yokohama Bay down to Ko’olina. Central Oahu includes areas from Ko’olina to Salt Lake and all the towns upwards to Wahiawa in the center of Oahu between the two mountain ranges of Ko’olau and Waianae.
I’ve combined some areas that made sense to me and have yet to write about some neighborhoods like Chinatown, Ala Moana, Black Point, Portlock, Kalihi, Moili’ili, Waipio, Barber’s Point, Nu’uanu and the many many many Military Bases and Housing Complexes on the Island.
Towards the center of Oahu you have two communities that sit higher than anywhere else on Oahu because they are on the central plain between the Ko’olau and Waianae Mountain Ranges. Mililani which is mauka (mountain direction from beach) of Pearl City and Waipahu and Wahiawa which sits in just about the exact middle of Oahu.
Mililani has about 50,000 residents split between Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka – split by the H-2 freeway. It is a planned residential community that sits on former plantation lands. It was designed by famed architect Al Boeke and the first homes were sold relatively recently in 1968. You won’t find any historic landmarks in Mililani from the colonial or territorial periods. Mililani is literally an ‘all American’ suburb town that is the only place in Hawaii to ever win the official designation of ‘All American Town’. In 2005 it was designated as one of the best places to live in the USA by Money magazine. Tourists and visitors will find little to no reason to visit Mililani.
In Hawaiian, Mililani means beloved place of chiefs and that may be true because as the third wealthiest town/neighborhood on Oahu – there are definitely some chiefs living there. Wahiawa, on the other hand, means ‘place of noise’ which is funny because it is one of the quietest places on the island – which might actually be the point because in Wahiawa, you don’t hear the roar of the ocean and so the noise of the wind, birds, and the land itself is probably the loudest.
Wahiawa sits closest to the middle of Oahu. For Hawaiians, this made it a place of power. It is the ‘piko’ or bellybutton of this island. The town was a sacred place for Hawaiian people it is where healers trained in pre-European contact Hawaii. It is where high ranking women would choose to give birth. It is a sacred and powerful place where there was a significant population of Hawaii’s third gender, the ‘mahu’ were centered.
Today, Wahiawa is a bit of a pit – a typical military town surrounded by bases and military housing. You will find no shortage of fast food, pawnshops, payday loans, furniture rentals, and tattoo shops there along the main strip through town – though – in recent years, residents have made an attempt to clean the town up and are finding some success. Surfer’s Coffee Bar and the surrounding businesses are clean, interesting, and make a nice stop on the trip from North Shore to Oahu. Some decent restaurants have set up shop in Wahiawa. And if you get off the main drag – you will find the free, beautiful, and very well kept Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.
Makakilo means ‘observing eyes’ in the Hawaiian Language. This is a small community of about 15,000 people that is really a neighborhood of Kapolei. Sitting on the slopes of the hillsides moving away from the beach – there isn’t really anything to draw visitors here. Like nearly everywhere on Oahu, the really nice neighborhoods are generally military housing. To the West is the manufactured resort neighborhood of Ko Olina.
Ko Olina has a golf course, four beautiful man-made lagoons that would be private in a different state where beach access wasn’t guaranteed. There are four high end resorts on the property along with an unusually large number of wedding chapels and a sort of tourist village with shops and restaurants. The resorts include the Disney Aulani as well as the Four Seasons.
Ko Olina is largely focused on timeshares and short term condominium rentals though there are a small number of full time residents. Ko Olina is made up of about 642 acres comprised of the four resorts, the golf course, and six ‘villages’ of mostly condos. The population is listed as about 1800 people but I doubt that many of these are full time residents – though if you go to the lagoons early in the morning – there is a group of mostly white senior citizens who gather to play ukulele and sing together on some days.
As you can see from the photo below – taken from the Ko Olina information site – Ko Olina is working very hard to create a fantasy version of Hawaii – and with the Paradise Cove Luau, the Disney Aulani Resort, the four lagoons, and the creation (in progress now) of an Atlantis Hotel (the one in Dubai) – it is succeeding. If you want to see the Hawaii of your imagination and you can afford it – Ko Olina is the place to go – but make sure you close your eyes while you are driving there from the airport because all around Ko Olina you will see the real modern Hawaii complete with traffic, homelessness, people struggling to survive economically, and since Ko Olina is on the dry side of Oahu – a lot of brown…because all that water used to make Ko Olina green has to be brought there.
Kapolei is primarily built on the old sugar and pineapple lands that were serviced by the little planation town of ‘Ewa back in the territorial days. From about the 1950s onwards, Kapolei has been the focus of a whole lot of government efforts to create a second major urban center on Oahu. The population today is in excess of 100,000 making it the second largest town on Oahu – and in actuality, making it Oahu’s second city – though because of the governmental structure of City and County of Honolulu covering the entire island – technically, Kapolei and everywhere else on Oahu are actually neighborhoods in the city of Honolulu. It’s a little weird.
‘Ewa means crooked though most locals think it means ‘in a westward direction’. The ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation which ran from 1890 to 1970 played a significant role in the history of Hawaii in the 20th Century. It was one of the most prosperous plantations on Oahu and had a major role in shaping policy and governance of the state. Today there is a small rustic plantation town and a nice little beach park but for the most part ‘Ewa runs into Kapolei and Waipahu. There are about 15,000 people who call ‘Ewa home. There is a significant military population as well as a number of manufactured ‘neighborhoods’ like Ewa Gentry, Ocean Point, and ‘Ewa Villages. The nearby military resort housing base at Iroquois Point is lovely but off limits to civilians.
Kapolei has government offices, an FBI field office, a water park (Hawaiian Waters), plenty of restaurants, shops, and well ordered streets, parks, and festivals. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of tourist infrastructure. There is a hotel there now and nearby at Ko Olina there are plenty of tourist resorts including Disney’s Aulani, Four Seasons, and Marriot. A large portion of the future growth of Oahu is slated to take place in Kapolei and nearby Waipahu and Millilani.
Kapolei is the home of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu campus and Hawaii Tokai International College as well as a local high schools and grade schools.
The Honolulu Area Rapid Transit Rail project is going to make a big impact on Kapolei – once it’s all done and figured out. Many of the stores and restaurants in Kapolei are franchise locations of local Oahu businesses from Kailua, Waikiki and more – so don’t be surprised to find Lanikai Juice or Kalapawai Deli on both sides of the island.
So here’s the thing – Kapolei – right now – has many of the same restaurants and shops as you find in areas where there are a lot of tourists – but without the tourists. I’m sure this will change before too long. The outlet malls, the resorts at Ko Olina, and the new Makana Ali’i Mall are all starting to draw people. Mostly though – this is all just getting ready for when the rail opens up this part of the island to all the tourists who have been so far, mostly contained in Waikiki and Honolulu.
John Rodgers International Airport used to be the name of the Danial K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Today, there is still a John Rodgers Airport – but it is not the big one you fly into here in Hawaii – instead it is the little training and tourist airport located in Kalaeloa on Oahu. So, who was John Rodgers and why are these airports named after him?
First of all, it wasn’t just airports that were named after him. There were also six U.S. Naval Ships named after Rodgers, his father, and his grandfather. They were all important Naval officers. But let’s just focus on John Rodgers the aviator for now. In 1911, Rodgers became the 2nd Naval officer to fly for the U.S. Navy. The first plane he flew was actually delivered by Orville Wright…
While all of that is impressive, it’s not why I’m writing about him. In 1925, Rodgers decided to push aviation technology to the limits and attempt a flight from California to Hawaii. If successful, he would have been the first – but – he wasn’t successful and that left the success to Amelia Earhardt. So, why am I writing about a failed attempt and why were airports named after a guy who didn’t succeed?
Because it is an epic story. Rodgers and his crew ran out of fuel half way to Hawaii. They were supposed to be able to land the plane on the water and refuel from a Navy ship but due to communication and navigation errors – they never found the ship. So they were stuck in a plane with no fuel in the middle of the Pacific. Did they give up and die? No way.
Rodgers took fabric from one of the aircraft wings and created a sail for his plane. Then, he and his crew sailed the plane the rest of the way to Hawaii! They ran out of food and had limited water for a week of the journey and despite the failure they set the record for non-stop air distance for a seaplane. They were welcomed to Hawaii as heroes.
Rodgers died in a plane crash just a year later. He was 45 years old.
The Leeward Coast also known as the Wai’anae Coast is one of the most interesting places on Oahu – if you aren’t interested in resort hotels, manufactured tourist attractions, and over-developed promotion of a phony Hawai’i that has never really existed anywhere but in people’s imaginations.
Wai’anae” means “Water of the Mullet.” These rich fishing grounds were important to the Hawaiian people and the fierce and sometimes inhospitable landscape made it worth the efforts it took to survive here even when other areas on Oahu offered an easier way of living.
Long before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, there were thriving villages on the Leeward coast. After contact, populations tended to grow faster where the living was easier – parts of the beautiful valleys of the Waianae Mountains were used for garbage dumps and bomb practice. Which, by the way – are both atrocious and awful ways to treat a stunning landscape that is host to many endangered species and sacred cultural sites.
In the North there is Makaha and Yokohama Bay – south of there you will find Waianae and Nanakuli – both communities with more than 10,000 residents each. Makaha means fierce or savage in Hawaiian language – and it is likely in reference to the pounding winter surf, jagged reefs, and extremely hot temperatures. There are some beautiful beaches and bays on the Leeward Coast – but most visitors will never see them.
Most locals think of the Leeward Coast as being a predominantly ‘local’ area – and they are correct. There is a much higher concentration of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living in this area than the North Shore or Honolulu. In general, there are fewer people of European descent on the Leeward Coast – but – there is actually still a significant military presence – like everywhere on Oahu.
The U.S. Army has a recreation center at Pokai Bay, there is still a military presence in the Makua Valley where sacred landscape has been bombed into uninhabitability, and Kolekole Pass – the shortest way to get from the Leeward Side to another part of Oahu is accessible only to military members and their families – which, if you ask me – is some serious bullshit.
The largest homeless camp in Hawaii is located on the Waianae Coast. It’s a 20 acre shantytown called Pu’uhonua o Waianae. There are many homeless on the Leeward Coast – a result of gentrification on other parts of Oahu, skyrocketing housing costs, and policies which sweep the homeless from other areas but allow them to stay on the West Side. Civil Beat has done an excellent series on the camp.
Nanakuli is home to one of the oldest Hawaiian Homesteads areas. The name Nanakuli means ‘look at knee’ in the Hawaiian language. The Hawaiian Homesteads Act was the brainchild of Prince Johan Kuhio and enacted in 1921.
Fighter Max Holloway (MMA champion) and actor Jason Mamoa (Aquaman) both come from the Leeward Coast. Both men are a good example of why you should treat the land and the people of Leeward Oahu with respect if you do choose to visit.
On January 11, 1935 Amelia Earhardt became the first person to fly from Hawaii to California. Not the first woman (though she was that) but the first person. Three years earlier she had become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (it was 5 years after Lindbergh had become the first person to do so). She had also been the first woman to fly as part of a crew across the Atlantic. In 1937 – she and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific Ocean as they tried to become the first aviators to fly around the world.
Earhardt came to Hawaii twice. She was suppossed to come a third time on the 2nd to last leg of her trip around the world – but disappeared before making it back to the islands.
Her first visit was December 27, 1934-January 11, 1935 – this was when she set the record as first person to fly from Hawaii to North America. The flight took 18 hours – think about that next time you complain about the 5 hours it takes today to fly between Hawaii and the West Coast.
“Over the Christmas holiday (1934,) Amelia Earhart and George Putnam, along with Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mantz, arrived in Honolulu on December 27, having sailed on the Matson liner SS Lurline. Amelia’s Lockheed Vega was secured on the ocean liner’s deck. The group spent two weeks vacationing in Hawaiʻi.” She visited Hilo on the Big Island and planted a banyan tree on the “Hilo Walk of Fame.”
Her second trip was March 17 through March 20, 1937 and was a part of her first attemptto fly around-the-world – which failed with a fiery crash on Wheeler Field. – where the Pacific Aviation Museum is now.. Her final attempt flew in the other direction and ended in her disappearance.
A commemorative plaque sits at the Diamond Head Lookout to commemorate her trans-pacific solo flight. Documents from that flight were placed in a copper box and inserted into the plaque’s base on March 6. It was dedicated on March 14, 1937.
Despite many theories, no one knows what really happened to Earhardt and Noonan. Did they crash in the Pacific and drown? Land on an atoll and live as castaways? Get captured by the Japanese? The truth is – we will probably never know for sure. But she was here…in Hawaii.
There are three little communities on the Windward Side of Oahu that I love. None of them will take you more than a minute or two to drive through and chances are that you won’t get out of your car or spend any time in them. I’m okay with that, and probably most of the people who live in these communities are okay with that.
Kahalu’u means diving place. All told there are about 2300 people in Kahalu’u. Most of them are Chinese and Hawaiian descent people. This was an area where many Canton Chinese settled in the mid 1800s. The most famous resident was probably Senator Hiram Fong. He was the first Asian American to be a U.S. Senator, the first to run for his party’s nomination for President of the USA, and to date, the only Republican Senator to ever come from Hawaii. I used to take people to Senator Fong’s Plantation in the early 2000s – he died at 97 in 2004. It was always a pleasure to chat with the Senator in his gardens. The plantation continued for about a decade as a fine tourist attraction for about a decade after his death but is now is well past its prime. I’m not even sure it is open to the public anymore but I’ve heard that you can book private walking tours there. Another couple of fun stops in Kahalu’u are the Sunshine Arts Gallery and the many Orchid greenhouses. Like Senator Fong’s Plantation though – these attractions now feel neglected and dated. There used to be one of the very few food trucks in Kahalu’u – Surf Tacos – but that and Mike’s Huli Chicken are both gone now. FDR made a stop in Kahalu’u back in the 1930s.
Driving North from Kahalu’u you will go by the Coral Kingdom, a strange and high priced tourist shop that from my perspective, doesn’t offer much. You should stop at the Macadamia Nut Farm, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kualoa Ranch.
Past the Kualoa Ranch, you will come into sweet little Ka’a’awa. K’a’a’awa means Wrasse. About 1,379 people live in Ka’a’awa. Nicholas Cage’s character gets stuck there in the movie ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’. You can bet some pretty decent Southern BBQ at Uncle Bobo’s restaurant. I love the beaches in Ka’a’awa. They are narrow strips on the ocean side of the road but rarely crowded and usually the people there are local people fishing, swiming, and talking story. On the North Side of Ka’a’awa you will find the popular Crouching Lion hike behind the now being refurbished Crouching Lion Inn.
Past Ka’a’awa you reach one of the most important places on Oahu – Kahana Valley and Kahana Bay. I’ll save that for another post. Coming around Kahana Bay you will see the red and white of Keneke’s Restaurant and that means you are in Punalu’u.
Punalu’u means ‘coral dived for’. It is home to about 881 people – and is where some of the oldest inhabitation remains found on Oahu are located. Ching’s Market and Kaya’s Market are the only two stores. These are windward everything stores and carry everything residents might need including food, fishing supplies, hardware, and 5-toed reef shoes called tabies. The Kawananakoa Beach House is located here – it was the summer home of the Kawanakoa Family (heirs to the Hawaiian throne). I lived in Punalu’u back in 2002. I managed and helped build a hostel called Countryside Cabins – it was an amazing period in my life and I learned much of what I love about Hawaii from the residents in Punalu’u who taught me about aloha, the Hawaiian way of life, and local Oahu culture. Punalu’u has fallen on some fairly hard times these days. The cabins fell into disrepair when I left and eventually folded. You will find the first of the shrimp trucks near the market’s in Punalu’u.
While very few of these places I’ve mentioned will ever make it to anyone’s Top 10 of Oahu – that is probably a good thing because Punalu’u, Kahalu’u, and Ka’a’awa all remain truly authentic places. You can’t get them by stopping for a few minutes and you won’t find hotels in any of them.
Since 1950, Liliha Bakery has been one of Oahu’s brightest gems. This neighborhood coffee shop, diner, and bakery will provide you with some of Oahu’s tastiest treats or a well cooked sit down meal for a reasonable price. There are two locations – one at the original spot in the Makiki neighborhood on Liliha street and the other on the Nimitz Highway between downtown and Honolulu International Airport.
A couple of items from Liliha Bakery stand out for me. First, the signature Coco-Puffs – sweet chocolate filled cream puffs with a dab of mocha creme on them. Second are the Poi Mochi Donuts – these are chewy donuts made with rice gelatin and pounded taro (which gives them their purple color). Starting at 2 am each day, Liliha makes fresh and delicious treats better than any other bakery on the island.
One of the best things about the original location is the diner bar. If you want to feel what it was like to grab a meal at the diner in the 1950’s just sit down and wait for one of the waitresses to take your order. Watch the cooks dish your food in the kitchen and enjoy some thick coffee. Some of the cooks have been there for more than thirty years and the coffee may have been there with them. The diner food is classic local recipes like loco moco, saimin, Portuguese sausage and rice and pancakes. Open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Waimanalo Town on the Windward Side of Oahu is a little town about three miles long that stretches from Makapu’u Point to Kailua. There’s not a whole lot in Waimanalo Town but you’ll see many Hawaiian flags there because it is one of the few places on Oahu where roughly half the population is of Native Hawaiian descent. Some of the flags will be upside down which indicates that the Hawaiian Nation is in distress. There are a little more than 10,000 residents in Waimanalo Town.
Waimanalo Beach is probably the biggest draw to the area – it’s a long white beach with stunning views of the Koolau Mountains behind.The telveision show. Baywatch Hawaii was shot there. Another draw is Bellow’s Beach which is only open on weekends because it is part of an Airforce and Marine military complex.
Across from the entrance to Waimanalo Beach Park is a polo field. The Hawaiian Royalty loved polo and the tradition continues to this day. In terms of other activities – there isn’t really much…Sea Life Park is just down the road along with the walk to the Makapu’u Light House. There are many agricultural properties and a lot of greenhouses in Waimanalo – but they aren’t tourist attractions. The little red and white checked restauarant across from 7-11 is a bizarre religious plate lunch place called Keneke’s Divine Grinds. There are also a couple of fast food restaurants including the popular L&L Drive Inn.
Here are my three favorite hidden treats in Waimanalo.
1) Shima’s Market has amazing poke!
2) Ono Steak and Shrimp (behind Kenekes’s) has great food, big servings and reasonable prices
3) The Waimanalo Co-op next to McDonalds has a variety of fresh products and locally produced artisanal craft work.
Also, this is a great place to stop at McDonalds for Spam, Eggs, and Rice or some pineapple or taro pies – Hawaii specialties you won’t find on the mainland. Also, don’t be afraid to stop for the roadside food in Waimanalo – ice cold coconuts, plate lunches, and much more from tents by the road. As for Keneke’s – it’s okay – not expensive but not the greatest food by any stretch.
There used to be a statue of the Sumo Wrestler Akebono in the Waimanalo shopping center. He was a local Hawaiian boy who went on to become the tallest and one of the greatest Yakuzuna (grand master) in sumo history. I’m not sure what happened to the statue but I heard that it was knocked over and is being repaired.
I’ve heard one legend of Waimanalo which is fun and shares a bit of the deep meanings that Hawaiian tales often offer. The legend says that a fisherman once decided to taunt the shark god because his catch was frequently stolen by sharks. The fisherman killed as many sharks as he could find and dumped their bodies into Waimanalo Bay. The shark god was angered and decided to eat the fisherman. He knocked over the fisherman’s boat and preceded to eat the legs of the fisherman. As he worked his way up, the stinky ass of the fisherman was too much for him and he couldn’t continue. He spit the legless fisherman on the shore and vowed never to eat another human from Waimanalo. This is why the locals don’t worry about shark attacks in Waimanalo Bay. It’s also why they respect sharks and don’t kill them when they are found in their nets.
Visitors to Oahu tend to have heard of The North Shore, Waikiki, Honolulu and maybe Kailua – but those are just three places out of hundreds. You have to hit the road to find the most interesting places.
The North End of the Windward Side of the Island of Oahu is an interesting place! What makes it interesting? What about a bizarre collision of Mormonism, Sumo Wrestling, shrimp, and giant lizards? Interesting enough for you? Because you will find it all there.
Let’s start with the giant lizard – Hawaiian legend has it that the rocky point in Laie (Laie Point) yused to be patrolled and guarded by a giant monster lizard name Laniloa. A warrior named Kana came and killed the lizard, slicing it into five pieces – these pieces can still be seen today as the islands off the point – including the skull of Laniloa with his eye socket staring at you!
Laie is a Mormon town. The Mormons trusted a man named Walter Murray Gibson to come buy them an island homeland in Hawaii after the U.S. occupied Utah. Gibson bought the island of Lanai for them but decided to keep it for himself. He gave up Mormonism, took to drinking with King Kalakaua, and became the Hawaiian Kingdom’s Prime Minister. When the Mormon’s arrived – he refused to give them Lanai and instead the king sold them Laie where they built a temple, a university, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll also find the Hukilau Cafe, though it’s not the one from the movie 50 First Dates.
Just south of Laie is Hau’ula. There’s not much in the town, but it is well known as the home of one of Hawaii’s most famous sumo wrestling schools and many of the sumo greats trained or came from Hau’ula.
I’ve been told that Konishiki came from Hau’ula. I actually met him at the backyard sumo school there about twenty years ago. I wasn’t wrestling, just checking it out.
North of Laie you find Kuhuku with the shrimp ponds, the remains of the old sugar mill, and the many food trucks that have moved there. Locally, however, Kuhuku is most famous for the high school football team, the ‘Red Raiders’. This tiny school’s team has produced more NFL players than any school in Hawaii and has ranked second in the U.S. for most active NFL players from a single school.
Oahu is an island in Hawaii, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are amazing beaches here – but even knowing that Hawaii is paradise and exists in this perfect tropical zone, people are still often surprised by the beauty of our beaches. Here are five of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu – not just the most beautiful on this island, but in the world. None of them is more than a forty minute drive from Waikiki.
Voted as the most beautiful beach in America over and over again – this sweet little Windward Oahu community beach in Kailua literally means “Heavenly Water” in the Hawaiian language. Powdered sugar sand, the view of the Moku Lua Islands, calm waters filled with fish for snorkeling and the color blue in that incredible tone that is nothing short of, well, heavenly. Go to Lanikai Beach.
It’s only separated from Lanikai by a point of land and a military base on Oahu, but it might as well be a hundred miles for the difference in crowds and conditions. Where Lanikai is filled with Japanese tourists and haole people, Waimanalo is filled with local people – if there is anyone there at all. It still has the views of the Mokes, but the surf can pound at Waimanalo Beach and the sand is a bit less powdery but still pretty divine. Waimanalo Beach is great for body surfing, getting away from the crowds, and enjoying paradise.
A whole different world awaits you at Sandy’s on the South Shore of Oahu. Also known as ‘Breakneck Beach’, this is where President Obama likes to go to bodysurf when he’s in town. Sandy’s has much larger sand particles that tend towards the color we think of sand being – tan. It’s filled with local body boarders, surfers, bikini beauties, and adventure lovers. The sun can pound down on you at Sandy’s and there isn’t anyplace to hide from it. Also, don’t snake a wave or ‘drop in’ onthe locals or you might get a different kind of pounding.
Waikiki Beach is one of the best beaches in the world. It’s actually made up of five different beaches and stretches from near the Waikiki Acqaurium all the way down to Hilton Hawaiian Village. It’s awesome. Yes, it’s almost always filled with people but never in the way that beaches in California, Florida, New Jersey, Italy or other beachy destinations are. Waikikik has thick, course sand and waves that range from beginner to pro. What could be more jaw droppingly beautiful than sitting on Waikiki watching the sunset with Diamond Head on your left, the pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel on your right, and a strong Maitai in your hand? Not much.
I almost didn’t include this beach on the list, because I hate sharing my favorite spots with the internet, but the truth on this one is out and frankly, I’m not the one spilling the beans here. Just across from Sea Life Park – at the point where the South Shore and the Windward Side are still sort of merged – you will find Makapu’u Beach Park. Great body surfing, great surf, nice sand, and plenty of beauty with Rabbit Island and the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse and the jagged cliffs above. This is a very local place, so be respectful. Also, as everywhere, don’t leave any valuables in your car.
Most visitors to Oahu end up making at least one trip into the Pearl City, Waimalu, and Aiea neighborhoods – they do so when they visit Pearl Harbor. Another reason to visit might be to go to the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet. Beyond those two major draws however, there isn’t much to draw visitors to these three neighborhoods. All three are mostly local redisential demographics with slightly higher than Oahu median age and considerably lower median income than Oahu median. Those demographics shift if you include military families and personnel in the criteria – as all three areas have large military populations – more than a few entire neighborhoods in this area are military housing. The total non-military population of the three combined comes to about 75,000 people.
Pearl City is the area east of Waipahu and streching down from Waipio and Millilani to the North. Bordering Pearl City are Waimalu and then Aiea. East of Aiea is the Salt Lake/Moanalua Neighborhood (West Honolulu). Pearl City, Aiea, and Waimalu are lumped together on many neighborhood maps as Pearl City. Residents of Aiea though, take issue with this, as Aiea has it’s own attractions, history, and zipcode.
Pearl City is essentially, a city built around a sprawling military base. Aiea on the other hand is a city that grew around a sugar cane plantation. Waimalu is caught between the two. In ancient times, the whole area was part of the Aiea ahupua’a – the Hawaiian way of designating chief controlled land – essentially a pie slice going from the ocean to the mountains.
From the late 1800s to World War II, it was the sugar industry that was the main driver of the economy in this area. When the U.S. moved the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor at the dawn of WWII, the economy of the area shifted to that of military dependency. The closing of the sugar mill and plantation after WWII accelerated this process. Much of the former sugar cane lands are now military owned neighborhoods. C & H Sugar closed the last mill in the area in 1996 and it was torn down in 1999.
Today, Aiea is home to the Aloha Stadium where the University of Hawaii Warriors play their home games. It is also home to the largest enclosed mall in the state, Pearl Ridge, and the Sumida Farm – Hawaii’s largest watercress farm – located in wetland fields between highways and the Pearl Ridge Mall – which creates an interesting contrast. There are several nice hikes in the hills around this area but no beaches due to the waterfront land being controlled mostly by the military.
The current Governor of Hawaii, David Ige comes from Waimalu. Former Lieutenant Governor, Duke Aiona is from Pearl City, and Bette Midler, the actress and singer was born and raised in Aiea.
The major US Military bases in the area are Camp Smith, Pearl Harbor, Hickam, and Fort Shafter.
There are no shortage of great things to do on Oahu. When you visit Hawaii, it’s perfectly fine to bring the kids with you and most activitives are great for the whole family. Things like swimming, snorkeling, having beach time, hiking in the rainforest, or just doing some shopping in Waikiki. Sometimes though, you might want to do something that will make the little ones squeal with delight – for those times, I offer the following.
The Dole Planatation is great for everyone but the little ones get a special thrill. All the bright colors, the pineapple ice cream aka Dole Whip, getting lost in the world’s largest pineapple maze, and taking a train ride through the old plantation days. The kids will love this one.
Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park is a blast for the kids. Sure, there are controversies and real concerns about the way that marine animals and animals in general are treated, but in Hawaii, the legislature, businesses and every day people take those concerns seriously, so why not go and watch a dolphin show or check out the sharks in the big aqaurium. Visit with the penguins and see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles in an environment where they are safe and protected (from tourists).
The Honolulu Zoo can be a lot of fun with the kids – during the summer months there are concerts inside and great after dark programs where the kids (and adults) can explore the zoo grounds, learn about the nocturnal behaviours of the animals that live there, and more – but don’t discount going to the zoo during the day. I think that mornings right around feeding time are the best time, but there’s always something going on – especially with the gibbons.
The Waikiki Aquarium is a blast – especially if you hit one of those days when it’s raining or you don’t want to be outside very much. Head to the Waikiki Aquarium. You can spend hours or minutes there but spend at least enough time to see the sea horses and sea dragons! Also the touching zone is a favorite with kids of all ages. For those looking for a more psychedelic vibe…spend a bit of time zoning out on the jellyfish under blacklights!
Matsumoto Shave Ice
Every child should get to experience a very good shave ice. You’ll find that in many places but one of the most fun is Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu. This is one of the most family budget friendly treats in the Hawaiian Islands. Go whole hog and you aren’t going to spend more than $5 on a mountain of sweet delicious local flavors. Don’t forget to get the snowcap! It might sound unnecessary…but you’re not buying the kids shave ice because it’s necessary, right?