When you tell friends you’re going to Hawaii, their first question is predictable. “Which island?” Should the answer be Oahu, your reward could be a grimace. And dare you further expound that you’ll only be staying in Waikiki, a lengthy lecture may ensue. If so, this monologue will surely be punctuated with words such as “commercial”, “tacky” and “not the real Hawaii.” But they are wrong, for this is no longer today’s Oahu.
Having recently returned from a stay in the center of the island’s activity, I’ll provide the ammunition to disprove Waikiki’s bad rap. True, the area is bustling. If you seek history, sightseeing, shopping, fine dining or nightly entertainment – it’s there. However, should swaying palms, balmy breezes, ocean panoramas and lazy lounging define your dream day, you’re also in luck.
In fact, there’s so much from which to choose, I’ve made the following David Letterman-style top ten list, #1 being my fav (as is Dave’s).
10. Make a shop stop at the International Marketplace
A trip to Oahu is incomplete without a stroll through the booths of the open-air International Marketplace, featuring over 130 carts, shops and artisan stands in an open-air setting under the banyan trees in the heart of Waikiki. It’s a bit overwhelming. Most kiosks feature similar jewelry and many are overpriced, but you also might unearth a treasure or two. It’s open daily from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm. International Market Place, 2330 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-971-2080
9. Stop into Leonard’s for a Piping Hot Malasada
Though a short drive from Waikiki Beach, Leonard’s Bakery is found on the non-descript corner of Kapahulu Avenue and Charles Street – its same location since opening in 1952. When you see it, you’ll realize little has changed in those fifty-plus years. It’s a blast to the past that has since become an institution. Why? Malasadas. Definition: Portuguese fried donuts – crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside and drenched in sugar. When eaten hot, they’re irresistible.
Tip – Along with a fresh cup of coffee, enjoy your malasada as locals do – while sitting on one of three wooden benches just outside the front door. Leonard’s Bakery, 933 Kapahulu Avenue, 808-737-5591
8. Buy the Real Deal, a Reyn Spooner Aloha Shirt
In Hawaii, nothing shouts “tourist” louder than a tee shirt or a shirt-and-tie combo. Thus, a visit to Reyn’s – creator of island attire deemed “the Armani of aloha shirts” – should be one of your first stops. If worn properly, you’d never think of tucking in an aloha shirt. And if your timing is right, your purchase may be a limited edition Reyn Spooner (for many, they’ve become collectors’ items).
Tip – Should you not find the perfect aloha shirt among Reyn’s selection, head to the men’s department at Macy’s for a Tori Richard (Honolulu clothier since 1956). Reyn’s – Ala Moana Center (largest store), 808-949-5929
8. Toes in the Sand, Watch a Movie on the Beach
Among the most Hawaiian of the island’s one-of-a-kind activities is Sunset on the Beach. Starting around 7:00 p.m. on many Saturday and Sunday evenings, movies are featured on an oversized 30-foot screen planted on Waikiki Beach. Musical entertainment begins about two hours before show time, with tables and chairs set up for the music, movie and munchies. All you may need is a blanket, beach chair (for especially crowded nights) and what else, popcorn. Best part: it’s free.
Tip – No need for early evening dining reservations; an assortment of food concessions make dinner an easy assignment. Waikiki Beach, Queen’s Surf (across from Honolulu Zoo), www.sunsetonthebeach.net
6. Renew your Wedding Vows ‘Aloha Style’
Drawing upon an ancient Hawaiian custom, Ho’ao Pa’a (in which a man and woman were bound in lasting union), the non-denominational vow renewal ceremony takes place on the sands of Waikiki Beach. Beginning with a welcoming Hawaiian chant by the kahu (priest), couples are led to the ocean’s edge where they are honored by a traditional hula and song and blessed with a gentle sprinkling of sea water before reciting their vows in the Hawaiian language.
Tip – Rather than a new wedding ring, why not celebrate the occasion with a gift of Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry, traditional and distinctive solid gold treasures personalized with one’s name cut out in Old English lettering and filled with black enamel. Outrigger Reef, 2169 Kalia Road, 808-923-3111
5. Indulge in a Lomi Lomi Massage
This exclusive island treatment is an age-old craft with origins dating back to Hawaiian healers. The massage is distinguished by the therapist’s technique – the skillful use of her forearms and elbows to massage the body. Bird’s-eye views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean are prime perks of Waikiki Plantation Spa, the newest addition to Hawaii’s spa scene. Located on the penthouse level of an oceanfront hotel, the irresistible draw is the outdoor rooftop relaxation area. And when lounging above Waikiki with a cup of the signature flavored green tea, the result is pure “Aloha.”
Tip – If it’s in the budget, spring for a Lomi Lomi variation – the Lomi Pohaku, a seductively therapeutic fusion of the Hawaiian Lomi and a hot lava stone (Pohaku) massage. Waikiki Plantation Spa, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, 2335 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-926-2882
4. Hike Diamond Head at Dawn
On a clear day, you can’t see forever, but from the top of Diamond Head Crater you will see the outline of the island of Molokai. The trailhead at the parking lot is on the crater floor (elevation 200 feet). Paths are well defined (typically accompanied by sturdy railings). The incline is steady and includes a 74-step stairway, navigation of tunnels through old war bunkers and an additional 99 stairs, with a reward at the summit (elevation 761 feet) – a 360-degree panorama of Oahu and its surrounding beauty.
Tip – Because of mid-day crowds and heat, the best time to trek is at daybreak. Open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the hike generally takes one hour uphill and 45 minutes for the return. Wear tennis shoes or hiking boots (preferred); bring water, a flashlight and camera. State Parks, 808-587-0300
3. Crew on an Outrigger Canoe
Only royalty was originally allowed to ride the surf in an outrigger canoe – a canoe equipped with a long sidearm ensuring its stability. Today it’s possible to skim the sea in the same manner as Hawaii’s once-upon-a-time kings and queens. Akin to surfing, here’s the drill. Accompanied by experienced guides, all aboard paddle against the surf into the ocean until you’re instructed to turn the vessel towards shore and wait. A guide’s surf-savvy instinct for spotting potential waves is keen. “Paddle,” he’ll shout. “Faster,” you’ll hear. “Faster, faster,” he repeats. “Stop,” he finally commands. Then you’ll listen to the thunder of the approaching wave and are soon being propelled to shore, with a baptismal-like ocean mist anointing you along the route. Result: uninhibited exhilaration.
Tip – Visit the lobby of the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach where a restored late-1800s outrigger canoe made from prized koa wood sits on permanent display. Waikiki Beach Services, 808-926-9889
2. Learn to Surf on Waikiki Beach
Sign up for class where it’s reputed to be the world’s best spot for novice surfers, courtesy of Waikiki’s warm, shallow water and perfect 1 ½-2 ft. waves (they require less paddling effort). Specifics are simple. Head along Kalakaha Avenue to the beach fronting the bronze statue of surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku and select your instructor. Keep in mind that if catching a wave is more than a casual wish, it’s wise to pay extra for a private lesson. Start the day early. Mornings are best – the water is less crowded, waves are not as powerful at low tide and the sun is less intense.
Tip – Celebrate your outing at Duke’s Canoe Club (named for the legend), where telling locals you’re a first-time Waikiki surfer equates to becoming the member of an exclusive Hawaiian association. Price tag: private lesson, $75; Duke’s burger, $7.50. Waikiki Beach Services, 808-926-9889
1. Relax, You’re in Hawaii
Don’t forget to stop and smell the hibiscus. There’s no real formula to accomplishing this directive as your choices for idle pleasure are about as vast as the Pacific. Consider these options. Pass the time rocking in a front porch chair at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, watching the world of Kalakaua Avenue go by. Rise early, pack the sunscreen and head to the sand to rent “a front row” beach lounge and umbrella for the entire day. Splurge for an ocean view suite at a Waikiki beachfront hotel and make the time to fully appreciate your luxurious “home” – lounge on the balcony with your favorite book, enjoy breakfast at sunrise in your suite and toast with drinks at sundown on your terrace.
Tip – Prime suites at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach are those ending in #23 (i.e. 723, 823, 923); features include a lanai off the living area overlooking the ocean and an additional balcony from the bedroom showcasing Diamond Head. Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, 2335 Kalakaua Avenue, 808-923-0711
LFM Oahu, Hawaii