Our collective hearts ache for those on Maui, the ripple affect swelling over surrounding islands and onto the U.S. mainland. Thousands stood dumbfounded attempting to holiday on Oahu, The Big Island, even on Maui away from the burn zone. Mai tais turned bitter as all many could do was watch, and cry, as Lahaina burned. Most packed up and left to open up hotel rooms and resources for local families and aid workers.
But the irony now is that Hawaii needs tourism, much of the local economy runs on hospitality. And after the two painful years of COVID-19, officials now ask that tourists return and bring their vacation dollars. Locals need to work. So don’t feel guilty, we collectively feel the pain, and will for a long time. But do come back, stay, and tip generously. Bring your ‘Aloha’ spirit and your American Express card.
Indeed, still America’s Paradise
We love the Hawaiian Islands for many reasons: The smell of hibiscus when you disembark the jet, the relaxed vibe, music, cuisine, the surreal landscape of soaring, verdant mountains, exotic wildlife, temperate climate and crystalline beaches.
This is where mainlanders go “to get away from it all” and live out their Robinson Crusoe fantasies.
It’s true. Hawaii is one of those destinations that you need to see to believe. All those great John Wayne, Liz Taylor and Elvis movies set here do not do this naturalistic beauty justice. The hit TV show “Lost” also was filmed here, and offers numerous glimpses at Hawaii’s beauty. American Airlines, Hawaiian, United, Delta, Southwest all offer non-stop service from the mainland. So if you’ve never been, or are a frequent, passionate visitor like some families, there are no excuses not to go. Hawaii needs the tourists.
A String of Jewels
The Hawaiian Islands rise from the floor of the Pacific Ocean about 3,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles. The principal islands – Hawaii (or The Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kauai – were created over millions of years through volcanic forces which are still at work today, and because of their remote nature evolved to include its own specific species of plants, birds and animals.
For the purposes of this story, we’ll focus on Oahu, home to the capital city of Honolulu and world-famous Waikiki. Think of Waikiki as The Vegas Strip on water. There is action and pretty people everywhere. For families, there are plenty of economy accommodations here, but it is very crowded and somewhat homogenized with lots of chain restaurants and retail. For first-time visitors, Waikiki is a must; for return guests, it’s a place to come for top restaurants and clubs. The rest of Honolulu is just like any big city (the 15th largest in the country), with a bustling business district, sprawling suburbs and lots of traffic. It reminds us somewhat of San Francisco with its hills and high-rises. Fortunately, the Northern California chill is nowhere to be found.
Now, here’s the drill if you plan to stay on Oahu for your Hawaiian getaway: Leave town. Don’t stay in Waikiki. Make a reservation at one of the fine outlying properties on the Windward (east), North Shore or Leeward (west) parts of the island, such as The Kahala Resort (formerly the Mandarin Oriental), Four Seasons Oahu, or Turtle Bay Resort. Not that there are not fine resorts on Waikiki – the Halekulani on the beach at Waikiki is widely considered one of the best hotels in the world – it is more about experiencing and understanding the Hawaiian vibe and culture that you need to leave the city for.
Once you leave town, time seems to slow down. You notice the papaya and banana trees along the side of the road, kids wave as you drive by, and you can stop anytime to simply step out of the car and jump into the ocean – without hunting for a parking spot or plugging a meter.
One of our favorite day trips is to travel through one of the mountain passes to the North Shore, and simply drive along the coast, stopping to watch the surfers or to poke around roadside craft and jewelry stands. The kids get a thrill out of sipping milk right out of a freshly picked coconut. You can still do this on an island as populated with locals and tourists as Oahu. The large volcanic mountains serve as a barrier between Honolulu and the rest of the island.
Plenty to do
But alas, you are a tourist. And your family will want to take in some “touristy” activities. Here are a couple fail-safe winners to keep everyone engaged and entertained during your Hawaiian sojourn:
• Polynesian Cultural Center. Knock out several birds with one stone on this one. You can satisfy your North Shore drive and luau, as well as learn a lot about the history and culture of the Pacific island nations by visiting here. The Center is a living classroom as part of Brigham Young University, Hawaii campus, where hands-on activities and participation bring the cultures of Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, Hawaii and others to life. Music, dance, arts and crafts, and cuisine all swirl together harmoniously to create one memorable immersion experience. (800) 367-7060. www.polynesia.com.
• Hunauma Bay State Underwater Park. If you’re going to snorkel, this is the place. Located about 15 minutes from Waikiki, the natural Bay is one of the largest in the islands with clear, fish-filled waters and colorful coral. The seas around Oahu are volatile, but not here. The configuration of the land protects and shelters the bay, so the water isn’t disrupted or cloudy. Bring a picnic lunch, rent some snorkel gear and spend the day here. (877) 525-6248. www.visit-oahu.com.
• USS Arizona Memorial. A stark reminder of our violent history, as this National Park Service site freezes in time the lives and ships lost on the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. Droplets of oil still bubble to the surface all these years later as the ship lies entombed just below the surface. Exceptional videos and a ferry boat ride out to the site brings the horror to life, where the U.S. flies at half-staff at the site where nearly 2,400 lives were taken within hours. Couple a visit to the site with a behind the scenes tour of the USS Missouri, the most famous U.S. battleship in history, which is docked right next door. The Mighty Mo saw action in WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. The ship is best known as the site of the Unconditional Surrender signing ceremony with General Douglas MacArthur and the leaders of Japan to close WWII. Bring history into focus for the kids with visits here. (808) 422-0561. www.nps.gov/usar.
• Diamond Head State Park. This is one of the best, and most rewarding, hikes on the island. After Sacred Falls closed due to a deadly flash flood years ago, we had to seek out a new favorite climb. We didn’t have to look far once we scaled this dormant crater overlooking Waikiki. While Diamond Head is a bit crowded with tourists, the hike is rigorous and worth sharing the trail with. Remnant of Fort Ruger dot the landscape insider the crater and at is summit. The fort was established to protect the harbor from enemies during WWII, and there is an observation platform at the top, along with canon installations. Feel the burn and hike the crater and the hundreds of stair steps to the summit. If the hike doesn’t take your breath away, the view will. www.visit-oahu.com.
We can’t stress enough how terrific Hawaii is for a romantic getaway or turn-key family vacation. Check into one of the fantastic Oahu properties below and immerse yourself in the aloha spirit. Excluding air (which often goes on sale), the costs are in-line with a weeklong stay in Orlando, San Diego, Los Cabos, Cancun/Cozumel or other vacation hotspot. And just think of the good you’re doing for the local economy that has been battered by COVID-19 and now horrific wildfire. Hawaii is calling for you, answer it.
Where to Stay – Oahu
Four Seasons Oahu
The Kahala Hotel and Resort
Ko’Olina Beach Club
The Royal Hawaiian
Turtle Bay Resort
Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay