I will admit to a shameful, dirty secret. I like Waikiki. Yes, I know there are innumerable places the world over to which I should travel while I am able and before I die. There are countless temples, pristine nature preserves, delicious foods, parks, national treasures, amazing architecture and fine works of art that need to be experienced if one can truly be said to have lived a full life.
And yet, every five or so years, I have the need to visit Waikiki. I can’t explain it, it just calls to me. The scenery, while beautiful, is marred by high rise hotels, mass produced chachkes for sale, and tourists jamming sidewalks wearing socks and sandals (simultaneously). The once quaint fishing village and vacation spot for Hawaiian Royalty is so long gone, the pictures showing how Waikiki “used to be” are alien and depressing.
And yet, I go. The walk along the Ala Wai Canal in the bright light of day can sometimes show a depressingly dirty, garbage filled waterway that was originally constructed to drain the surrounding wetlands (sigh). However, if you overlook these blemishes, a walk along this fish filled canal is a wonderful way to start your morning exercise routine. In the evening, it is a pleasure to sit on a bench and watch the canoe paddling teams practice their technique.
The beach in Waikiki is eroding, crowded and difficult to navigate for all the sprawled bodies. And yet, it is a wonderful spot to learn how to surf, minutes from your hotel room, and offers a warm, safe, sparkling turquoise environment for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the Pacific.
The shopping in Waikiki is dreadful. Your options range from high priced designer offerings that represent your monthly take home pay to mass produced t-shirts with questionable words of wisdom printed upon them. And yet, I never fail to go to the International Market to mill about and buy something I don’t really need but oddly will enjoy.
When it comes to food, Waikiki can feel overwhelming and tricky. First, you have to navigate everyone who wants to hand you a brochure for a “nightly dinner special.” You can find a fabulous hole in the wall one night, the next night pay way too much money for nothing special. Let me provide an example of this dichotomy. One night my husband and I wanted to go to a “nice meal” (ok, I wanted a nice meal, and my husband loves me so he said “yes dear” like the good sport he is). We went to the Moana Surfrider, a grand dame of a hotel if there ever was one. If you don’t know about the Moana, you need to go at least once. With rocking chairs on the veranda, a gorgeous view of the beach, and a peek into a long ago, more elegant past, it is worth going for happy hour. Dinner? Not so much. My scampi shrimp were tough, the sauce something I could have made at home in five minutes while watching Dr. Phil. And while I won’t write off a restaurant with one bad meal (putting aside the pretty penny that meal cost) I will be inclined to consider other options for a “nice meal” in Waikiki the next go round.
The opposite end of the spectrum? Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar and Grill on Kapahulu Avenue. If you take your food seriously, you need to find this place. Don’t be discouraged by the slightly longer walk you will have to take from your Waikiki hotel. Don’t be sidetracked by the fact that it sits on a fairly busy thoroughfare. What is important about this place is the excellent food, rocking cocktails, and great staff. For $75 otd (out the door) my husband and I had great cocktails with local flair in the eclectic bar, and then moved to the dining room to share two or three appetizers that were huge and yummy. (Everything on the changing menu sounds good, so I recommend you order a little of everything and share.) And err on the side of under ordering, because the portions are generous. We had a hard time understanding how this place could put on such a solid product and charge such reasonable prices.
One final note for those foodies out there. Like shrimp? Like garlic? Then you need, need, need to rent a car or take the bus out to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore. (Yes, I know it is not Waikiki, but I have to include it.) It’s a schlep out to Giovanni’s, no doubt, but as you sit there gorging yourself on a mountain of cooked to order, fresh, hot, garlicky shrimp and enjoying an icy cold beverage, you will have a moment of purest nirvana. Which, as we all know, is why we go on vacation in the first place.
Filed Under: Lifestyle