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Adventures in Paradise - My Visit to Honolulu in 2013
Aloha and Welcome to Honolulu
Every year I pack up my suitcase to fly to my second home - the place where childhood memories were made and where most of what I call comfort food can be found. That place is called Honolulu. Honolulu is the state capital of Hawaii and is the most populated city in the state. Honolulu is a wonderful place to visit and is a true melting pot of cultures and traditions, with friendly people, a lively art scene and an interesting culinary landscape.
In December of 2013, I made my annual pilgrimage to see my family and since my mother now lives with my sister far from the city center, I booked myself a hotel room for convenience. It was a good setup as I had a good balance of quality time with my family and the freedom to explore the city at my own pace.
There's more to Hawaii than just white-sand beaches and hula girls. A lively art scene can be found all over the island with eclectic and edgy events that provide entertainment for the trendy set. Interesting shopping can be had outside of Waikiki ( tourist central ) and great food is everywhere.
*All photos taken by myself unless otherwise noted.
Have you ever visited Hawaii?
Arriving in Honolulu
As soon as I arrive in Honolulu, my heart starts to race and I already know exactly what I want to do. The first thing that comes to mind is eating and I usually have a list to check off as my holiday progresses. With the help of Yelp, I'm usually able to come up with a long list that I normally don't even get through, but I can't help it. In fact I can spend an entire day looking at restaurants on yelp, bookmarking the places I definitely have to go.
Other than eating my way through the island, I like to revisit places that I love. One of my favorite places to visit in Honolulu is downtown and chinatown. Lying side by side, this area is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and is evolving in the most exciting way. I also have plans to climb the iconic Diamond Head oh this trip. Now why would I want to do such a thing you ask? I actually have my reasons and if you like, you can read about my hike up the mountain by visiting my link below. And if you've never climbed Diamond Head, the article is full of pictures that show you what awaits you at the summit.
A guide book is an essential tool to getting the most out of your holiday.
I found this guidebook to be the best one that's currently out today. It not only includes the must-see tourist spots, but also touches upon the hidden gems that the city has to offer. The restaurant listing also lists restaurants that are popular even with the locals.
Waikiki - Tourist Central
The first place most people visit when they arrive to Honolulu is Waikiki. It's not surprising as most of the hotels are situated in this part of town. Waikiki is where you'll see the biggest concentration of tourists and depending on where you stay, you might feel as if you're visiting someplace in Tokyo instead. It's true that Japanese is fluently spoken at most places in this area and some hotels will be filled with Japanese-speaking staff and visitors. Don't worry though, English is understood and spoken.
No matter how touristy this place is, it's a beautiful place. A Japanese friend of mine described it as "the perfect resort with everything you could ever want" and that pretty much sums it up. There are beautiful beaches with lots of powder-white sand, casual eateries to high-end restaurants, shopping, night clubs and bars and even a zoo!
You can even decide to do absolutely nothing. The beautifully-landscaped streets and long stretches of white sand beaches is perfect for strolling.
Images of WaikikiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Not many tourists make it to downtown Honolulu and it's really a shame. It's one of my favorite places on the island and I never get tired of coming here. With each visit I find something new. Trendy cafes, the best cupcakeries and interesting restaurants can be found amongst the skyscrapers that dominate downtown Honolulu. Right next door is chinatown, with its bustling wet markets, Chinese bakeries and traditional herbal shops.
I love getting lost in the numerous nooks and crannies of Chinatown and I had a field day snapping away with my iphone camera. I even found a free museum, located on the 2nd floor of a Chinese courtyard, explaining the history of Chinatown and how it came to be. As we strolled through the museum, the two staff members sang some Christmas songs in Hawaiian just for the two of us. What an amazing treat this was and once again, I'm reminded of the aloha spirit that exists in Hawaii.
For dinner, my friend suggested that we go to Soul de Cuba, a restaurant I've been wanting to go for years. I've never had Cuban food before and as a foodie, I had to find out what everyone was raving about. I also wanted to drop by Let Them Eat Cupcakes, known for their yummy gourmet cupcakes. Finally, I had a cup of tea at a trendy cafe that made me feel like I was anywhere but Hawaii.
*Photo : Downtown has the most historical and architecturally interesting buildings in Honolulu.
Images of Downtown and ChinatownClick thumbnail to view full-size
If You Were To Visit...
What would interest you?
A Drive Around the Island
A drive around the island is a nice way to spend a day in Honolulu. My sister was nice enough to take us around and we were fortunate to be blessed with perfect weather. Although it's possible to drive around the entire island in a day, we opted for a half-island tour instead due to the crowded car ( 5 people including me ) and the fact that I like to take things at an easy pace. I also wanted to spend some time in Haleiwa, a small town on the north shore, to explore its old-time shops and art galleries, which would most likely take up an hour or so.
Around the IslandClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Art Scene in Hawaii
The art scene is constantly evolving but one thing is for certain. Art is here to stay and it's bigger and better than ever on the island. Art can be found everywhere and on this trip, I got to see a lot it in all its various forms. The random art hanging on the fence near the zoo was low-key but interesting for a morning stroll.
Some of the art we saw in Haleiwa were really good but we didn't have time for more than visiting one gallery there. But one of the most exciting event we attended was Honolulu Night Market, a monthly event that happens in Kakaako, the new up-and-coming place for everything artistic and trendy. The event combines art, food and entertainment into one urban experience and the vendors change on a monthly basis.
*Photo : Wall art in Kakaako
Finding Art EverywhereClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visiting a Friend at Chai's
The unique cultures and traditions that make up Hawaii makes eating here an adventure. If you are a foodie, you'll be in foodie heaven. From local food to traditional Hawaiian food, to the innovative Pacific Rim cuisine to the freshest fish this side of the Pacific, you'll be spoiled for choice.
I always have my favorites, but on every trip I make it a point to try out a few new places. On this particular trip, I decided to pay a visit to Chai's, a new restaurant owned by a very good friend of mine. I've known Chai since the 80's and it's amazing how far he's come. Chai's is his third restaurant and probably his most innovative.
*Photo : Chai's Restaurant
Look What We Had for Dinner at Chai'sClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visiting with my Family
A visit to Hawaii is never complete without my family. I lived in Honolulu until I was 24 and strangely enough, the only member of the family to leave the island. Back then, I became restless and bored and followed my instincts to move away.
Since I no longer get to see my family as often as I'd like to, it's a treat to spend time with them. My sister has grown into a beautiful woman and her two sons are the best nephews an uncle could ever have. I am very fortunate that my mother is still alive and kicking with more energy than she cares to admit. All is good and it's nice to know I have someplace to come home to.
*Photo : My nephew, sister, me and mommy dearest.
By The Way, It's Christmas in Hawaii!Click thumbnail to view full-size
So Tell Me...
Do you think you'd like to visit Hawaii?
My Journey Comes to an End
All good things must come to an end and my holiday is over in a flash. Two weeks go by so fast when you're having fun. I take one last walk along the Ala Wai Canal, on the pavement that I've walked a hundred times.
As I stroll along the canal, looking over at the mountains, I see a rainbow form somewhere deep within the valleys of Manoa. It's a sight I should be used to by now but as always, it takes my breath away.
Hawaii will always be my second home and I promise myself, as I do every year, that I'll be back again next year.
Every Day Ends With a Beautiful SunsetClick thumbnail to view full-size
Have you ever been to Hawaii before? If so, what were the highlights of your trip? Please feel free to leave your comments here. Thanks!