WAIKIKI-Some critics say that Waikiki is a concrete jungle, that the real Hawaii has been obscured by skyscrapers and fast-food joints. But such hasty judgments miss one of the fundamental allures of Waikiki: Its natural, protected bay is one of the best in Hawaii. The sandy beach may be crowded, but then, it’s only a pebble’s throw away from all the conveniences of modern life. At the Royal Hawaiian, for example, you can sit surfside and sip a drink or have a cheeseburger grilled by Barbara Kuwaye. She’s been grilling cheeseburgers at the Royal Hawaiian snack bar for 31 years. It’s been said that you can eat a $ 4 burger and have a $1 million view. Or, after a day on the beach, you can shower, dress and arrive at any number of four-star restaurants in less than a half hour. Unlike the outer islands, you don’t need a car in Waikiki. If you don’t want to stroll, just hire one of the pedal-pushed rickshaws (pedicabs) to chauffeur you down the drag. And TheBus (Honolulu’s public bus system) is just 50 cents for an entire circle of the island.
To counter the critics’ barbs, many Waikiki Beach hotel operators have followed the lead of resort destinations on neighbor islands by forming an association. Its mission: to present the virtues of one of Hawaii’s earliest attractions and the businesses that dwell there. Many of the nation’s major chains (Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt, Westin) as well as a score of independents are campaigning to not only entice more travelers to the area but to bring the locals back to their beach. The association hopes that Waikiki will soon be known as “Life’s Greatest Beach”
But proving that Waikiki has more to offer than high-rise congestion shouldn’t be too hard. The island’s best restaurants and nightclubs are located here. A reader’s poll in HONOLULU Magazine named the Hawaiian Regent’s Third Floor as the best overall restaurant in the state of Hawaii. The restaurant has earned its fame through years of impeccable service and food. With high rattan chairs, rich parquet tables and subdued lighting, it is the quintessential Hawaiian restaurant. Each guest is greeted with Indian bread and goose liver pate. Its appetizer bar features smoked fish of every description, sashimi and an array of exotic salads. But The Third Floor is facing stiff competition from a new restaurant down the street. La Mer at the Halekulani has taken up the challenge: Guests are greeted with complimentary French champagne; and one of France’s youngest and most talented chefs, Lyons renowned Philippe Chavent, supervises preparation of classic and nouvelle French dishes that feature all local ingredients.
And other great restaurants abound in and around Waikiki. There’s Champeaux on top of the Westin Ilikai (it specializes in Hawaiian nouvelle cuisine). Then there’s Bagwells 2424, a consistent award-winner at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, and the Maile Room at the exclusive Kahala Hilton. Michel’s at the Colony Surf is not only a fine French restaurant, but it also has a magnificent beachside view. Less touted than the leading establishments, The Bali Room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village has also emerged as a strong contender in the continental sweepstakes. And, as always, John Dominis and Nick’s Fishmarket lead the pack in seafood dining. (The latter is reputed to be a celebrity hot spot, too.) And for the best Thai food this side of Siam, try Keo’s.
But for those times when you’d rather opt for a casual steak than Chateaubriand, head for Buzz’s Original Steakhouse in Lanikai on the windward side. It’s the choice pick of Waikikis hoteliers.
There’s no shortage of nightlife opportunities on Oahu. For early evening, our favorite is watching the sunset at the Halekulani’s House Without A Key. But on the more lively side, Spats and Trappers (both in the Hyatt Regency) are two favorite disco spots. The Brothers Cazimero, known for their blending of the traditional and the new in Hawaiian music, keep them packed in at the Royal Hawaiian, one of Waikiki’s most colorful hotels. There are numerous Polynesian revues, one of the best being the Danny Kaleikini Show at the Kahala Hilton. And check the papers to see where local comedian Frank DeLima is playing.
HONOLULU-Don’t confuse Waikiki and the city of Honolulu as one and the same. The bustling metropolis of Honolulu is distinctively different from Waikiki. In addition to its colorful history and ethnic diversity, Honolulu is one of the most thriving downtown areas in the United States. The regal lolani Palace is an example of the abundant turn-of-the-century architecture, and the Bishop Museum is a monument to the rich Polynesian culture that has shaped the 50th state. Despite the continuing modernization of Honolulu, a piece of the Old World lives on-at the Oahu Market, the local meat, fish and produce stands where you can sample succulent roast pig or watch fishermen selling their catches. The market, at King and Kekau-like in the Chinatown Historic District, still remains the same as it did when it opened in 1904.
OAHU PACKS MORE into a relatively small package than any other island. It is the only one that can be easily circled by car. To really get a feel for Oahu, venture out past Diamond Head. The locals refer to this strip as the Gold Coast, so named for the pricey condominiums and oceanfront manses that hug the coastline. The Kahala Hilton, Oahu’s premier hotel, is located here, next to the ultra-exclusive Waialae golf course. (Even former U.S. presidents have been denied admission to this golf club because they weren’t members.) Take the Kalanianaole Highway, heading north, to see the numerous white sand beaches and secluded bays that ring the island. Take your mask and fins, because at Hanauma Bay, you’ll find the most popular snorkeling in Hawaii. Rounding Makapuu Point, you’ll see a small island offshore that’s named, appropriately enough, Rabbit Island. The name comes from its use as a rabbit ranch during World War II, and it even looks like a rabbit on its haunches with its ears pulled back. Now it’s a bird reserve Sea Life Park, one of Oahu’s top attractions, is down the road on the left. And farther still you’ll find Makapuu Beach, a haven for body surfers. Be sure to look up because here, above the Waimanalo coastline, you may see hang gliders atop the cliffs of the misty Koolau Mountain range. The panoramic view of this area is one of the most majestic on any of the islands. But keep your eyes on the road enough to watch out for speeding red Ferraris. This is the home of Magnum, PI.
Waimanalo is the back country of the island, with dozens of flower and plant farms that constitute the majority of Oahu’s flower industry. The Pali Pass divides the Koolau Mountains. The Hawai-ians used this route to connect the windward side to the other side of the island. On December 7,1941, the Japanese used the same narrow pass, for their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Cloud Nine Helicopters out of Waikiki retraces this route.
NORTH SHORE-Taking the Kamehameha Highway north, you’ll find the Polynesian Cultural Center, perhaps the most well-known attraction (outside of Waikiki Beach) in Hawaii. The center, run by Mormons, is a South Seas tribute, with Polynesian revues and exhibits. The center includes replicas of seven villages of Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, the Marquesas and New Zealand.
A few minutes north is the Turtle Bay Hilton, a 500-room resort on the scenic north point of the island. The property, with a championship golf course, tennis courts, sand dunebuggies and other sports facilities, creates a neighbor island resort atmosphere less than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. Continuing around the point is the famed North Shore area of Oahu. It is here -at Sunset Beach, Waimea Beach and the Banzai Pipeline-that surfing has reached religious cult status. But the Big Surf is for experts only. The strong currents are dangerous most of the year. Thirty-foot waves breaking close to shore are not uncommon-nor are dramatic rescues by the area’s crack lifeguard squad. One surfer told us that he lives in constant dread of doing a “piledriver – crashing headfirst in shallow water.
Just down the road is an 1,800-acre valley called Waimea Falls Park, where ancient hulas from the monarchy era-not often demonstrated in Waikiki -are performed, and where world champion divers leap 55 feet from the cliffs several times each day. And because of its popularity, the park even ALL HOTELS OFFER an avalanche of brochures on what to do and see in Hawaii. Sorting out the reputable from the ripoffs has become a full time occupation for a young entrepreneur. Nancy Pen-dleton offers a service called Island Odysseys that, says a co-worker, can help you discriminate between tour packages to get the best value for your dollar. Pendleton is so sure of the tours she promotes that the company will give you your money back if you’re not satisfied.
For descriptions of the islands’ best golf courses, see FORE! on page HAWAIl 17.
FREE FOR ALL
Although not always thought of as a budget vacation spot, Honolulu does offer many fun and FREE things to do. So after you get the first sunburn of your vacation, take a break from the beaches and enjoy a low-budget afternoon.
Kodak Hula Show
This traditional Hawaii tourist attraction features busloads of tourists and free hula lessons. At the Waikiki Shell at 10 a.m. Tues.-Fri.
Carp Feeding at the Pagoda Hotel
Located at 1525 Rycroft St. near Ala Moana Center, this hotel has an impressive public display of colorful and priceless Japanese fish. Carp feeding times are 8 a.m.. noon and 6 p.m. daily. 941-6611
Honolulu Academy of Arts
The architecture, the prominent oriental collection and the East-West balance of the exhibits make this one of the worlds most impressive museums anywhere. 900 S. Beretania St. Across from Thomas Square. 538-3693
124 acres of botanical gardens flush against the cliffs of Manoa. A free tour is offered at 1 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. Reservations suggested. 988-3177
Kahala Hilton Porpoise Show
This hotel at 5000 Kahala Ave. has a lagoon with porpoises who show off for the public daily. Feedings are daily at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Moanalua Valley Hike
These interesting hikes are led by dedicated lecturers well-versed in Hawiian culture and the ways of ancient Hawaiians. You will see rare Hawaiian petroglyphs, streams, rare trees, seven registered historical Italian bridges from the turn of the century, and stone foundations of historic builings. 839-5334
The Pacific Whaling Museum
Almost all whaling and whale-related artifacts can be found here, including tools, scrimshaw and a whale skeleton. The museum is next to the restaurant at Sea Life Park and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Urasenke Foundation Tea Ceremony
Open to the public 10 a.m. to noon every Wednesday and Friday, this is the most tranquil spot in Waikiki. The simplicity and grace of Japanese aesthetics are demonstrated through the ceremonial serving of tea in spotless tatami rooms in a Japanese garden setting. For $1, tourists can drink tea and eat sweets made in Kyoto. 923-3059
The Waikiki Aquarium
Among the many attractions at this Honolulu aquarium is the worlds largest known giant clam. The aquarium is full of exotic fish and rare marine life which you would never otherwise see. 2777 Kalakaua Ave. Waikiki, Diamond Head end. 923-9741
NOT FREE BUT NOT BAD
Bishop Museum and Planetarium
This is an awesome, world-renowned resource on the history of the Pacific. Here you can enter the past of the Polynesian people and glimpse their origins, culture and practices in the days before Western contact. General admission fee $4.75. 1525 Bernice St. 847-1443
Sea Life Park
One of the premiere attractions of this park is the 300,000-gallon indoor Hawaiian reef tank filled with an engaging display of 2000 marine inhabitants. Descent the spiral walkway and youll be only a windowpanes width away from hammerhead sharks, moray eels, stingrays and colorful anemones, corals and fish. At Makapuu Point. Admission $7.25 for adults. 259-7933
(Excerpted in part from The Book 0f Bests of Honolulu by Jocelyn Fujii.)