START THE YEAR WITH A LITTLE ALOHA KINDNESS AND A WARM, SUNNY ESCAPE
BY AMBER GIBSON
Oahu (O’ahu in Hawaiian) attracts more visitors than any other island in our 50th state, and Honolulu, its hub of action, has its highest concentration of luxury hotels, restaurants, and shopping along Waikiki Beach. Venture beyond, though, and you’ll find laidback neighborhoods with warm, sincere people and abundant shops and cultural destinations. It’s easy to make friends here, and Hawaii is the perfect place to decompress to start 2019 with a much deserved physical, mental, and emotional reset.
To get in touch with Oahu’s wild, spiritual side, hike Ka’ena Point, the westernmost tip of the island. It’s an easy 2.5 mile trek over relatively flat land and the ocean views are magnificent the entire way. The landscape is typically more desert savannah than lush jungle, although during rainy season the mountains can be impressively green. Follow the old railroad tracks (previously used to transport sugarcane) to the coastal sand dunes and albatross sanctuary. This coastal bluff is named Leina a Ka’uhane, or “leaping place of souls.” (Every Hawaiian island has this sacred place facing westward, where spirits of the deceased cross over to the afterlife.) It’s here that you can begin to understand the spirit of Aloha and its ethos of harmony, kindness, humility, and patience. The world would truly be a better place if only we could all be a little more Hawaiian.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines offer nonstop 11 hour flights from JFK and Newark airports (at time of press, early March round trip tickets from JFK on the former carrier started at a remarkable $697). If booking a last minute ticket for February, check out the contemporary art scene at the POW! WOW! Festival during Valentine’s Day week. Its shows, concerts, and installations include more than a hundred local and global artists, centering on the Kaka’ako district, and many of the murals and street art pieces remain long after the festival ends.
Don’t leave Honolulu without trying poke. Now a trend in cities coast to coast, this healthy lunch option has roots in Hawaii. You’ll find the freshest and most authentic on Oahu, sold by the pound at supermarket counters like Tanioka’s, Tamura’s, and Foodland. Even Costco sells decent poke by the pound (the Iwilei location, by the way, is the busiest Costco in the world).
SALT AT OUR KAKA’AKO
Ala Moana Center is one of the biggest malls in Hawaii, and Kalakaua Avenue is one of the busiest shopping streets in the country, rivaling Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue. However, for a more curated, local feeling shopping experience, visit this contemporary mixed use space. It’s home to colorful murals and independent retailers, including Treehouse, a full service film photography shop, and Lonohana Estate Chocolate, a beanto bar maker with a cacao farm on the North Shore. There’s also high end Vissla surf wear at Stoke House, botanical décor at Paiko, and chic womenswear at Here. Not to mention plenty of casual dining spots to relax and refuel. 691 Auahi Street, Honolulu, saltatkakaako.com
Ukulele music is the soundtrack to any true Hawaiian vacation a way to tell story through song and celebrate this state’s remarkable heritage. Insiders know that the Okami family at KoAloha makes the finest handcrafted ukuleles in the world, using prized koa wood, Hawaii’s native acacia. These instruments are equally beautiful to the eye and ear, with hand cut shell inlays and a powerful, vibrant tone. Factory tours are available Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. (no reservations necessary), or book a private tour to design and build your own, ready to take home the same day. 1234 Kona Street, Honolulu, koaloha.com
WHERE TO STAY
FOUR SEASONS RESORT O’AHU AT KO OLINA
Many visitors to Oahu never venture to the island’s sunny western coast, and they’re missing out. The Four Seasons is the most spectacular resort on the leeward side, with the best Sunday brunch buffet on the island and plenty of family friendly activities. There, local artisans and cultural ambassadors teach a slew of weekly workshops for all ages, from shell jewelry making to hula and ukulele playing. Enjoy a spa day of traditional healing (including tropically scented Hawaii made scrubs, oils, and body butter) at the resort spa, and reserve an outdoor hale to enjoy your massage to a soundtrack of birdsong and crashing waves. 92 1001 Olani Street, Kapolei, fourseasons.com/oahu
ALOHILANI RESORT WAIKIKI BEACH
Oahu’s newest resort opened in May of last year, featuring two restaurants by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and views from Diamond Head to Waikiki Bay from your private lanai. The three story, 280,000 gallon lobby Oceanarium is a highlight, home to a variety of native reef fishes. Be a voyeur into their underwater world while enjoying a morning coffee or evening cocktail at O Bar. A new spiritual wellness package this year begins with an astrological reading prior to arrival, followed by dream boarding and planting a native tree at Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore as a way to literally root your intentions. 2490 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, alohilaniresort.com
THE RITZ CARLTON RESIDENCES, WAIKIKI BEACH
The Ritz Carlton has the most luxury suites on the island; 552 in all, from studio suites up to four bedrooms. The new Diamond Head Tower just opened in October, and both Ritz towers are just a few minutes’ walk to both the most luxurious shopping destinations in Oahu and the ocean. The eighth floor infinity pool is the highest in Waikiki, with private cabanas and dazzling views. The resort is also home to a ground floor Dean & Deluca market, along with the 10 seat omakase counter Sushi Sho, one of the toughest reservations on the island. 383 Kalaimoku Street, Honolulu, ritzcarlton.com/Waikiki
DAY TRIPS AND TOURS
KO HANA RUM DISTILLERY
In the beautiful mountains of the Waianae Range, just 30 minutes from downtown Honolulu, Kō Hana Distillers is making farm to bottle, single varietal rum from 34 different types of heirloom sugarcane, first brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians via canoe. Tours begin with a glass of freshly squeezed cane juice, and traipse through the farm and distillery before ending with rum tastings in a restored plantation era general store. There are white and aged varieties to try, along with a Kokoleka liqueur made from rum blended with local Hawaiian honey and cacao. Most rums are made from molasses, but here, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice is used in French agricole style for a more refined taste that showcases varietal subtleties and terroir. Outside of Hawaii, you can only find Kō Hana in a couple of places in California and New York. 92 1770 Kunia Road, Kunia, kohanarum.com
NORTH SHORE SURFING & ART
A one hour drive from Waikiki, the North Shore is best known for surfing, particularly at Waimea Bay, the big wave riding capital of the world. From May to September, the water is calmer, while November to February is the best time for big waves. Conditions can be dangerous for novices, but even if you aren’t a pro, you can take a piece of surf culture home with you after you visit Welzie’s beach studio. The whimsical, bright resin art here can’t help but produce a smile, from aloha pineapples and feisty sharks on iPhone cases to original murals and sculptures, along with limited edition silkscreen and woodblock prints. Stop to refuel in Haleiwa Town with a smoothie bowl on the way home. 59 371 Makana Road, Haleiwa, welzieart.com
DINE AND DRINK
It’s rare to find two chefs co existing as equals in such a small restaurant, but Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush make it work. The two met in New York City while working at the three Michelinstarred Per Se before opening their own eatery together, and a fine dining back ground is obvious in their attention to detail. Even simple salads become decadent with hearty BBQ beets, and then there’s the charred cabbage Caesar salad that’s anything but healthy. The eight seat chef’s counter (Wednesday through Saturday) is the most intricate and interactive dining experience, although the three course lunch prix xe is stellar, too. 75 N King Street, Honolulu, restaurantsenia.com
This unassuming spot, in a strip mall just a few minutes from the Ala Moana Center, is actually one of the best sushi destinations in the country. Chef Takeshi Kawasaki earned a Michelin star for his Hokkaido, Japan sushi restaurant, then moved to Honolulu for a second act. Seafood, including delicacies like Venus clam, is own in fresh daily from Hokkaido, and nigiri is served piece by piece at the nine seat counter. Another specialty of Kawasaki is Ezomae sushi, a classic style that’s simple, subtle, and sublime. Negitoro maki is also a delight, with its perfect ratios of scallion to tuna to rice. Don’t be surprised or intimidated if you’re the only diner who doesn’t speak Japanese; the staff are quite friendly and happy to translate. 1731 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu, 808.951.4445
Chef Kevin Lee’s global travels and diverse fine dining pedigree are apparent in the creative fusion of flavors here though as a kid, he first cooked with his grandmother in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. There’s eggplant miso hummus and Singapore chili crab risotto, and he’ll also put kombu in an otherwise textbook French mornay sauce, layered in a shiitake mushroom lasagna. Lee’s Chinese heritage and love of dim sum are apparent in his signature agedashi XO turnip cake and a savory twist on jian dui the fried glutinous rice our pastry is filled with short rib, and foie gras is used in lieu of the traditional lotus or red bean paste. 55 Merchant Street, Suite 110, Honolulu, paihonolulu.com