In San Francisco, June comes in October. Or never at all. That’s why the moment school is over, we grab our kids, leave behind our winter jackets and boots, and start making our way to the Islands of Eternal Summer.
Day One. Parking.
If you are planning on getting away to Waikiki, once you’re there, you’ll be planning on getting away all over again. That’s why we are renting a car from Alamo.
Our hotel provides a parking spot for a fee. “Can we park on the street?” We ask a front desk person when we check in.
She says: “I’d suggest you buy a parking pass for your entire stay.”
“Is it cheaper,” we ask, “than buying an individual day-pass?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Then why do we need a pass for our entire stay, if we can possibly find free parking on the street?”
“They tow cars away.”
“I’m not sure. I’ll give you the key.”
“To the parking door. It locks at midnight, but you can have a key.”
“When do the parking meters start working?”
“I don’t know. You have to read the signs.”
“When do they stop working? 6 p.m.?”
“Read the signs.”
If you’re in Waikiki, the meters there start charging at 7 a.m. and are free after 6 p.m.
Day Two. Architecture.
I guess a lot of Waikiki and the surrounding areas were built out in the 1970s. Here’s a sampler of what to expect.
Day Three. Seattle’s Best.
There is a Seattle’s Best coffee shop at the corner of Ohua, where we’re staying, and Kalakaua Avenues. I don’t know if this coffee really is Seattle’s best, but it’s definitely better than what we drink in San Francisco. Our coffee is dark and bitter, infused with competition and anxiety. This one is light and uplifting. Sitting outside at a table under an umbrella, I hear wind rustle in the trees and feel the rain sprinkle. I am ready to run for the hills as we do in the Bay Area when the wind blows and the rain materializes out of the mist, but before I have time to do so, the breeze catches me – it’s warm and moist, and the rain is gentle, and you can get away with wearing just one layer at all times … in short, this is paradise.
Day Four. East shore.
If you escape from a place crowded with tourists, you are probably going to end up in a place crowded with locals. Pick your poison. We are looking for a beach where the water is calm and deep. Waimanalo has it. There is a green area in front of the sandy strip. Lots of tents. Some of the tents look like they’ve been there forever and are not going anywhere any time soon. This makes me think about a housing crisis. Being a resident of San Francisco, a thought about a housing crisis makes me want to go into a fetal position. An idea that camping is a great way to ease oneself into homelessness crosses my mind, and I stash it in a corner of my mind for future exploration.
Day Five. Cash only.
Back at Seattle’s Best, I am standing in line to get coffee. A woman in front of me is trying to buy freshly squeezed orange juice with a credit card. The girl behind the counter lifts a huge plastic jar filled with tips up to the woman’s face so the woman can read “CASH ONLY” written in all caps on the jar. I feel like a local because I have cash on me.
Day Six. A restaurant.
Dinner time. Trying to find a restaurant on the beach. It’s packed everywhere. We finally find a place where we can sit down without the wait. We buy a bottle of wine for $40. The wine tastes like it did a lot of sun bathing before it made it to our table. The more we drink, however, the better it gets. By the end of the bottle it tastes pretty good. We order seafood tacos and they suck. Our son orders cheese pizza and it’s quite delicious.
Day Seven. Pillbox.
Hiking time. I installed the AllTrails app on my iPhone and it tells me that Pillbox trail is the one nearest to us. We look for parking. It’s hopeless. Just as we are running out of patience we find a spot. According to AllTrails, the Pillbox trail is beautiful and easy. We struggle up a steep dusty incline, just to be rewarded with the view of the parking spot we were so desperate to find on one side of the hill and a golf course on the other.
Day Eight. Snorkeling off Waikiki.
A bunch of us, snorkelers, get on a catamaran and sail away from the Waikiki shore. If you’ve never snorkeled before, the main thing to know about snorkeling is to tip your crew at the end of your trip.
Day Nine. Niko’s.
We realize that we can’t improvise when it comes to dining out. I resort to a booklet named “50 Places to Eat in Oahu” spread across tourist literature stands in Waikiki. I zoom in on a restaurant called Niko’s Pier 38. We drive to Pier 38 (they don’t take reservations), and having been cowed into submission by our previous dining experience, we are ready for a long wait – Just give us good food please. We get in in 15-20 minutes. The place is nice and friendly, and they give us a table we love. The restaurant buys its seafood from the fish auction held in the area every morning. Our server suggests a Poke Sampler for an appetizer.
“Is it good,” – We ask?
“Well, it’s very fresh.” – She replies; making us wonder if that’s code for, “unfortunately the quality of our cooking does not live up to the quality of our ingredients.” The Poke is okay. Our dishes are okay. Our son’s pizza, though, is consistently delicious.
Day Ten. Snorkeling on the West Shore.
The van picks us up in Waikiki and takes us to Ko Olina Resort on the West Shore. We check in and wait for an hour to get on with our snorkeling trip. A catamaran takes us near the Electric Beach, named so, for its close proximity to the electric station. There is nothing like snorkeling in sight of a Power Plant. A dude from Jamaica is ready for his flippers.
“What size?” – Asks the first mate.
“You need no flippers,” says the first mate.
I am delighted. This guy should do standup comedy in his free time.
My husband decides to sign up for Snuba diving. Snuba is a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving and is $78 on top of the $440 we already paid for the four of us. The main thing to know about Snuba, in case you’ve never done it before, is to tip your instructor when you’re done; to tip the crew use a communal tipping jar located on the counter in the haul.
Day Eleven. Lanikai Beach.
Once you pass all the tents, Lanikai Beach near Pillbox trail is actually pretty nice. Boogie boarding is trickier than it seems. It’s like playing checkers with the ocean: All about who has control of the board.
Day Twelve. Roy’s Waikiki.
I am a glutton. I eat my food so fast my brain has no time to register how it tastes. That’s why I’m grateful to Roy’s restaurant in Waikiki for opening my eyes as to why people pay for some meals more than for others. My husband and I share a Butter Fish which, consistent with its name, melts in our mouths. Our older son is having to-die-for macadamia crusted Mahi-Mahi in lobster sauce. Our younger son’s pizza is, as always, delicious.
Day Thirteen. Kuliouou Ridge Trail.
The main problem with a modern lifestyle is that our minds are always over-stressed while our bodies are always underworked. Kuliouou Ridge Trail puts it all in reverse. Your mind thinks of nothing but where to place your foot, and your body gets the workout of a lifetime. If this doesn’t get me to lose any weight, I think, then life is unfair just as I suspected. In an instant, the appeal of living here becomes clear to me. It’s like having one gigantic gym membership. The Pacific Ocean is your swimming pool, hikes are your Stairmasters, and when you need a steam room, you go inland and find a valley where it always rains.
Day Fourteen. Back at Seattle’s Best.
I buy my coffee with cash, put tips in a plastic jar, and step outside into the sitting area with umbrellas. “My” table is taken! I sit down at the table next to “mine” and wait for the two women who occupy “my” table to leave. They are done with their drinks. They are just chatting. Their chat contains no reactions or opinions about anything, just facts. Woman # 1 talks about her cousin and what she ate with that cousin in a restaurant. Then she discusses about her other cousin and where he lives. The conversation is predictable. My hope is that if both of these women have two cousins and each cousin can be discussed in 30 seconds, the women will be out of the table in 30 X 2 = 60; 60 X 2 = 120; … in two minutes.
Then out of nowhere a third woman joins the group and talks about her two brothers-in-law in addition to her two cousins. I realize I may have fallen for the same trap as that ancient king who was challenged to fill the chessboard with grains of rice starting with one and doubling the grains with every square. If women keep arriving at “my” table each doubling the amount of relatives to discuss, their conversation is not going to be over for thousands of years. Unexpectedly, this revelation puts me at ease, and I start enjoying “my” new table just as much as I enjoyed “my” old one.
Day Fifteen. Iolani Palace.
The best place to park when you visit Iolani Palace is in the royal back yard itself. Spaces are always available, and only a dollar an hour.
Admission to Iolani Palace includes an audio guide. Listening to audio guides is an essential gesture of respect to the local culture. So make sure you have your headphones on at all times. I feel like everything is scaled down here: A miniature version of a monarchy, a miniature version of a palace, a miniature version of a royal revolt (a new constitution intended to put the monarchy back in power was drafted in 1895) and a miniature version of punishment for that revolt. If you like your history filled with flying heads and rulers committing suicides on secluded islands you should go to France. But if you are okay with $5000 fines and a royal confined to her own bedroom for trying to take her reign back, go to Hawaii.
Day Sixteen. Going back.
I measure time spent on a plane in movies. Five hours of flight is equivalent to three films. I love watching movies while in the air. It distracts me from the fact that I am actually in the air, and helps me catch up with movies I haven’t seen in a theater and will never rent at home. United does provide entertainment, but only through your personal mobile device. You can watch movies on a United’s latest app, given there is enough bandwidth to go around. The moral of the story? Bring a book. I feel disappointed, but only for a brief second. All I really care about is that we have a smooth, uneventful flight. And this flight is indeed incredibly smooth. There is a couple of instances of turbulence, but they end before anyone has time to panic. In my mind, I praise the invention of commercial air travel. We take it for granted, but really what a miracle it is to be transported from one location on Earth to another, thousands of miles apart, as easily as we pass salt at dinner table. By the way, the main thing to remember about commercial flights is to tip your crew when the flight is over. Just kidding.
Some people take vacations better than others, and some bring back stories that are more exciting than those of their fellow travellers. For example, last year during our vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, I broke my kneecap. IN THE PARKING LOT. I tripped and fell and broke my kneecap. We hiked the Volcano, we plunged ourselves into five-foot waves, we wandered in lava valleys. So many respectable reasons to injure myself, and I break my knee in the parking lot?
“Why couldn’t you do it here in San Francisco?” – my coworker asked when I returned after surgery. “This town has plenty of parking lots, FYI.”
Paraphrasing Woody Allen, I am at two with adventure.
In terms of stress, vacation is ranked right below the loss of a spouse. Yet people fall for it over and over, just like they fall in love or fall for and adopt a pet. The stress will happen. It’ll happen no matter what. The goal is not to avoid the stress entirely, but to minimize it. For example, if you are like me, and fantasize about wearing a ton of breezy blouses, fluffy skirts, and strappy sandals while on vacation, but end up stuck with a pair of denim shorts, a few tee shirts and a pair of sneakers, accept this reality and pack lightly. Not going through the luggage carousel can slash your vacation’s stress by a good amount. And whatever stress you are bound to endure, may actually be beneficial for you rather than harmful. We need to get injured from time to time in order to remind ourselves how to recover. Plus, with all that sun that we catch on vacation, and all the ocean we absorb, and all the hikes that train our lungs and legs, that recovery is going to be easy and smooth. And, even though we have potentially an entire year to recuperate, we’ll be ready for a new shock in no time.