They Put Up a Parking Lot
They Put Up a Parking Lot by Laurie Fellezs
Even a bad day in paradise is pretty good, but our recent five-day visit to Waikiki was a disappointing one. I accompanied The Professor on a research and family (his) trip. We’ve been to Oahu many times and have now seen all of the tourist sites, so there is no pressure to sightsee—now we just revisit a small list of favorites each time we’re there.
First off, we stayed at a hotel we’ve stayed at before—the Waikiki Hilton on Kuhio. I was excited to hear we had an ocean-view room as the hotel is only a couple of blocks away from the beach. While we did have a view of the ocean from our window on the 12th floor, someone had built a huge high rise right in the middle of our view. How rude. At least the hotel is a typically nice Hilton and the Mai Tais from their lobby bar were excellent.
Next day we drove around Oahu with a local family friend shopping for bargains. She took us to a very bare bones saimin place (which is a type of noodle), called Dillingham Saimin. It has very little atmosphere and is not a place for tourists unless said tourist is looking to dine at a local joint. The food is inexpensive and the servings are substantial, however. I had a huge slice of flavorful pork lying across a heaping helping of saimin noodles--ono (which is Hawaiian for hmm hmm good)! Four of us ate for a little over $40.
Following this tasty sustenance we headed off to the nearby Costco where we loaded up on chocolate-covered macadamia nut candies, Hurricane popcorn (an island favorite consisting of popcorn, nori seaweed, and rice crackers), and Kona coffee. Costco is a great source of deals on gift items if you have a membership.
After our trip to Costco, we headed off to the Ala Moana Shopping Center—another source of disappointment. The shopping center is now a mecca of high-end designer stores. Great if one is into that type of thing, but I’m not. The only stores I saw that weren’t a designer brand were a sad-looking Longs Drugs, an ABC store, and a Forever 21. (ABC stores are on every street corner in Hawaii and are great places to buy gifts, drinks, food, and just about anything you can imagine, and they’re not too expensive.) There are a couple other non-designer stores in the mall, but we basically just made our way down to the ABC store and then back out.
After a hard day of shopping for bargains, we stopped at a local shaved ice store located in a small strip mall just behind Ala Moana for a late snack, and then headed back to the hotel.
It seems that most of Waikiki is either going to be torn down in the near future, has been torn down and replaced by high-rise condos, or is currently being torn down. Many of the businesses and hotels are either closed or in need of a paintjob and an infusion of money. The historic International Marketplace in downtown Oahu that was home to local vendors of jewelry, t-shirts, cheap food, and other souvenirs has been torn down and the area is being turned into a Saks 5th Avenue store as we speak. It will join all the other high-end designer stores that have invaded Kalakaua Avenue and the surrounding streets and shopping areas. It’s disgusting.
The next day was full of delightful finds, but also more disappointments. We headed over to the Kaneohe side to pick up the family friend and then over to Kailua on the Eastern side of the island to a local institution called Boots & Kimo’s. It’s a really small restaurant weirdly filled with sports memorabilia and is owned by a local family. Apparently, there is always a huge wait here and the source of all this waiting is their famous macadamia-nut pancakes. The pancakes are light and fluffy and are smothered with a sauce made from the nut. I’m not one for super sweet—and these pancakes were swimming in this sweet-looking sauce—so I ordered plain banana pancakes. The waitress suggested I get the sauce on the side, and am I glad I did. The sauce was not sweet and was delish—or I should say, ono.
After waiting an hour and a half to enjoy the pancakes, we exited the restaurant happily full, and decided to take off up the highway along the coastline to my favorite destination—the Crouching Lion Inn. I first discovered this charming little restaurant with the peaceful ocean view about 20 years ago and have returned to it every time I’ve been to the islands. We usually would go for lunch and their famous Mile-High Coconut Pie. Even though we were not hungry at all, traditions must be followed, so off we went.
Imagine my sadness when we pulled up to a boarded-up building. There were no signs saying anything about Under Construction or Coming Soon. We noticed a chocolate shop next door—Fine Ass Chocolates. I had seen their ad in the Oahu visitor’s magazine and had planned on stopping in…after the coconut pie. We went in to the chocolate shop to ask and met the owner who was not too keen on being in the middle of nowhere next to a boarded-up landmark. He told us it had been sold and was going to reopen in 2016! We were sad, but not half as sad as the storeowner appeared to be, so we all bought some chocolates. They tasted great and have great names like Fire Balls (my purchase) and other ball-related puns. As dreams of Mile-High Coconut Pie dissolved from our brains like sand castles at high tide, we headed off up the highway in search of sea turtles.
Our next destination was a beach known to be a destination of vacationing sea turtles. I had read about it on someone’s blog but the only description I had was that we were to look for a crowd of cars just outside of the North Shore town of Haleiwa, and that the turtles were easy to spot. While it sounded easy enough, we found more than one beach that fit that description. We stopped at a couple but they were too crowded with snorkelers to see anything, so we continued on the highway to the little town of Haleiwa.
Haleiwa used to be a sleepy little town filled with old shops and stores—the most famous being Matsumoto’s Shave Ice which was founded in the 1950s and had turned into a funky surfer and tourist destination. The old shop is now closed and they have expanded into a little shopping area. It now features that new architecture that is designed to look like it’s really old and quaint. While done differently all across America, it’s always tacky. We continued on up the highway and then started home, coming back through the center of the island instead of the busy coastal highway, and disappointed again.
We ended our day on a high note, however, by going to a good Chinese place in Kaneohe known as Pah Ke's Chinese Restaurant. The owner makes fresh desserts daily and I don’t mean fortune cookies—I’m talking fresh Lilikoi Pie. After the Chinese food and great dessert joined the earlier macadamia-nut pancakes, we headed back to our hotel in Waikiki feeling five pounds heavier.
The next day was reserved for brunch at another one of my favorite Waikiki destinations: Shorebird at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. I love it there because the food is decent and it’s right on the beach with wide-open window areas. We made our way down Kalakaua to the restaurant at the end of Waikiki and staked out a table next to the big windows. However, I noticed it was rather tired looking, too. The local birds that fly in the open windows strutted along the floor of the restaurant like they owned the place and everything needed a new coat of paint. The food wasn’t bad but I’m sure a real foodie would find lots to complain about. I just made sure to load up on the local fruits and the freshly carved ham. After a couple times through the line, we were ready to go back towards the busy part of the beach.
There’s a reason why certain areas of Waikiki are more crowded than others. Down by the Shorebird for instance, the sea floor is really rocky and not comfortable to walk on. The further down the beach one goes heading towards the Diamond Head end, the more crowded it becomes as the rocky pebbles disappear and one can walk out into the shallow water a good ways out. I’m not a beach person, but I dragged The Professor down to the water and we took turns standing guard over our belongings with one of us in the water and the other standing over our valuables. After a few minutes of floating around, we switched off. It was not the most romantic way to enjoy the beach, but it’s not a good idea to leave anything of value unattended. After a sadly short but semi-adequate time spent floating around in the green bathtub warm water, we got ready to go back to the other side of the island for a family dinner.
Our last morning found us going to a new place for our final meal in paradise. We went over to the Ilikai Hotel near the marina at the far Western end of Waikiki. It’s an older-style hotel that is really pretty and they have a beautiful outdoor patio restaurant with the very non-Hawaiian name of Cinnamon’s. This place has now been placed on my Need-to-Return List for the next time we visit. Another huge meal filled us up and got us ready for our very long flight home to New York by way of Los Angeles.
Though it was great to get away from Manhattan and enjoy the beauty of the island for a few days, I can’t help but be depressed over the march of unsuppressed capitalism. The things that made Oahu charming are gone or are being torn down and replaced by high-rise condos and designer stores; and I’m not sure what I’m going to find the next time I go to Oahu, but I can only hope it’s impossible to pave over Waikiki Beach.