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Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Oahu, Hawaii

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Royal Hawaiian Pink Palace Peter was live on the radio from the newly renovated Royal Hawaiian hotel, Waikiki’s famous pink landmark (hence its nickname the “Pink Palace”).

This historic hotel first opened in 1928, and over the decades it has hosted presidents, royalty, celebrities, and other members of the jet-setting elite.

While on the island of Oahu, there are a few must-do activities for visitors, no matter how touristy. And yes, that includes a traditional luau complete with roasted pigs, fire dancers and a hula performance.

You’ll also want to check out a torch-lighting ceremony with … hula dancers. And for an amazing view of the famous Hawaiian sunsets, get off the beach and into the water on a dinner cruise. Several ships are docked at Aloha Tower and Kewalo Basin including the Ali’I Kai, the world’s largest Polynesian catamaran. Once the sun has set, you get to enjoy—you guessed it—a hula dance.

Pink palace poolBut we wanted to look beyond hula and checked in with a crew of locals including Hawaii native Lianne Thompson, associate editor of Modern Luxury Hawai’i magazine, surf legend “Hawaiian Mike” Goodrich, local historian Bill Souza and more to find out some of their top picks for island activities.

In the hula department, a great time to visit Honolulu is for the annual World Invitational Hula Festival. Every November, this unique World Invitational Hula Festival invites people from all over the world to experience and celebrate Hawaiian culture through performance of the hula. www.worldhula.com

Another can’t-miss cultural experience is the Aloha Festivals, which is Hawaii’s oldest and largest statewide celebration featuring food, music, hula performances, ukulele contests, and live entertainment. It was originally created in 1946 to mimic the Makahiki celebration season (Hawaiian New Year), which honored the Hawaiian god Lono.

BEACHING WITH THE LOCALS

Most visitors are attracted to Waikiki Beach, but Lianne Thompson grew up going to Kailua. In fact, this secluded beach town—located about 15 miles northeast of Honolulu—is such a favorite among locals that they’d probably prefer to keep it a secret.

Kailua Beach Park’s unbelievably blue water and fine, powdery sand is practically a cliché, and beachgoers tend to be low-key. Oh, and it’s where the Obamas spent their Hawaiian vacation. The beach is on the windward side of the island, which means it’s, well, windy. (Waikiki, on the other hand, is on the leeward side.) But that constant exposure to the trade winds translates into excellent conditions for kite boarding and windsurfing—or at least watching the locals do it. And while most people associate “windward” with “rainy,” Kailua is generally sunny with only short bursts of afternoon rain.

For more, check out Hanalei Bay Tops Dr. Beach’s Annual Best Beaches List.

After a sunny day at the beach, Thompson is sure to grab a shave ice from Island Snow at the Kailua Beach Center. Shave ice is pretty much the same thing as a snow cone, but when you order an exotic island flavor like passionfruit or lychee and add a scoop of ice cream at the bottom, you’ve got yourself a truly Hawaiian treat. www.islandsnow.com

Another option for shave ice is Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. According to Hawaiian Mike, Matsumoto’s shave ice on Oahu’s North Shore is the best of the best. 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa; www.matsumotoshaveice.com

Haiku Gardens HawaiiDINING OUT

Drive up the coast from Kailua toward the North Shore for a real treat: Hawaiian shrimp trucks! They’re sort of like the Hawaiian version of taco trucks.

Mostly clustered around the North Shore town of Kahuku, these trucks serve fresh shrimp smothered in butter and garlic or spicy sauce.  Look for Giovanni’s graffiti-covered white truck—the original and perhaps most famous of the bunch. For just $12, you’ll get 12 giant, succulent shrimps served with two scoops of rice. 57-083 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku

Oh, and did someone say banana macadamia nut pancakes? Head to Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen in Kailua. ‘Nuf said. 119 Hekili Street, Kailua; 808-263-7929

According to Larry Fujinaka, a native Hawaiian, W and M has the best BBQ burger on the island.  It is a hole in the wall, but always worth it for the best local burger in town.  Don’t expect to see tourists here! 3104 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu; 808-734-3350

Get more local recommendations with Culinary Travel: Best Places for Shave Ice in Oahu, Hawaii.

Another of Larry’s favorites is Shiro’s Saimin Haven, which has the best local bowl of Japanese/Hawaiian noodles. And it’s cheap!  Choose from 60 kinds of saimin (noodle soup) with island favorites like kim chee and Spam. 98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea; 808-488-4834

Haddock in red sauce at restaurantLarry’s last recommendation is John Domini’s Restaurant, which is more pricey, but worth it for excellent seafood, and a spectacular view of Waikiki’s skyline, Diamond Head and the open ocean. Located on the ocean’s edge in Honolulu’s Kewalo Basin, this is a great place to watch the ships passing by. 43 Ahui Street, Honolulu; 808-523-0955, www.johndominis.com

If you’re in the mood for dim sum, local historian and former Honolulu Star-Bulletin editor Bill Souza recommends Mei Sum Dim Sum, which he calls the best local dim sum. It’s not fancy, but it’s a great place to get good dim sum and tasty Chinese at a good price. And it’s probably the most popular place on the island for a dim sum lunch.  Try the taro puffs. 65 N. Pauahi Street, Honolulu; 808-531-3268

Lastly, Souza is a fan of La Mariana Sailing Club, one of the last remaining tiki bars in Oahu, a funky place with a ’40s tiki-tacky ambience, and good Mai Tai’s. Close to the airport, this nook is the perfect spot to start off your Hawaii experience—sip a Mai Tai, and get in the Hawaiian mood as you watch the tide roll in and out. 50 Sand Island Access Road, Honolulu; 808-848-2800

For more, don’t miss the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaiian shirt (generic)“REAL” SOUVENIR SHOPPING

Don’t get stuck buying aloha shirts or dancing hula girl dolls. Instead, you can pick up items that combine Hawaii’s ancient traditions with fashion-forward trends:

The family-run Muumuu Heaven is an island favorite, where vintage muumuus are deconstructed and refashioned into one-of-a-kind dresses and tops in modern silhouettes. Inside the shop, you can check out local Hawaiian artworks, with a different artist featured each month. 767 Kailua Road, Kailua #100; 808-263-3366, www.muumuuheaven.com

Then there’s Anne Namba, one of the local designers who put Hawaiian fashion on the map. Anne Namba Designs in Honolulu kicks it up a notch by creating fashion-forward designs out of vintage kimonos and obis. 324 Kamani Street, Honolulu; 808-589-1135, www.annenamba.com

GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND

Hanauma Bay HawaiiThompson recommends renting a car to get around the island, particularly for destinations like Kailua (although in the old days, it required a strenuous hike over the Koolau Mountains or a boat ride).

However, she point out that the local bus (www.thebus.org) is an affordable option that many visitors overlook. For a real bargain, check out the Circle Isle Ride on Oahu Transit Services, aka TheBus. The Route 52 Wahiawa-Circle Island bus costs just $2 for four-hour ride from the Ala Moana Center shopping mall, through downtown Honolulu, up north through the center of the island, along the North Shore and down the coast back into Honolulu. The Route 55 does the same route in the opposite direction. If you’re relying on public transportation to get around, consider a four-day pass, which gets you unlimited access to regular and express services for four consecutive days.

To get the most of the island as a whole, you may also want to purchase a one, two, three or five day Power Pass for admission into many of the island’s top attractions including the Dole Plantation maze, the Contemporary Museum and free kayak, moped and other rentals. Passes start at $28.50 per day and have a combined value of $300. www.visiticket.com/Honolulu/

Tune into Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio to hear Peter talking travel from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu.

By Margaret Emery and Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.




Have a burning travel question or want to know more about Hawaii and the world beyond? Call Peter live at 888-88-PETER Saturday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET,  or email him anytime at peter @ petergreenberg.com

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