Reflections on a week in paradise….

I never tire of visiting Hawaii. For all the commercialism that has come to the tourism industry there, there is still a sense of wonder and discovery. You can still find places and things others have overlooked, or just walked past too fast to really see. Hawaii is changing, becoming more self-sustaining and friendly to the planet. The Hawaiian people have always had this mantra and it has served them well.

On this trip, we combined a lot of business with a little pleasure. On the Big Island of Hawaii, we made a pilgrimage to Drysdale’s Two, the burger joint named after the late great Los Angeles Dodger pitcher. Don loved the Kona Coast, and while this is not the original Drysdale’s location (hence the “two” in the name), the burgers are still 5-napkin classics. Seriously, this is in the burger hall of fame, in my opinion. The open air eatery is in the Keauhou shopping center. Not a lot of Hawaiian atmosphere, but didn’t you come for the burgers? Or maybe the baseball memorabilia that lines the walls? There a drink on the menu called The Suffering Bastard. Rumor has it if you drink more than two, you’ll find out how if got its name.

We stayed in Waikaloa at the Hilton Hotel. Huge. Really huge. 20 minute walk from our room to the parking lot. 15 minutes to the front desk. Unless you take the tram or the boat. No kidding. Nice rooms, way overpriced everything, sorry but I can’t recommend a stay there. (Try the Marriott next door. Way less drama and a very nice resort.)

Up the coast of the Big Island, on a road most people never travel, is the little village of Hawi (pronounced Haa-vi). The Bamboo restaurant is a wonderful place to get a real Hawaiian meal and across the street is the best ice cream store in town. It’s also the only ice cream store in town. Tropical Dreams ice cream is the best. I think. More testing could be in order.

Old Hilo town is just that, a throwback to the Hawaii of 50 years ago. We made a quick stop at the caldera that is known as Kileauea. It’s still smokin’ and bubblin’ and snortin’. The historic Volcano House Hotel on the rim is closed for renovations. Sure hope it comes back. It’s a glorious place to stay, on the rim of an active volcano.

Next stop, Oahu, where we found something new and rediscovered an old favorite. Coming soon to a blog near you…and so it goes….

Pearl Harbor Gets a New Look, Doris Duke’s Home Open for a First Look

Almost everyone who has made it to Hawaii in the past two generations has made it a priority to stop at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. The tragic but historically fascinating story of the surprise Japanese attack that signaled our country’s entry into World War II will live in infamy, as the late President Roosevelt told the country the day after it occurred. The memorial played host to thousands every day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. Survivors of the attack would often hold court on the lawn, telling and retelling the events of December 7th, 1941 to the delight of scores of listeners.

But the old memorial grounds were crowded. The facilities were not modern, the exhibit spaces were cramped, concessions minimal, rest rooms overcrowded. For such a reverent place, it often fell victim to the shear numbers of people wanting to come and learn about the events of the day and pay their respects to those permanently entombed in the USS Arizona and the other brave men and women who lost their lives that day. Park service staff were overwhelmed on a daily basis.

But now, after three years of work, a new visitors center is open at the Valor in the Pacific Memorial. You can take a shuttle to tour the USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered at the end of the war. There’s a submarine to explore; larger, cleaner restrooms, a snack bar, many more exhibits to see. The theater has a new film which gives an overview of the attack and you still board the Navy launch to go out to the Arizona Memorial.

If you’ve been once in the past, it’s worth another visit. This is a truly American story, one that will live through the ages, and the National Park Service has done an outstanding job of displaying history in a way that is well worth spending the better part of a day exploring.

While there is a charge for the shuttle to the Missouri and admission to the submarine, admission to the memorial remains free. Tickets cannot be reserved in advance, you must get them on the day of your visit. I strongly recommend arriving between 7:30 – 8:00am, as the tickets are time dated, and the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the early ticket.

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There’s a new attraction in Honolulu that is worthy of your time and the $25 admission price. The late Doris Duke, a high society matron of the first half of the 1900’s, owned a spectacular home and a massive art collection on the east side of Diamondhead crater. The house and grounds are being restored and in recent years have been opened to the public for tours on a very limited basis (75 visitors per day).

From the Academy of Art, you board a shuttle bus that takes you on the 20 minute ride to the home. Chris Galloway, my traveling companion on this scouting trip, snapped the pictures you see here. It was a most interesting look at someone I knew little about (Ms. Duke). The views from the balconies alone are worth the effort to go there.

After 90 minutes, you are returned to downtown Honolulu on the shuttle bus. Since the Iolani Palace and the State Capitol are just a few blocks away, you can easily spend a day here. For lunch, check out the YMCA café, in a building designed by Julia Morgan.

Who said Honolulu is just a big boring city? Not me. Heck, the steak dinner at Chuck’s Cellar, a tiny spot tucked under the Round Table Pizza on Kaiulani Ave. between Kalakaua and Kuhio, serves an incredibly steak dinner in an old time atmosphere that will remind you of the Chuck’s of Hawaii that was across from Town and Country Village in Sacramento before it burned to the ground many years ago.

More good eats….the crab and prime rib special at the Marriott Waikiki on Friday and Saturday is the best buy in town. Save a few bucks off the $30 price by going before 6pm. Crab legs as far as the eyes and the tummy can see. Plus a great salad bar, tender prime rib and desserts for days. Check it out next time you are in Waikiki.

And so it goes….