Our Hawaiian honeymoon: Day one

Some of you have been clamoring for information about our little Hawaiian excursion. Well, for that subset of this rowdy crowd, this is your lucky day. That is, the first of your lucky days. This is going to take a few posts.

Our adventure began in the predawn hours of a chilly San Francisco morning… but I repeat myself. After being ferried to SFO by an upstanding member of the taxi-driving fraternity Hakka Cabba Dei, and thorough cavity searches performed by the ever-charming staff of the Transportation Security Administration, the Pirate Queen and I boarded a spacious Hawaiian Airlines Airbus and winged our way across the Pacific – a third of the way across the Pacific, at any rate – for the Land of Aloha.

With our suitcases crammed into the rear of our rented Toyota, we traversed the traffic-choked streets of Honolulu toward our Waikiki hotel. That’s far less easy than it sounds, because Honolulu currently holds the title of Gridlock Capital of America. Seriously – you can look it up. Driving in Hawaii’s largest city – okay, Hawaii’s only large city – involves navigating excruciatingly narrow roadways laid out with the organizational linearity of a bowl of spaghetti in the company of nearly a million people in no great hurry to get anywhere. Factor in the presence of tens of thousands of clueless tourists buzzing about blindly at the mercy of GPS or wandering blithely across intersections in flagrant violation of traffic signals, and you’ve got a prescription for automotive apocalypse.

But we got there: Waikiki Beach, U.S.A.

Waikiki Beach... you know you want to be there.

Upon our arrival at our hotel, we found ourselves confronted with a conundrum: What to do with our fine rental vehicle? The entrance to what appeared to be the parking area was rendered inaccessible by a massive delivery truck dropping off the day’s linens. We could spot no valet to whom we could hand over the keys. After several circuits of the crazily designed block, complicated both by one-way streets and hordes of fellow visitors, the Pirate Queen bailed out to seek aid in the hotel lobby while I sat in the blazing sun praying that the local gendarmerie didn’t happen by and cite me for double-parking. Eventually, the Pirate Queen returned with two fresh-faced young chaps, one of whom cheerily loaded our belongings onto a cart while his compatriot whisked the Toyota away for safekeeping. (Or joyriding. We didn’t really know at that point.)

Despite those frustrating first few moments, Hotel Renew turned out to be an excellent choice of lodging for our purposes. Located near the south end of Waikiki Beach, it’s far enough away from the major portion of attractions to be reasonably quiet – except for first thing in the morning, when the garbage trucks come clattering through the block – yet close enough to the beach that one can be sprawled on the world-famous sand after a mere two-minute stroll from the front door.

Hotel Renew... stay here, and get all renewed and stuff.

The Japanese-influenced décor, all straight angles and darkly painted wood, makes a soothing change from the typical chain hotel, and the staff is uniformly friendly and polite, if not always as Johnny-on-the-spot as they might be. The Pirate Queen, who’s known to be fussy about where she sleeps, found the bed and bathroom to her liking, while I was relieved to discover the in-room safe capacious enough for my mammoth laptop as well as all of our other valuables. All in all, we were glad we selected it.

Having settled into our accommodations, we launched ourselves on a leisurely promenade along Kalakaua Avenue, the street that traverses the tourist district. It had been 23 years since my last trip to Waikiki, and as KJ was heavily pregnant at the time, we didn’t do much extended walking. But I remembered traveling this stretch, and I was surprised both at what had changed in three decades and at what remained pretty much the same.

Waikiki Beach... smell the coconut oil on the sunbathing tourists.

What hadn’t changed:

An ABC Store on every corner, and sometimes two or three within a block. For the uninitiated, the ubiquitous ABC Store is Hawaii’s native mash-up of convenience store and touristy gift shop, and they are almost literally everywhere. I kept expecting to walk into a public restroom only to discover that they’d put an ABC Store in one of the toilet stalls.

This weird tree. This ginormous banyan should be transplanted to the grounds of Hogwarts. It’s freakin’ creepy. Albeit in a cool way.

Chinese music under banyan tree, here at the dude ranch across the sea

The crowds. We actually visited during one of Hawaii’s least jam-packed windows – the fallow period between the end of spring break in April and the start of summer travel season on Memorial Day weekend. But even in a traditional down time, Waikiki attracts tons of guests.

The International Marketplace. Imagine every cheesy jewelry, T-shirt, and souvenir shop in every tourist trap in America crammed into a colorful labyrinth of carts, stalls, and stands that winds along seemingly forever, and you’ll get the general picture of the International Marketplace. No wallet is safe.

Tall buildings. Did you know that Honolulu has more skyscrapers than any American city outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago? Just a tidbit of architectural trivia from your Uncle Swan.

This is a tall building. In case that wasn't obvious.

What was new:

Panhandlers. Having lived around, and now in, San Francisco – Mecca for America’s down and out – for 35 years, I’m no stranger to homeless people cadging change on street corners. I was startled, however, to see so many mendicants on the sidewalks of Waikiki. I understand how so many homeless folks get to The City; Greyhound offers a dirt-cheap bus ride from almost anywhere in the contiguous United States. But if you’re flat broke, how the heck do you get to Hawaii? I’ll say this, though — if you have to sleep outdoors, better to do it in balmy Honolulu than in the Arctic chill of San Francisco.

Upscale shopping. The spending experience along Waikiki has always been pricey, but it used to feature much more local flavor. It’s kicked up several notches now with the presence of numerous internationally renowned high-end retail stores. I’m guessing this marketing strategy must be successful, but I question the logic. Does anyone really come to a tropical beach town to buy a Coach bag or a Rolex?

Insane traffic. I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants repeating. Honolulu totally sucks if you’re behind the wheel of a car. I don’t remember it being anywhere nearly this wretched in decades past.

Tiki's Grill and Bar: Be sure to tip your waiter.

We consumed our first Hawaiian repast at a restaurant called Tiki’s Grill and Bar, conveniently located on the third floor of the hotel right next door to ours. The place features an extensive menu of vaguely tropical themed cuisine, most of which was reasonably tasty; a killer view of the Waikiki sunset; live music in the evenings – Honolulu is the universal nexus of lame cover tunes performed on public stages by guys wearing aloha shirts – and yes, oodles and oodles of tikis. A roving photographer snapped our photo (which we were able to purchase for a nominal fee, because there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch in Hawaii) to commemorate the event.

And that was our first day on Oahu. I’ll tell you about our second day in my next post.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach. Just say "ahhhhh."

Explore posts in the same categories: Hawaii, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!, Where in the World is Uncle Swan?

2 Comments on “Our Hawaiian honeymoon: Day one”

  1. Sank Says:

    Cool. But I have to take issue Uncle Swan “arctic chill” and “San Francisco” shouldn’t go together in the same sentence unless you say something like “escape the arctic chill by going to San Francisco”. You may have scenery, food, arts and sports but nobody and we, know cold. Carry on.

    Actually sad to say we to have people sleeping on the streets and temperatures that, no joking matter here, will kill people in only a matter less than an hour if they’re exposed with out proper protection.

  2. Aloha!

    Mahalo for stopping into to Tiki’s Grill & Bar! Love the shot from across the way!


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