36 Hours in Honolulu

By Sciolino, Elaine | International New York Times, May 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

36 Hours in Honolulu


Sciolino, Elaine, International New York Times


A quick visit to Honolulu.

The name Honolulu can conjure up frenzied activity: exploring the sea with electric scooters, high-altitude extreme parasailing, close encounters with sharks, 40-miles-an-hour motorboat rides that guarantee you'll get wet. But Honolulu can also mean mellow: the fragrance of a custom-made orchid lei, the taste and texture of a perfect tuna sashimi slice, the elegance of a hula dancer, the deepening of the blues and greens of the sea as the sun sets. Even the steel-mesh netting to prevent falling rocks is partly hidden so as to blend with the landscape. Then there is the pace, the feeling that no one is ever too rushed to give you directions, take your dinner order or explain the history of a 100-year-old banyan tree.

Friday 2 p.m.

Royal Digs Who knew that Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaii's king and queen once upon a time, is the only official royal palace in the United States? In 1882 King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani moved into their newly built official residence, done in a unique "American Florentine" style. Fitted with telephones and electricity even before the White House, it was richly decorated with koa and other native woods. The king and queen were heads of state in their time, receiving foreign dignitaries and being received in places like Buckingham Palace. After the overthrow of the monarchy, Iolani Palace became a government building and a museum to explore. Guided tours cost $21.75; $6 for those aged 5 to 12; self-guided audio tours are $14.75; $6 for those 5 to 12.

3:30 p.m.

Leis and papaya Shopping for your weekend adventure starts with sensual self-indulgence. Head to Maunakea Street in Chinatown, where elderly women string flowers by hand to make the flower garlands called leis. The lei of ginger wrapped inside orchids will perfume your room, and you, for days. At Pauahi Leis & Flowers, leis cost about $20 each, though simpler orchid leis sometimes go for less than $10. In Chinatown you can also find stands with luscious seasonal fruits -- including papaya or dragon eye (sort of like litchi) -- and wander in and out of shops selling hundreds of different kinds of beads, sold singly or in strands.

5 p.m.

The perfect hat Everyone needs a good hat to protect against the unforgiving Hawaiian sun. You can pick up comfortable, broad- rimmed, straw gardening hats in just about any Honolulu hardware store for about $20. But why not indulge in luxury with a hand- woven one-of-a-kind Panama hat from Newt at the Royal? Part of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Newt's sells Sombreros Montecristi, among the world's finest Panama hats, made not in Panama but in Ecuador. Napoleon, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Truman Capote and Cameron Diaz have all worn Sombreros Montecristi. The feel is more silk or linen than straw. The classic fedora is about $525; the finest, more than $15,000.

6 p.m.

The serenade that delivers It may seem corny, but a mai tai at House Without a Key in the seafront garden at the Halekulani Hotel in late afternoon is perfection. Even the most jaded travelers fall under the spell of the Hawaiian music and swaying hula dancer. But if it's trendiness you're after, try L'Aperitif at La Mer, where the cocktails have been curated by Colin Field from the Ritz in Paris and the feel is classic and formal, with dark hardwood bars and chairs, sumptuous floral arrangements, Art Deco wood carvings and bartenders in white coats. From the hotel, a barefoot walk along the two-mile Waikiki beach with its pillowy white sand follows naturally. Even locals who stay away from touristy Waikiki find it magical to jump into the water to watch the sunset.

8 p.m.

Sushi sublime There are designer sushi restaurants in Honolulu where the waiters bark at you and order you not to linger too long over your raw fish. Then there's Yanagi Sushi, comfortable and unpretentious. Start with a classic -- the spicy tuna roll is $6.95 for eight pieces -- or try the divinely fresh and buttery toro (ahi belly) sushi, the price of which changes depending on season and availability. …

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