Memories of our Hawaiian vacations

HONOLULU — To be sure, the best part about Hawaii is finding a near-deserted beach for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking. One of my favorite memories of Hawaii was the time we camped on the Big Island for a week, circumnavigating the island counterclockwise from Kailua-Kona to Waimea to Hilo to the south. We camped at beach parks along the way, barbecued fresh fish, and saw the red-hot lava flow near Volcanos National Park spilling into the ocean. One afternoon, I unknowingly swam in an eel pond near Hilo, as the local teenage girls reminded me after I jumped in the water. I quickly jumped out, and they laughed out loud.

On Maui, we once rented an oceanfront place near Paia (before Airbnb existed) and watched the windsurfers from our lanai near Ho’okipa beach with a homemade pineapple-infused vodka martini in hand. (Chef Alan Wong’s recipe is here). It was a modest place, but it had a Wolf range, so I cooked Kalua pulled pork in the oven for our own luau, again from Alan Wong’s cookbook. Toward the end of the trip, the gas stove stopped working. Later, we learned why: It was attached to a propane tank — not a pipe — and we had emptied it completely with the “low and slow” cooking. Ha!

On the “windward” side of Oahu, at Lanikai, we regularly rented a place from a former Chronicle colleague that had stunning views of the “mokes,” two offshore islands. The beach at Lanikai is superb. We barbecued fresh fish we bought from the Tamashiro market. We also enjoyed Buzz’s Steakhouse. (Windward Oahu is a popular but uncrowded destination: President Obama rented a house at nearby Kailua, and Wally Amos, founder of “Famous Amos” cookies, had an oceanfront home at Lanikai).

We’ve also enjoyed the Princeville Resort on Kauai (where we took our son to his first luau); the Mauna Kea on the Big Island; Fairmont and Maui Prince at South Maui (where we saw whales spouting from our room) and the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Oahu (where we enjoyed the stunning 82-foot heated pool, with a mosaic of an orchid, the restaurants, and the sunsets).

This weekend, I’m staying at the Halekulani Hotel for one night,  “bookended” by the Waikiki Parc hotel across the street on the nights before and after. The Waikiki Parc is a hidden gem. It is a “sister hotel” of the Halekulani, meaning guests have access to its private beach and dining privileges. And Waikiki Parc is half the price of the Halekulani. So over three nights, the experience blends together at a more affordable rate.

This photo is from room #2201 at the Waikiki Parc; it is stunning at sunset. And you can leave the sliding door open at night to hear the surf.

Times are changing, however. The Waikiki Parc is closing in October for a 16-month renovation. Locals are worried that renovation means another budget-friendly hotel will go upmarket. “It’ll be sad to see yet another decent, affordable option disappear with it, but that seems to be the norm in Waikiki these days,” as one commentator wrote.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying swimming in the ocean and swimming pools, walking along the beach, eating the fresh fish and other local cuisine, and visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art. (Honolulu has an excellent arts and culture scene). I’m looking forward to dinner at Alan Wong’s and the Sunday brunch at Halekulani, a locals’ favorite. Enjoy your week!

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