50 Reasons to Love This City

Not to break out that tired phrase again, but we Honolulu residents really are lucky. It’s easy to take for granted how cool, how eclectic, how just plain great this city is, so we thought we’d take a few pages to list just a few of the reasons, both big and little, that we love this place.

Bon Dance

Photo: Olivier Koning

1. Bon Dances

Andagi, taiko drums and the dance of joy—what more could you ask for?  There’s still one more chance to dance, on Sept. 20 at the Autumn Dance Matsuri at Hawaii Okinawa Center, 5 p.m.  For more information, call 676-5400.


2. Karaoke Bar Food

You wouldn’t think that a shabby karaoke lounge in a strip mall would offer dishes like whole crab with curry, miso butterfish or kim chee steak. But in Honolulu, it’s highly possible. Some of our faves: Shinsho Tei on Nuuanu Avenue, Sunflower Lounge in Aiea and Lisa’s House by the airport.


3. Sitting in a Monday morning meeting and discovering there’s still sand in your hair.


4. Everyone is Family

Hawaii—the only state where everyone has 57 aunties and 46 uncles.


5. Kikaida Fans

Now two generations and counting.

Photo: David Croxford


6. Crack Seed Stores

Good li hing mui puckers your cheeks, and seeing the seed scooped out from the glass jars of a tiny locally owned store is half the fun. Kon Young of the Crack Seed Store on Koko Head Avenue might as well be the patron saint of seed in Hawaii—he’s been doling out sweet and salty treats for almost 30 years.


Kahuku corn.

Photo: Rae Huo

7. Plate Lunches

The Rainbow Drive-In mix plate with chicken katsu, pork cutlets, two scoops white rice and mac salad. And gravy on the rice. And then a nap.


8. The Manoa Valley Theater

There’s something great about having a vibrant theater outpost in the middle of an old graveyard. What better place to stage the Rocky Horror Show?


9. Kahuku Corn

Maybe it’s the long drive. Maybe it’s something about the roadside stands. All we know is, nothing’s sweeter than Kahuku corn.


10. Picking Out The Real Lost Locations

The YWCA! First Hawaiian Bank! The Ala Wai! Recognizing the real-life spots where Jack and Kate are emoting has become a thrill on par with the actual plot line of the show—and usually easier to figure out.


11. Grumbling

It’s practically the state pastime: bemoaning all the cool stuff we don’t have in Honolulu. Ikea, Trader Joe’s, In-N-Out Burger. But watch out, with all the recent and upcoming additions—Whole Foods, Target, Beard Papas—we may soon be left with nothing for which to pine.


12. Rearview-Mirror Mahalos

We’re not imagining it, Honolulu drivers aren’t showing as much aloha these days. Yeah, we’re talking to you, punk in the Acura TL. That’s why we appreciate those courtesy hand waves—especially during rush hour—more than ever.



13. Luau!

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a backyard affair or a 15-pig extravaganza thrown by Kaumakapili Church (see page 65 to read more about the latter).


Photos: courtesy of the Honolulu Zoo


14.  The Honolulu Zoo

We ❤ it!

It’s easy to take the zoo for granted, but it recently earned an “America’s Best Zoos 2008” ranking by travel publication The Intrepid Traveler, for its diverse animal habitats, knowledgeable staff and educational programs. One good reason to revisit: One of the Sumatran tigers, Chrissie, is expecting cubs this month; it will be the first time in the zoo’s history that a tiger has given birth there. 151 Kapahulu Ave., 971-7171.


Photo: David Croxford

15. The Manapua Man

Nothing reminds us of growing up in Honolulu more than the “manapua man.” We’d wait for school to end, so we could run across the street to his van and order wax-paper bags filled with fried noodles, oily pork hash and rice cakes, paying him with whatever coins we could scrounge from our pockets. No visit was really complete without making at least one selection from his array of hyperactivity-inducing, sometimes politically incorrect candies—from Fun Dip to, yes, Bubble Gum Cigarettes. Thanks, Mr. Manapua Man.


Photo: David Croxford

16. Merchant Street

Walking along downtown’s Merchant Street is like stepping into 1920s Honolulu, surrounded by Renaissance-revival buildings like the Kamehameha V Post Office (now Kumu Kahua Theatre) and the Yokohama Specie  Bank (the Cole Academy). The frozen-in-time feeling is no accident; in 1973, the 70-acre district between Nuuanu Avenue and Fort Street was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


17.  The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Yep, they’re officially considered part of the City and County of Honolulu. The French Frigate Shoals, Nihoa, Hermes Atoll—it might be tough to get a good plate lunch at these furthest reaches of the county, and the arts and cultural scene is frankly lacking, but we still love ’em. President George Bush does too, designating the string of islands a national monument in 2006.


Photo: iStock

18.  Rubber Slippers

Slippers made national news this year for being “bad for the feet.” Oh, yeah? You’ll get them when you pry them off our cold, dead, luau feet.


Photo: David Croxford

19.  Liliha Bakery

We can’t count how many times we’ve hit up Liliha Bakery over the years, whether to pick up coco puffs for the office or to scarf some buttery pancakes at the crowded lunch counter. So when local entrepreneur Peter Kim bought the 58-year-old business earlier this year, we were happy to learn that he not only planned to preserve the venue and its popular dishes, but was considering adding locations in Honolulu. Even more good news: Liliha Bakery finally accepts credit cards! 515 N. Kuakini, 531-1651.



We ❤ it!

Ahi, tako, aku, crab, pipikaula, even tofu—chop it up into cubes and douse it in shoyu and we’re so there. Here are a few of our favorite varieties from around town: 

Photos: David Croxford


Ono Seafood custom mixes fresh ahi with everything from limu to kukui nuts. 747 Kapahulu Ave. #4, 732-4806.


The Poke Stop’s gourmet selection includes a mean salmon poke. 94-050
Farrington Hwy., 676-8100.


The smoked tako at Alicia’s Market packs a punch. 267 Mokauea St., 841-1921.


Monarch Seafood’s dry aku poke.  So ono. 515 Kalihi St., 841-7877.



Funky statehood-era architecture

We ❤ it! 

It’s a historical accident that Hawaii’s statehood era coincided with the distinctive style of mid-century modernism. The buildings from that era stand out like no others, recalling a time when Hawaii joined not just a nation, but an international scene. Some favorites:

Photo: Michael Keany

24. First United Methodist Church

Alfred Preiss Concrete can be beautiful, and dignified. And when the concrete is laced with lava rocks, you know you’re in Hawaii. 1028 S. Beretania. (1955)


Photo: Michael Keany

25. The Pacific Club

Vladimir Ossipoff
The ultimate in postwar casual Island elegance, a kind of country retreat just steps away from the Bishop Street pressure cooker. 1451 Queen Emma Street. (1961)


Photo: Courtesy University of Hawaii

26. Jefferson Hall and Kennedy Theatre

I.M. Pei These noble buildings are monuments to the notion that the world needs Hawaii as the place where East and West can come together. East-West Center. (1962 and 1963)


Photo: Courtesy of The Kahala

27. Kahala Hilton Hotel

Edward Killingsworth
Straight lines never looked so sexy. And concrete—the Kahala shows it doesn’t have to be massive to be strong. 5000 Kahala Avenue. (1964) 


Photo: Lora Lamm

28.  Preserving the Past

by keeping old neighborhoods old, like Waialae, Liliha and Merchant, and revitalizing the junk ones—can’t say we miss walking on that seedy stretch of Hotel Street when the only lights came from neon signs for strip bars and swing clubs.

Photo: Michael Keany

29. Waimanalo Beach

Stretching for six miles, it’s the longest beach in Hawaii; the sand is the finest, the water is translucent, and it’s not yet overrun by tourists. It’s like the real life version of a movie version of a real Hawaii beach. The name “Waimanalo” means “potable water.”


Photo: Olivier Koning

30.  Mihana Souza 

If there’s a harder working ambassador of aloha around town, we can’t think of one. Singer Mihana Souza and her group, Puamana, perform weekly gigs at Duc’s Bistro and the Oahu Country Club, as well as at parties and events all over town, making her seem almost ubiquitous. “I don’t think I’ve had a free weekend in the past 30 years,” she says. Souza’s musical talents are being passed on to the next generation—daughter Mahina is now performing with Puamana.




Photo: Rae Huo

31.  Police Activities League PAL

It’s been 60 years since Honolulu police chief Dan Liu helped found PAL to encourage local children to participate in healthy activities, from baseball to basketball to judo. Today, more than 15,000 kids take part, thanks to the program’s 50 volunteer coaches and police officers.


 32. Royal Hawaiian Band

Honolulu is the only U.S. city with a full-time municipal band, which was founded by King Kamehameha III in 1836. Lucky us, its concerts are usually free. You can see its performance calendar at www.co.honolulu.hi.us/rhb/, but for the full Monarchy-era experience, check out its weekly concerts on the lawn of Iolani Palace.


33. Kapiolani Park Annual Lei Festival on Lei Day

This year, hundreds of participants flocked to Kapiolani Park Bandstand to create the world’s longest lei, stretching more than a mile, at 5,336 feet.


34. Nostalgia

We still catch ourselves talking about heading down to Liberty House or Daiei or, even better, Holiday Mart. We reminisce about KC Drive-inn, and some of us even remember when Kalakaua Avenue was a two-way street. Honolulu is great in 2008, but it’ll never measure up to the hanabata days version.


35. One-block rain showers


36. The Waikiki Shell

Who needs seats? Open-air shows at the Shell rank as some of our best musical memories, from annual May Day concerts featuring the Brothers Cazimero (at right)to Jason Mraz. Good times on a half shell.



They tower above us, they give great shade, they even shower us with pink blossoms as we drive along King Street. Some of our favorites:

Photo: flickr.com/photos


The Hitachi Tree in Moanalua Gardens. This monkeypod is the real live version of Hitachi’s corporate symbol.

Photo: Michael Keany


The banyan tree in the Waikiki  International Marketplace. Waikiki is much more fun under a jungle canopy.

Photo: Michael Keany


The shower trees along S. King Street. When the wind blows petals in a swirl, it's like we're driving through a haiku. 

Photo: Michael Keany


The baobab tree on the UH Manoa campus. Baobabs menaced the Little Prince, but we think this one’s harmless.



Photo: Michael Keany

41. The view of downtown Honolulu from the Dole Cannery parking garage

We went to see a movie and found the real spectacle by the car. From here, downtown looks like a dense, tall, coherent, shiny mini-metropolis. It’s our town’s equivalent of John Barrymore’s famous profile.

Photo: iStock

42. Mangos from the neighbors

If you’re not lucky enough to have a mango tree in your backyard, no worries, auntie’s got fruit to spare. And your co-worker has Meyer lemons, your pastor has lychee and your neighbor has breadfruit. Turns out you’re lucky after all.


Web Exclusive:  Mango Chutney Recipe

If you’ve got too many mangos to eat fresh, try making your own batch of Punahou School renowned Mango Chutney:
10 pounds of mangoes (green or half-ripe), peeled, sliced and cut in chunks
    3/4 cups salt
    5 pounds sugar
    6 or 7 cups cider vinegar, depending on acidity of mangoes
    1 1/2 pounds almonds, blanched and cut in thin strips
    1 pound finely sliced candied lemon peel
    1 pound finely sliced candied orange peel
    2 large onions, chopped fine
    2 pounds seedless raisins
    1 pound finely sliced candied citron
    2/3 cup green ginger, cooked and chopped fine
    1 cup finely chopped preserved ginger
    2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
    8 small Hawaiian chilis, with seeds removed, chopped fine
Sprinkle mangoes with salt and allow to stand overnight.
Boil the sugar and vinegar for 5 minutes, add the mixture to the drained mango, and then cook until tender. Add the other ingredients and cook slowly to desired consistency, about 30 minutes to an hour. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal immediately. Makes 15 pints.

Photo: Wes Funai

43. Drinking Tea

“Today Just Sip Some Tea” is the saying on the scroll that hangs in Urasenke Foundation of Hawaii’s tearoom. When downtown’s daily grind starts to wear on you, slip away—without having to go too far—and sip matcha in this traditional Japanese tea room. Chado public demonstrations at the Urasenke Foundation of Hawaii are held Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m., for more information call 923-3059.


44. Rivalries

Rivalries are one of the cornerstones of localness. It might sound like arguing to the untrained ear, but it’s really just enthusiasm. And the unshakeable conviction that your favorite shave ice is vastly superior to your friend’s favorite. I mean, c’mon, Waiola vs. Matsumoto? Other long-standing foes: Punahou vs. Iolani, Goma Tei vs. Goma Ichi, Leonards vs. Champion, Legends vs. Mei Sum.


Photo: Rae Huo

45. University of Hawaii Scientists

We ❤ it!

How cool is it that so much world-class scientific research is coming out of our very backyard, from glow-in-the dark mice to cutting-edge astronomy? We love science superstars like David Karl, who has been doing groundbreaking work in microbial oceanography, and recently received a $3.79 million grant to continue his research. What’s he working on these days? Oh, just quantifying solar energy capture and transduction, and studying bioelemental cycles and sequestration of atmospheric carbon in the ocean ecosystem. Rock on, U.H. scientists!


Nainoa Thompson navigates the Hokulea towards Micronesia in 2007.

Photo: Monte Cos

46.  Adventurers

 Hawaii’s first settlers were intrepid Polynesian sea-goers, and, hundreds of years later, Islanders are still finding new ways to travel without hopping on a plane. This July, for example, a group of kiteboarders surfed all the way from Hookipa Beach on Maui to Kailua Beach on Oahu, more than 100 miles in all. We’re also rediscovering the old ways—the PolynesianVoyaging Society has been traveling the open seas on double-hulled canoes since 1975, guided only by the stars; in 2007 the Hokulea visited Micronesia and Japan.



47.  Fireworks

Friday-night fireworks in Waikiki. (We pretend they’re for us, and not the tourists.)


48. Citizen Soldiers

We’re grateful to all of our military service members, but we have a special place in our hearts for Hawaii’s Army Reserve and National Guard—the ones who help protect us at home and put their lives on hold to serve abroad. About 1,700 of Hawaii’s citizen soldiers will deploy to Kuwait this and next month.


49. Little Museums

From Hawaii Plantation Village, which replicates the experience of plantation life in the Islands, to the USS Bowfin, which explores World War II submarine history, Honolulu has more than a dozen of these historic gems. For a list of all 92 museums in the state, visit www.hawaiimuseums.org.


50. Entertaining Mainland guests

Not for too long, of course, but showing the Sheboygan relatives around town gives us a chance to re-experience all the touristy, fun things we never have time for. Hiking Diamond Head, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, eating at Duke’s—hey, we do live in paradise, don’t we?