Lei Chic's favorite end-of-summer picnic spots on Oahu
Farewell to Summer
Summer, I get it. You're leaving. You're throwing away all 59 days of us to go off and "discover yourself." Does it matter that I'm not ready? That I think we can work this out? That I'm willing to salvage a relationship that's made me happy for as far back as I can remember (like May)? You swooped in with your sunshine, beach barbecues and Fourth of July, and I fell. I fell hard. All I'm asking for is one last fling before we part ways and I face this cold, hard road called Autumn alone. One more summertime picnic to remember the good, old days. But where shall we go for our last hurrah? How about…
2850 Moanalua Rd.
Why we love it: The garden's famous Hitachi tree still draws hoards of Japanese tourists, but we prefer to avoid the crowd, and settle in the shade of the groves that cluster against the mauka side of the gardens. Find a sun-dappled spot near the lotus pond and loi kalo to enjoy the ambience of the Victorian-meets-Oriental temple-like Chinese Hall (which was actually built as a gathering place for galas and dinners by the original owners).
Don't miss: Kulanaahane Trail in back of the gardens for an after-lunch adventure. It's an easy, but long hike, so if you packed a little too much pie into your stomach (hey, you couldn't let it go to waste), opt for a stroll around the park's perimeter instead.
Pack: A site that's close to the parking lot and easy to access means you can bring more-difficult-to-schlep picnic foods, like bruschetta, chilled soup, quiche, lemonade and your red checkered blanket.
Open daily, 7:30 a.m.-sunset, free admission.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
45-680 Luluku Rd.
Why we love it: This huge park was built by the Army Corp of Engineers as flood relief for Kaneohe. It's also 400 acres of lush Hawaii-in-the-raw, with the Koolau looming on one side and a picture-perfect mini lake (and mini island) on the other. There's enough space to really stretch your legs, run and play, which means you can bring the kids and give them a little outdoor education on the botanical garden's collection of endangered and rare plants. Win-win.
Don't miss: The chance to extend your stay and turn the picnic into a camping trip. Hoomaluhia allows campsites, so make sure you bring enough hibachis and tents for a real local, and energy-efficient, extended family outing.
Pack: Family favorites, like lechon, chow mein, mac salad, Zippy's chili and hot cocoa.
Open daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., free admission. Permits are required for large groups picnicking or camping. [website]
3860 Manoa Rd.
Why we love it: Perched in the back of Manoa Valley halfway up the mountain, the University of Hawaii-owned Lyon Arboretum has enough photo-worthy nooks and crannies to leave your head (and iPhone) spinning. We love the beautiful mini Asian-style courtyard, the mossy stone pavilion reminiscent of ancient ruins, and the romantic vine-draped arbor. Stop for a bite on the lovely sloping lawn and gaze down at the walkways and verdant floral diversity below.
Don't miss: Breathtaking Aihualama Falls, which can be reached by a short hike down the service road. Also, stop by the gift shop to pick up a bird-watching checklist and the main greenhouse to purchase lush plants to take home.
Pack: Something fast and easy for breaks between hikes and walks, like sandwiches (our favorite: avocado and chicken with sprouts) to give you an energy boost before you dive into the rainforest exploration adventure the Arboretum has to offer.
Open Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., $5 per person. [website]
East-West Center Japanese Garden and Tea House
1601 East-West Rd.
Why we love it: The quiet serenity of this small, exquisitely manicured Japanese-style garden and tea house, set right behind the University of Hawaii's East-West Center, can't be beat. Listen to the relaxing sound of bubbling streams snaking around artfully placed rocks and shrubs in the shade of the equally-gorgeous tiered East-West Center. This zen paradise is a bit of a hidden gem, so chances are you'll be all alone with your contemplations!
Don't miss: Grab a small bite on the lawn under the plumeria trees off to the side of the center or on the East-West Center's balcony while you enjoy the view of the garden below – there may be a hula group or yogi taking advantage of the beautiful scenery as well. Then, take a stroll to the tea house (probably closed, but a nice bit of ambience), across the stream's stepping stones, and past the little waterfalls to the far end. Lounge on the grass next to the water to enjoy a cold drink, some light reading, or a close pal.
Pack: Sushi, iced peach jasmine tea and your favorite poetry books (Facebook updates on your cell phone work too).
Open Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., free admission. [website]
Spalding House Lawn
2411 Makiki Heights Dr.
Why we love it: Spalding House, the sleek, mountainside contemporary art location of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is beautiful the moment you enter the driveway, boasting flowers and architectural eye candy. The picnic area is in the sculpture garden, a sleek and open expanse of lawn peppered with contemporary sculpture pieces and bordered by the multi-tiered stroll garden with its tangle of trees and tropical plants. Even more fun, the Spalding House Café takes all the humbug out of picnicking by packing your own little basket for two, complete with china and utensils. Choose from their delicious menu of salads, soup, sandwiches and wraps, select a beverage, and get a sweet treat to finish it off.
Don't miss: The museum itself, including David Hockney's permanent installation L'Enfant et les sortilèges in the Cades Pavillion just off the garden. There's no admission fee to picnic or eat at the café, though shelling out for a museum tour would be a nice accompaniment to the afternoon.
Pack: White wine or sangria to take advantage of the museum's BYOB option – ask the café's staff for an ice bucket to keep your bottle chilled.
The café is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Sundays, noon-2 p.m. $35 for a basket for two, no outside food allowed. [website]