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Hawaii: When it Rains in Paradise

When there’s no sun on Oahu …

Story by Jules Older, photos by Effin Older

Face it — you go to Hawaii for sun and sand. You don’t go to Hawaii for clouds and rain.

But. All those swaying palms and impossibly green tropical plants didn’t grow in a desert. Sometimes it rains, even in paradise. No rain, no paradise.

Still, if it’s raining during your too-brief visit to Oahu, what do you do?

  1. Curse the weather gods.
  2. Berate your spouse with an “I told you we should go to [insert alternative destination here]!”
  3. Or, make the most of it.

Let me help you get to that third choice. Here are seven things to do in Honolulu when the heavens open.

Ala Moana Shopping Center
  1. Go shopping.

There’s no shortage of places to spend in Honolulu, especially in Waikiki. The best known is the Ala Moana Shopping Center, three stories of shop-till-you-drop that bills itself as the world’s biggest outdoor mall. From Hermes and Fendi to McDonald’s and ABC, if you can’t find it at Ala Moana, you probably don’t need it.

The most beautiful mall is the Royal Hawaiian Center. Its subdued architecture enhances the scenery. Filled with high-end shops, more expensive watch brands than anyone knew existed, and a multi-ethnic food court, it’s a dream of what shopping malls should be.

The newest mall is the high-end, rebuilt-from-the-ground-up International Market Place. The old funk is gone, but happily, they’ve saved the giant banyan tree that’s overlooked the place for more than 160 years.

  1. Treat your eyes to the National Geographic Fine Art Gallery.

I know three shooters — I’m one of them — who wandered through the Gallery muttering, “I’ve lost all my confidence as a photographer.” Why? Because the images that adorn the walls are not only outdoor photography at its absolute finest; they capture not only the eye but the brain and the heart. And admission is free.

  1. Visit Doris Duke.

Well, not literally; the eccentric heiress died in 1993. But she devoted the final years of her life to two things: raising twenty-some dogs of indeterminate breed and turning Shangri La, her beautiful seaside home, into a showplace of Islamic art. With a reservation, you can be overwhelmed — by the beauty of the home and its setting, and by Duke’s obsession with obsessive Islamic art, which adorns virtually every surface.

  1. Discover new restaurants.

For me, the saddest thing about the demolition of the old International Market Place was the end of my favorite Chinese restaurant on American soil, Fatty’s. It was a cheap joint, with thirteen stools in front of the counter; behind it, steaming woks of pungent deliciosity filled the air.

Fatty’s is no more, but here are three living delights.

Goofy. Despite its strange name and its location on the second floor of a rickety-looking wooden building, Goofy served the finest meal I’ve had in Honolulu since Fatty’s died. Other than “delicious,” it’s hard to describe: maybe vaguely Korean, assertively locavore, trending to organic. And prices are reasonable.

Volcano Ramen

Volcano Ramen. If Goofy is up, Volcano is down, a flight below street level. It’s in a Japanese food court featuring at least four ramen restaurants. I rarely like a ramen restaurant, but this one’s an exception. Intense tastes, huge portions, fair prices and a feeling that you might just be in Tokyo. 

Pau Hana Base. Hidden in an alley near Ross (another Waikiki shopping destination) is a tiny izakaya, a Japanese pub that serves traditional Japanese (and in this case, some Korean, too) dishes. We never visit Oahu without at least one dinner at Pau Hana Base. Tasty, cheap fun. Oh, and Shiori, a wonderful waitress.

100 Sails
  1. Open your ears to Hawaiian music.

To the untrained (read: Mainland or other non-Polynesian) ear, all Hawaiian music pretty much sounds the same. It does not. As you’ll discover two Waikiki restaurants: the delicious 100 Sails at the Prince Waikiki and Kani Ka Pila Grille at the Outrigger Reef. At both, local Hawaiian musicians perform, and some nights, local hula dancers spontaneously join the fun.

The familiar logo on Waikiki
  1. Learn at the Apple Store.

I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out.

The Royal Hawaiian Apple Store is a two-minute stroll to Waikiki beach. It’s staffed by smart, creative, enthusiastic Hawaiians. It’s open from 10 to 10.

But those aren’t the reason to take lessons there — this is: The store is full of customers who come to buy an Apple Watch or upgrade their iPhone. None are there to take the lessons in everything from understanding parental controls to shooting photos with shadow and light. And when I say none, I mean that literally. On our last trip, Effin and I went to six sessions, and in every one of them, we were the only students.

What that means? Each lesson was specifically tailored to our needs. And every teacher was delighted to have something to do that they’d trained so hard for. The result for us — more than seven hours of specialized, personalized instruction. The cost? Zero; it’s free.

  1. Swim in the rain.

Don’t swim in thunder and lightning — very, very frightening. But in a warm, light rain? Why not? You’re already immersed in water; you can’t get any wetter. And since there are fewer people in the water, it’s not a bad time to learn to surf or paddleboard.

I strongly suggest checking Hawaii Beach Safety before you swim, rain or shine.

Wanna see what you’ve just read looks like? We turned it into a minimovie.


Jules Older: PhD, psychologist, medical educator, writer, editor, app creator, videographer, ePublisher. Big awards, big adventures, big fun. His ebook on hilarious travel disasters is DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love.” 


Effin Older is an author, writer, photographer, editor, videographer and app-creator.

The Olders’ minimovies are at http://www.YouTube.com/julesolder.



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