Hawaii is where I feel like the truest version of myself and reclaim the parts of myself that I've lost to the stress of daily life and the hustle and bustle (emphasis on "hustle") of Los Angeles. When I'm away for too long, I feel it-- a sense of longing for home, crystal blue waves crashing on pristine white shores, cool trade winds blowing through my hair, and the feeling of complete rejuvenation that comes from slowing down and surrounding oneself with beauty. Luckily, last month, the wedding of one of my dearest friends provided the perfect opportunity to head home for some much-needed R&R, family time...and, of course, lots of eating.
Any trip home would feel incomplete without hitting up a handful of favorite spots scattered around the island.
Tradition dictates that my trips home begin with a visit to Ko Olina. The lagoons of Ko Olina host two different hotels-- the JW Marriott Ihilani and Disney's new Aulani Resort-- but feel more secluded and relaxing than the mad crush that is Waikiki Beach. Thanks to a pretty intense sunburn from a trip to San Diego the previous weekend, I kicked off this vacation in the shade of a palm tree rather than in the sun...
...but it's tough to complain about anything when this is your view.
You won't find Tanioka's Seafood and Catering in any guidebooks, but the small shop is a local favorite, famed for its vast poke selection, sweet and crunchy mochiko chicken and what I'd venture is the best spam musubi on the island. This "broke da mout" spam musubi never fails to hit the spot.
Shave ice from the iconic Matsumoto's in Haleiwa fueled my family's drive up to the North Shore, another family tradition.
After living in Los Angeles for so long, I sometimes feel like a bit of a tourist when I return home. I indulged this inner tourist with a Lava Flow at Duke's Waikiki, where tiki torches lit the shores of Waikiki and the outline of Diamond Head was just visible in the distance.
My love for the KCC Farmers' Market (previously written about here) apparently knows no bounds. I can't think of any other circumstances in which I'd happily wake up early to face out-of-control crowds and, on this day, rain.
Pineapples and papayas from a local vendor
Breakfast! A Portuguese sausage, cheddar cheese and potato frittata sandwich from Blk Sand-- or "hangover food that would impress your friends," as my Dad described it.
The crowds and rain made walking around with a bowl of soup seem less than ideal, but I'm comin' back for this Bun Bo Hue (and Pho French Dip) from The Pig and the Lady.
This Honey Waiwi Ono Pop was made with only four ingredients, one of which was freshly foraged strawberry guava. Ono Pops isn't kidding around about being fresh and local, and I love it.
While finishing my paleta, I mentioned to my Dad that I've always been curious about the Butter Mochi flavor, and he insisted that I order it. I guess my love for food is genetic. As usual, Dad knows best; I was bowled over by just how much the paleta tasted like butter mochi and loved the chewy chunks of mochi throughout the pop.
Amidst these familiar favorites were a few new spots from the ever-growing "To Eat in Hawaii" list.
While Angelenos take farm-to-table dining for granted, the artisanal movement is just building steam in Hawaii, spearheaded by chefs like Ed Kenney of Town and Mark Noguchi of Taste Table. The Whole Ox in Kaka'ako embraces snout-to-tail cooking and serves up an epic, unbelievably fresh burger, but more on that another time.
A friend recommended that I track down Via Gelato, a truck whose ice cream is handmade with local flavors and seasonal ingredients.
My parents and I swooned over the creamy Milk Tea ice cream...
...but it was the sold out Li Hing Shiso sorbet that I had come for. The Via Gelato crew kindly indulged my pleading for whatever scrapings they had left, and the herbaceous, tart sorbet did not disappoint.
One of my most cherished memories of the trip is also one of the most simple. My parents and I packed our beach bags, grabbed a Zippy's plate lunch and headed to our favorite North Shore spot to watch the sunset.
Fans of LOST may recognize this beach as the site of the show's plane crash, but locals know it for its breathtaking views and the sunbathing honu (turtles) that dot the shores.
These turtles were big!
For scale, here's a snap of me next to one of the napping fellers.
This picture pretty adequately sums up my "happy place."
While we were battling the setting sun in a futile effort to take a family photo on my phone, a photographer saw us and offered to take a picture of us with his professional camera (check out his amazing photography on Facebook). This simple act of generosity encapsulates the spirit of aloha for which Hawaii is famous.
Superstition holds that rain on your wedding day is good luck, but what about torrential downpours for the twelve hours leading up to your outdoor wedding luau? In the end, aloha won out again, and my friend's neighbors banded together to set up tents and transform her backyard into a beautiful Hawaiian luau.
Beach-inspired table decor and Hawaiian singers set a relaxed but festive tone for the luau. How beautiful is the smile of the woman on the right?
I don't think I've ever seen my friend so happy, and I was thrilled to join them in celebrating their special day. Congrats to the newlyweds!
Time spent in Hawaii always flies by impossibly quickly, but even this four day mini-vacation provided just the physical and emotional reinvigoration I needed. Also, coming home to this face made my return a little easier. A hui ho (until we meet again), Hawaii!
*If you're looking for more tips on Hawaii, check out my post Top Sweets in Hawaii.