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In downtown Honolulu, the Iolani Palace, the only former royal residence on U.S. soil, sits in the middle of a park. It factors in the story of Liliuokalani, the last queen, who documented her travails during the U.S. takeover of the islands in a still-in-print memoir, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen.
In downtown Honolulu, the Iolani Palace, the only former royal residence on U.S. soil, sits in the middle of a park. It factors in the story of Liliuokalani, the last queen, who documented her travails during the U.S. takeover of the islands in a still-in-print memoir, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen.

Beach reading: How to take a (literal) literary tour of Hawaii Add to ...

Hawaii Book and Music Festival: The 8th annual festival runs May 18 to 19 and features Kaui Hart Hemmings, Maxine Hong Kingston and Julia Flynn Siler, the author of a new history of the U.S takeover of Hawaii. hawaiibookandmusicfestival.org

Iolani Palace: The docent tours are more expensive ($21.75) than the self-guided tours ($14.75), but worth it, since the guides are extensively versed in the history of this landmark, the only former royal residence on U.S. soil. iolanipalace.org

Kumu Kahua Theatre: Local dramas by local writers. Typical: a poignant kitchen-sink drama about three old Okinawan sisters – with, literally, a kitchen sink in it. kumukahua.org

Plantation Village: Workers were brought from all over the world to work on the sugar plantations of Hawaii. With its evocative worker houses, the museum gives a great overview of how Hawaii became, arguably, the world first multicultural society. hawaiiplantationvillage.org

WHERE TO STAY

Ilikai Hotel and Suites: Sarah Vowell stayed in this Waikiki high-rise when researching her chatty history of Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes. The suites (from about $220 a night) are large; some are being remodeled in a suave boutique style, away from the sort of classic Miami Beach style of the others. Both have their fans. ilikaihotel.com

New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel: This lesser-known gem is at the less populated end of Waikiki, with rare access right onto the beach. Its downstairs is Hawaii casual, with a beachside restaurant under a hau tree that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about – but its suites are Tokyo elegant. Rooms from $175. kaimana.com

WHERE TO EAT

Prima: Descendants author Kaui Hart Hemmings's favourite restaurant in her pretty hometown of Kailua. primahawaii.com

Rainbow Drive-In: Among President Barack Obama's first stops when he returns to his home state is this fast-food joint to get one of its famous plate lunches, with a mishmash of foods from all over the world. rainbowdrivein.com

Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bars: The partners behind this popular eatery once salted a pig and dined on everything from snout to tail; sometime during the feast the idea of this restaurant was born. The vibe here is lively and hip. You must try the fried oysters. salthonolulu.com

WHAT TO READ

Democracy (Simon & Schuster, 1984): This is among Joan Didion’s best, but least celebrated novels. It features a Kennedy-esque couple, with a wife whose family are members of the Hawaiian elite. In that Didion way, it both critiques and celebrates the American empire, and shows Hawaii’s role in some of the wars, covert and overt, that the United States fought last century in and around the Pacific.

The Descendants (Random House, 2007): Kaui Hart Hemmings’s book and the movie it inspired are credited by locals with getting a certain slice of island life just right. The society seems casual and easygoing, but much is brewing underneath the aloha-to-all surface.

Mark Twain in Hawaii (Mutual Publishing, 1990): His travels around the island on his nag, Oahu, remain vivid, relevant reading – and he gets in a good joke, often at his own expense, almost every page.

Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre (Bamboo Ridge Press, 1993): Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s book of dramatic monologues by various teenagers, revisits, with humour and honesty, the human wreckage of the plantation system.

Unfamiliar Fishes (Riverhead, 2011): Sarah Vowell’s bestseller aptly conjures up the royal period – and the skulduggery that ended it. A visitor from the mainland, she nonetheless makes penetrating observations about how this history makes itself felt in the present day.

Hawaii (Fawcett, 1959): Nothing if not comprehensive, James A. Michener takes the islands from their volcanic formation, through settlement by Polynesians, to the mid-20th century.

Writer travelled courtesy of the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

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