Visitor Guide for the National Humanities Conference

By Lyz Soto on March 6, 2020

Ever wonder what a travel guide to Hawaiʻi would look like if it were written by a group of humanities disciples? This is what HIHumanities provided for our guests from across the United States last November for the National Humanities Conference.

E Komo Mai (welcome) National Humanities Conference Guests,

We hope everyone will have a safe, meaningful, and wonderful stay in the Hawaiʻi paeʻāina (archipelago). In anticipation of your visit, Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities polled our board and staff for suggestions on places to visit while you are here. We’ve compiled this list that includes tips for traveling in the islands, some historical information (yay, humanities!), and sites and experiences that might be of interest.

Tips for Traveling in Hawaiʻi

Weather and environment
You’ll notice right off the airplane that Hawaiʻi November feels like a temperate North American summer. Day temperatures are mid-80º and evenings are mid-70º, with humidity around 70%. There are times that you might be caught in a light rain shower but it’s usually brief. Essentially there are two weather types: tradewind weather has clear skies, lots of sunshine, with cool east to west “tradewinds”; and Kona weather, are days when the winds are light or still and higher humidity prevails. So named because air currents originate from the direction of “Kona” on Hawai‘i Island, which is south of us. Sunscreen, hats, and water bottles are helpful for daytime activities.   

The Ocean
Two popular beaches for newcomers are Waikīkī and Ala Moana Beach Park. There are plenty of lifeguards in both places, and waves are generally calm. Please use coral-safe sunscreens, meaning zinc oxide and titanium oxide are the active ingredients and it DOES NOT contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. And be careful about disposing of trash, especially plastic, as it can be very harmful to marine life. If you venture to other beaches, know that each place is unique and the ocean is beautiful and unifying, but it can also be very dangerous, and should always be respected. It is always a good idea to look up beach conditions before you go. High surf season, particularly on the North and West shores of Oʻahu, usually runs between November and March. Strong currents are often not visible from the surface, even when the water looks calm. When in doubt stick to beaches with lifeguards and ask them for advice before going in the water. Our east facing shores will occasionally have an influx of Portuguese Man o’ War, and warning signs will be posted. Generally, it’s recommended that beach goers stay out of the water when these siphonophores are visiting.  

Dress casually and comfortably mainly because of the warm weather. Indoors, think business casual (locals often wear collared aloha shirt and slacks, no suit jackets or ties); for outdoor daytime events keep it simple and summer-appropriate-—it gets hot out in the sun. Air Conditioned spaces tend to run on the cold side (68-70 degrees), so pack a sweater or light jacket.

For better or for worse Hawaiʻi is a car-centric society. In Waikīkī, Honolulu, Chinatown, and Kakaʻako, Lyft and Uber rides are plentiful and easy to comeby. Many visitors and locals alike decide to get some exercise and slow things down by taking advantage of hourly bike rentals, like Biki. Stations to pick up and return them abound. Do NOT ride them on sidewalks. You may be tempted to do so, because many areas do not have bike lanes, however it is illegal and you may get a ticket. Our public transportation system is cleverly called TheBus, which is reliable within the urban areas like Honolulu, but can be less dependable when venturing to places like the North Shore, particularly on the weekends. You can also buy day passes for the Waikiki Trolley, but these are more expensive and best for sightseeing, rather than daily transportation. There are also a couple of cab services, like Charlie’s Taxi 808-233-3333 and Johnny Cab 808-722-4610. Please be aware it is generally not possible to flag down a taxi anywhere in Hawaiʻi.

One of the great pleasures of living in Hawaiʻi is our food heritage and culture. Historically, before the age of restaurants, our communities often held kani ka pila (play music) gatherings. People brought their guitars, their ukulele, their voices. They wove their strings into sound, and when they gathered to sing, to play, to dance, they also brought food. This sustenance brought, and continues to bring, our diverse communities together. Our food reminds us of who we are and where we have been. For many of us with multiethnic backgrounds, food is the only path towards a long-ago home that is all but forgotten. The restaurant list that follows reflects some of this history. We have also tried to highlight places that center farm-to-table production. A lasting impact of Hawaiʻi’s shift towards monocrop agriculture in the 19th century and away from locally produced and consumed agriculture means that 80% of Hawaiʻi’s current food supply is imported. Many of our local chefs and farmers are working towards rebuilding our food industry on more sustainable models.

Rainbow Drive-In, Helena’s, Haili’s, Zippy’s and Leonard’s are all wonderful old-style standbys that have been serving up food in Hawaiʻi for more than 50 years. Our chefs are innovative architects of flavor, so Hawaiʻi is well known for its creative foodie culture. XO, Pai, and The Pig and the Lady are three excellent examples combining East Asian, Southeast Asian, Pacific Island, and Western European influences. A number of the suggested restaurants represent a specific ethnic cuisine, like Helena’s (Hawaiian) and Dew Drop Inn (Chinese).

Please note that some of these places are quite small, and very few of them can accommodate large parties without a reservation. Zippy’s (most prominent Hawaiʻi diner chain) and Side Street Inn are two places that can often accommodate larger drop-in parties, and take-away places like Diamond Head Market and Grill and Juicy Brew are nice alternatives for a large group. You can grab your food and have a picnic at the beach or in a park.

The following list is organized by geographical location beginning with the restaurants and food stores that are closest to Hilton Hawaiian Village and spiraling out like a Fibonacci sequence of deliciousness. The Hilton hosts its own generous array of eateries, so please explore! Should you choose to venture beyond its resort boundaries here are some suggestions. 

Closest to Hilton Hawaiian Village
Bills has an eclectic menu and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Cinnamon’s at the ʻIlikai is famous for their eggs benedict variations. A local favorite in Kailua, this location offers you the opportunity to give them a try without trekking over the Pali Hwy.

Eggs and Things on Saratoga Avenue is a great breakfast place in easy walking distance of Hilton Hawaiian Village. This location has a cool rustic ambience, but after 7:30am the wait can be substantial.

Food Pantry is a very small grocery store within easy walking distance and good for small essentials.

International Market Place moves you a bit farther into the heart of Waikīkī off Kalākaua Ave and houses numerous restaurants from coffee to fine dining. Of note: You can get b. patisserie pastries at Kona Coffee Purveyors in this mall o food.

Waikiki Yokocho also off Kalākaua Ave and offers a wide variety of dining options in a Japanese-style Food Hall.

Yard House is a good option if you’re seeking hearty American food and good beer on tap.

In Iconic Waikīkī Hotels – These options are on the pricey side, but they can be a nice treat in a lovely beachside setting. They also give visitors an opportunity to glimpse at Hawaiʻi’s history as a tourist destination.

Azure is in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened in 1927. Its pink Spanish-Moorish style façade once greeted travelers (by shipt and by plane) as they looked across Honolulu Harbor towards Leahi’s (Diamond Head) famous profile.

House Without a Key is in the Halekulani. First opened as a residential hotel in 1907, Halekulani became a destination for vacationers ten years later in 1917. The original plantation house was replaced in the 1980s by the current structure.

Veranda at the Beachhouse is located in the Moana Surfrider, the oldest hotel in Waikīkī. First opened in 1901, the Moana provides an old-style feel in contemporary Waikīkī. They also offer an enjoyable afternoon tea service.

Ala Moana Shopping Center offers a dizzying array of dining options. Here are three solid choices for the budget traveler. 

Foodland is a grocery store that includes buffet take-away options.

The Lānai is a food court with a nice variety of options and good for a group with differing tastes.

Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is a huge Japanese food hall with lots of options.

Ward Center off of Ala Moana Blvd also has a wide choice of eating places. Here are two options.Piggy Smalls offers award winning fusion Vietnamese cuisine and is the baby sibling of The Pig and the Lady.

Scratch is a good brunch and lunch place.

Around Kapahulu Avenue (Avenue at the Diamond Head side of Waikīkī by the Honolulu Zoo)
Diamond Head Market and Grill specializes in take-away (with healthy options) and offers local style plate lunches with an imaginative twist. Be sure to pop into their next door market for a nice selection of sweets.

Leonard’s Bakery serves up a Hawaiʻi obsession, malasadas. A local take on a Portuguese pastry, Leonard’s has created a variety of fillings that are sure to please the sweets craving tooth.

Rainbow Drive Inn is a long time local favorite where you can try saimin and chicken katsu. This is the original location that opened in 1961.

Rigo is a new Spanish/Italian fusion restaurant that’s been getting positive reviews from our foodie community.

Safeway grocery store on Kapahulu  is huge by Hawaiʻi standards.

Side Street Inn has great local bar food and can generally sit a large group of people without a reservation. Maybe don’t try this on a Friday or Saturday night. 

Sunrise Restaurant is a home-style Okinawan and Japanese food restaurant. This place is also very small, but worth a try for smaller groups. 

Off Waialae Avenue (Kaimuki) there’s a lot of choice in this neighborhood, but here are some of our favorites.
Koko Head Cafe, headed by Chef Lee Anne Wong, is an Asian American fusion brunch house. Serving an eclectic mix from pancakes to congee.  Be sure to ask about the frittata and the dumpling of the day.

Juicy Brew offers vegan food made with local ingredients emphasizing environmentally conscious preparation and delivery (primarily take-away). Their food is also incredibly ono. Try their breadfruit mash and their butter mochi. 

Maguro serves beautiful and ono Japanese food. They offer everything from sushi and sashimi to noodle dishes to teishoku meals (for when you’re really hungry).

Tamura’s is primarily a wine and liquor store, but also has great poke and other snack options.

Vegan Hill—it’s all in the name. 

XO has some of the best fried chicken in town. This family-style restaurant elevates Hawaiʻi comfort food creating a delightful fusion between Filipino and Chinese flavors.

In Mānoa (near University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa)
Morning Glass serves great coffee, thoughtful meals, and home-style baked goods. This place can be busy and it can be hard to find seating.

Andy’s Sandwiches offers delicious healthy sandwiches and smoothies at a reasonable price. Seating is limited.

Around Hotel Street (Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu)
Lam’s Kitchen is in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown district and specializes in Chinese noodle dishes. Their soups are some of the best on the island, but this place does have limited seating, so be prepared for a wait.

Pai is a chef-driven restaurant in downtown Honolulu that creates truly imaginative dishes that are as delicious as they are beautiful.  

Water Drop Inn offers vegetarian Chinese cuisine. 

Near Honolulu Museum of Art on Beretania Ave
Dew Drop Inn is a Taiwanese and northern Chinese cuisine spot that has been a fixture in Honolulu for decades, but it’s small so go early or make reservations. BYOB

SALT (off Ala Moana BLVD at 691 Auahi St.)
Highway Inn is another option for Hawaiian food that is more accessible from Waikīkī. They have delicious kalua pig incorporated with everything from the traditional poi to the less traditional but still ono (delicious) quesadilla.

Morning Brew offers coffee that is locally farmed and roasted inhouse. It’s a great place to stop if you’re feeling the need to be caffeinated. 

Near Bishop Museum off of School St
Helena’s Hawaiian Food is a must. Some of the best Hawaiian restaurant food on the island. This spot is really popular with very little parking, so go during off hours if you are short on time. There is almost always a line. But it is worth the wait with their lūʻau squid, pipikaula short-ribs, and butterfish collar. 

Rainbow Drive Inn is a long time local favorite for plate lunches located on the corner of School Street and Waiakamilo Rd. 

A few random things to be mindful about:

  • 15 cent bag charge – All stores will charge you 15 cents if you want a bag with your purchase, unless you are taking out food from a restaurant. You may want to bring reusable bags. Thank you for helping us reduce our waste in our island home!
  • 4.75% Tax – When shopping, our sales tax is an excise tax and it is 4.75% on everything–food, goods, entertainment, you name it.
  • Cell phones – State law prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, unless using a hands-free device. It is also illegal to look at your phone or text while crossing the street (you can be on a phone call, but you cannot do anything that requires looking at your phone). 

A Tiny Bit of Hawaiʻi History and Culture Not to Be Found in Frommers, Lonely Planet, or Trip Advisor

Hawaiʻi hosts nearly 10 million tourists a year. We ask that you take your time, listen, and be respectful of this place we cherish. You will find that the word “aloha” is used a lot in our tourist industry. It is frequently translated as meaning hello, goodbye, and love, but the word carries with it a deeper complexity that incorporates community ideas of compassion, mercy, charity, and responsibility. Aloha offers a richness and depth of meaning that can not be equaled by hello. 

Incorporated as a state in 1959, we are renowned for a temperate climate, beautiful beaches, erupting volcanoes, and the art of hula. Perhaps less known is that Polynesian voyagers first discovered these islands more than 1500 years ago, as practitioners of a Pacific Islander open ocean sailing and navigation tradition much older and more advanced than those of Europe. When Captain James Cook first landed in this archipelago in 1778, he and his crew encountered a thriving and vital culture in what we now know as the Hawaiian Islands. We are looking forward to the Navigators’ plenary event on Saturday afternoon, to learn more about Micronesian and Polynesian navigation as stunning examples of science, humanities, courage, and imagination.

The Hawaʻi Council for the Humanities is excited to note that two extra events on Sunday, November 10th, feature moʻolelo (histories, stories) that are important to getting a better sense of our islands. An asterisk highlights these events.

The United Nations has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. From 1896 – 1986, our Indigenous language was banned as a language of law and education in its own homeland! The cultural renaissance and hard work and dedication that brought back Hawaiian language from this colonial crisis is an amazing Indigenous humanities achievement. We know we share this traumatic colonial experience with our cousins in Amerika Sāmoa, Guåhan, and the Northern Mariana Islands. We hope you enjoy the Thursday evening opening ceremonies event, where we will collectively have the opportunity to share more about our similar and very different Pacific Island homelands.

If you are interested in learning a little about Hawaiian language, is an online Hawaiian/English dictionary based on the work of Mary Kawena Pukui, an OG Humanities Scholar.The resource is a critical humanities text that has been instrumental in the revitalization of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language). This remarkable dictionary also demonstrates the fundamental poetry of the language. Along these lines, ʻŌlelo Noʻeau is another treasured publication of Hawaiian proverbs and pieces of wisdom). Many Hawaiian words have dozens of possible translations, so don’t always assume that the first word is the best word. 

200 years ago, in 1819, the ʻai kapu, which was part of a complex system of laws that (among other things) prohibited men and women from eating together, was broken when “Queen Consort” Keōpūolani, “Regent” Kaʻahumanu and “King” Liholiho, Kamehameha II, chose to eat together. This resulted in a fragmenting of the larger governmental system that had ruled the islands for more than 1,000 years, and precipitated a period of enormous change. *The words in quotes indicate there is no adequate English/Hawaiian translation. 

On the evening of Sunday, November 10th, there will be a very special one-night-only community event titled  Ka Hulina Au (The Changing Time), a performance featuring renowned hula groups and Hawaiian music commemorating this 200-year anniversary. Please see enclosed flier for more information. Note: this is not a conference event, and there is a separate ticketed price. 

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono is the state motto of Hawaiʻi. It has been interpreted as, The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. 2019 NHC Capps Lecturer, Dr. Jonathan Osorio, suggests a more accurate interpretation would be The rightness of life and the land continue because of Pono. No English translation is offered for the word pono, because there is no English equivalence. Pono simultaneously means, balance, excellence, equity, prosperity, justice, and goodness, but this is still a limited definition. Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono is attributed to first being said by King Kamehameha III in 1843 after the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom was restored following a brief takeover by Lord George Paulet of the United Kingdom. If you are still exploring that online Hawaiian dictionary, try looking up pono, or even ‘āina for that matter. 

In 1893, the Committee of Safety, a group comprised largely of descendants of American missionaries and American businessmen, overthrew the sovereign government of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Queen Liliʻuokalani was our last reigning monarch. 

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 10th, for a deeper look into this complicated time, NHC attendees are invited to go on the Mai Poina living history walking tour at ʻIolani Palace. Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities is proud to have helped to fund the initial development of this tour some years ago, and we are bringing it back special for NHC attendees. Please see enclosed flier. As of today, this tour has a waitlist that we will likely be able to accommodate IF the list gets long enough. You can sign up on the waitlist by November 1st.

In 1897, Hui Aloha ʻĀina for Men, Hui Aloha ʻĀina for Women, and Hui Kālaʻāina formed a coalition to oppose a treaty to annex the Republic of Hawaiʻi to the United States. They created a petition entitled PALAPALA HOOPII KUE HOOHUI AINA, Petition Protesting Annexation. This petition gathered over 21,000 Native Hawaiian signatures at a time when the Native Hawaiian population numbered less than 40,000. This is just one example of a noteworthy history of civic engagement here, that our Capps Lecture will explore. 

“Melting-pot” is a term often used to describe the impressive and beloved racial and ethnic diversity of these islands. Much of this diversity was sparked by events in the mid-19th century when the American Civil War curtailed the production of sugar in the South and a free trade agreement was signed between the US and the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1875. This act triggered the expansion of sugar plantations in the islands and created a need for cheap labor, which was sought from countries like China, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Philippines. 

From the 1860s to the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of laborers immigrated to Hawaiʻi, primarily from China, Japan, and the Philippines. These groups together with Native Hawaiians make up a “local” identity here. Many in Hawaiʻi affectionately recall a time when sugar culture created tight-knit integrated communities. Museums like Hawaiʻi’s Plantation Village offers visitors a glimpse into this experience. Today, there are many more cultural and ethnic communities who call Hawai‘i home, which make our islands a really important place from which to explore “roots and routes.” The DeTours panel and book launch event on Friday at 1 pm will help to share glimpses of the intricate criss-cross of peoples and histories that hold our islands today.

This is a small and quirky smattering of vignettes of who we are, to get you excited to be with us. This guide was supposed to be two pages long, and look what happened. We will stop here. We are looking forward to being with you, learning from you, learning together why we do what we do, how we are all connected.