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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
A couple of blocks mauka (toward the mountains) from Chinatown is the oldest Buddhist temple in the Islands. Mistakenly called a goddess by some, Kuan Yin, also known as Kannon, is a bodhisattva—one who chose to remain on earth doing good even after achieving enlightenment. Transformed from a male into a female figure centuries ago, she is credited with a particular sympathy for women. You will see representations of her all over the Islands: holding a lotus flower (beauty from the mud of human frailty), as at the temple; pouring out a pitcher of oil (like mercy flowing); or as a sort of Madonna with a child. Visitors are permitted but be aware this is a practicing place of worship.
Fancifully called Hawaii's Westminster Abbey, this historic house of worship witnessed the coronations, weddings, and funerals of generations of Hawaiian royalty. Each of the building's 14,000 coral blocks was quarried from reefs offshore at depths of more than 20 feet and transported to this site. Interior woodwork was created from the forests of the Koolau Mountains. The upper gallery has an exhibit of paintings of the royal families. The graves of missionaries and of King Lunalilo are adjacent. Services in English and Hawaiian are held each Sunday, and the church members are exceptionally welcoming, greeting newcomers with lei; their affiliation is United Church of Christ. Although there are no guided tours, you can look around the church at no cost. www.kawaiahao.org. COST: Free. OPEN: Service in English and Hawaiian Sun. at 9 am.
Oahu's wealthiest neighborhood has streets lined with multimillion-dollar homes. At intervals along tree-lined Kahala Avenue are narrow lanes that provide public access to Kahala's quiet, narrow coastal beaches offering views of Koko Head. Kahala Mall is one of the island's largest indoor shopping centers and includes restaurants and a Whole Foods grocery store. Kahala is also the home of the private Waialae Golf Course, site of the annual Sony Open PGA golf tournament in January.
From Chinatown Cultural Plaza, cross a stone bridge to visit Okuninushi No Mikoto, a kami (god) who is believed in Shinto tradition to bring good fortune if properly courted (and thanked afterward).
America's only royal residence was built in 1882 on the site of an earlier palace, and it contains the thrones of King Kalakaua and his successor (and sister) Queen Liliuokalani. Bucking the stereotype of simple island life, the palace had electricity and telephone lines installed even before the White House. Downstairs galleries showcase the royal jewelry, and kitchen and offices restored to the glory of the monarchy. The palace is open for guided or self-guided audio tours, and reservations are recommended. If you're set on taking a guided tour, call for reservations a few days in advance. The gift shop was formerly the Iolani Barracks, built to house the Royal Guard. www.iolanipalace.org. COST: $20 guided tour, $12 audio tour, $6 downstairs galleries only. OPEN: Mon.--Sat. 9--4, guided tours every 15 min 9--11:15, self-guided audio tours 11:45--3:30.
For many years the home of Hawaii's governors, this white-columned mansion was built by sea captain John Dominis, whose son married the woman who became the Islands' last queen, Liliuokalani. Deposed by American-backed forces, the queen returned to the home—which is in sight of the royal palace—and lived there until her death. The nonprofit Washington Place Foundation operates the gracious estate now, opening it for tours weekday mornings and on special occasions. www.washingtonplacefoundation.org. COST: Donations accepted. OPEN: By appointment only, at least 48 hrs in advance Mon.--Fri. only.
This beautifully renovated main library was built in 1913. Its Samuel M. Kamakau Reading Room, on the first floor in the Mauka (Hawaiian for "mountain") Courtyard, houses an extensive Hawaii and Pacific book collection and pays tribute to Kamakau, a missionary student whose 19th-century writings in English offer rare and vital insight into traditional Hawaiian culture. COST: Free. OPEN: Mon. and Wed. 10--5; Tues., Fri., and Sat. 9--5; Thurs. 9--8.
Below a scenic turnout along the Koko Head shoreline, this oft-photographed lava tube sucks the ocean in and spits it out. Don't get too close, as conditions can get dangerous. Look to your right to see the tiny beach below that was used to film the wave-washed love scene in From Here to Eternity. In winter this is a good spot to watch whales at play. Offshore, the islands of Molokai and Lanai call like distant sirens, and every once in a while Maui is visible in blue silhouette. Take your valuables with you and lock your car, because this scenic location is overrun with tourists and therefore a hot spot for petty thieves.
Today Haleiwa is a fun mix of old and new, with charming general stores and contemporary boutiques, galleries, and eateries. During the 1920s this seaside hamlet boasted a posh hotel at the end of a railroad line (both long gone), while the 1960s saw hippies gathered here, followed by surfers from around the world. Be sure to stop in at Liliuokalani Protestant Church, founded by missionaries in the 1830s. It's fronted by a large, stone archway built in 1910 and covered with night-blooming cereus.
This sprawling multistory shopping square surrounds a courtyard with an incense-wreathed shrine and Moongate stage for holiday performances. The Chee Kung Tong Society has a beautifully decorated meeting hall here; a number of such tongs (meeting places) are hidden on upper floors in Chinatown. Outside, near the canal, local members of the community play cards and mah-jongg.
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