5 locations in Hawaii that we love … with fewer vacationers

When Yogi Berra, Hall of Famer of the New York Yankees, famously said of a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too full”, he could have spoken for the residents of Hawaii. Residents have found over the past few decades that the ever-growing hordes of visitors, essential to the state’s economic survival, have made many of the island’s landmarks too crowded to enjoy.

Then came COVID-19.

With visitor numbers down 99% from last year, places that have been the domain of visitors for the past few years now have room for locals.

Hanauma Bay will remain closed for the foreseeable future, but other Oahu landmarks are open and available to locals willing to follow responsible social distancing protocols.

There are five points to keep in mind:


Hawaii residents have complained for years that they don’t feel wanted in Waikiki. Maybe it’s the prices that at least partially reflect the cost of doing business there. Perhaps it’s because of the steady elimination of street parking and the higher prices the city is now charging for parking in public car parks. Or maybe it’s just the amount of “oil-covered tourists,” as Jimmy Buffett once said, taking up all of the beach space. Well not these days.

There is no better time than now for Oahu residents who want to enjoy Waikiki’s public beaches and offshore water sports. The beaches are as empty and open to residents as they are likely to be.

Iolani Palace

King Kalakaua built the Iolani Palace in the early 1880s to show the world that Hawaii is a modern nation. The palace had electric lighting years before the White House became electric. When the fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom came in 1893, some furniture was auctioned, others were immediately looted, and the palace was in a sorry state when the new State Capitol was completed in 1969 on the Mauka side of Hotel Street. The Friends of Iolani Palace have since worked diligently to restore the palace. The COVID-19 shutdown has left the organization in dire need of funding.

The palace is only open for self-guided audio tours on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Special rates for Hawaiian residents and active duty military personnel. Visit iolanipalace.org.

Laniakea Beach

Laniakea (advertised online as “Turtle Beach” on tourist websites) on the north coast of Oahu is famous for its beautiful beach, surfing, and the ability to spot sea turtles from a respectful distance. It’s equally notorious for the lack of adequate parking and the people who ruthlessly cross the Farrington Highway with no regard for oncoming traffic. What a difference a lock makes. Two recent visits – one on a Saturday afternoon; one on a Sunday morning – found the beach almost empty. There were a few people fishing and no surfers or other water sports practitioners. Parking spaces were available directly across from the motorway.

Matsumoto Shave Ice, Haleiwa

There are dozen of places on Oahu that sell shave ice, and then there is Matsumoto shave ice in Haleiwa. The inconspicuous shaving ice cream stand and adjacent general store have become a popular stop for people traveling through Haleiwa – both for its shaving card with island additives like ice cream and azuki beans, and for its extensive selection of branded T-shirts, tank tops, caps, and other gear.

Matsumoto was open for business during a visit on Monday. Small groups of people watched socially distancing logs while enjoying shave ice outdoors. Masks are required to enter the store but there was no line outside and no delay in entering. There was ample parking on the lot behind the building and there was almost no traffic through Haleiwa. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit matsumotoshaveice.com.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 officially brought the United States into World War II, almost a year into its undeclared war against Germany, and “Remember Pearl Harbor” was America’s battle cry for the long run. That alone makes Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial an A-list visitor attraction, but since 1998 Pearl Harbor has also been the home port of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), the site of the official surrender ceremony that ended the war in 1945. Add in the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, which honors American submarine service during the war, and Pearl Harbor is a must see for over one million visitors a year.

Time out! The USS Arizona Memorial is still closed, but the two major museums of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the additional exhibits are open. There are still great views of the harbor from the waterfront, and there is a lot less competition for parking. See nps.gov/valr/index.htm for more information.

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