The annual list of Hawaii’s Best for Oahu is out. It has two lessons, one obvious and the other less so.

Obviously, Hawaii’s list (by the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper) is different from anywhere else. Although I’m sure newspapers do these lists in all areas, most do not have a category for best lei shop. Also, the list of food awards is as long as all the other categories put together. There is a “best” award for: American, Chinese, Filipino, Greek, Hawaiian, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese Food. In addition to the types of food, there are categories for specific items, like: bento, fried rice, frozen yogurt, hamburger, Loco Moco, manapua, pancakes, plate lunch, poke and even Spam musubi. You might find some of those items on mainland lists but at least half are unique to Hawaii.

The category of “Spam musubi” illustrates the less obvious lesson. The first place winner is…. 7-Eleven Stores. It beat out Hawaiian food chain L&L Hawaiian Barbecue and Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering. Now, the first Spam musubi I ever ate was at a 7-Eleven but I have to tell you, the difference between one block of rice topped with Spam and another is pretty slim. I could be wrong, but I’m betting it’s the price that makes this a local favorite. So, that’s fair – why spend more? But visitors may be looking for a different experience than locals – that is the less obvious lesson. I think many people on a Hawaii Vacation would like to find something unique, something different than they have back home. But what happens when you ask locals the best place to buy women’s clothing? They list where THEY go: Macys, Ross and Nordstrom, not some quirky local boutique (although there are many). The men’s clothing favorites are similar: Macys, Sears and Nordstrom. I TRIED to take people to Sears to buy Aloha Wear because there is a variety of sizes and it’s pretty inexpensive. My visitors did not want to show up back home with souvenires from a mainland department store, no matter how different the Hawaii locations are or how good the price is. They want a story to tell about where they found it and who they bought it from. So, realize that locals may not have the best advice for your Hawaii vacation because they are living in the islands, not visiting them. I’m not saying not to consult locals, but realize the difference in perspective.

One place on the list is a local favorite that would probably surprise visitors to Hawaii. It took top awards for best Happy Hour/Pupu Bar, Live Music and Outdoor Bar — and it’s located in a Honolulu shopping center not far from Waikiki. The Mai Tai Bar is on the 4th floor of Ala Moana Center. We went several times during the day to enjoy the ocean breezes that blow right through the bar. It’s a great place to relax after shopping or while waiting for a bus. During the day, many people appear to be tourists. But it is a completely different place after dark. It is PACKED, especially for local live music. And the people are almost all locals. It is a young crowd, although they are welcoming (if amused) when we drop in. The last time we caught some excellent local reggae, and attracted some attention from the bar patrons younger than our children. They were happy we liked “their” music. I smiled, remembering the Bob Marley cassette tapes I had LONG before they were born. This is a local favorite that is also a unique Hawaii experience and accessible to those visiting Oahu on a Hawaii vacation.


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