Aloha! Honolulu Gets Its Gay On
Fact: That fashion statement of girls putting a flower behind their ear actually stems from a very real Hawaiian tradition. It means she’s married.
It is a foregone conclusion that Hawaii has a headlock on weddings and honeymoons. The beaches are perfect. The water is perfect. The weather is perfect. Even when it rains, it is perfect. And as of December 2013, gays and lesbians received our fair share of the perfection when the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act was signed into law. LGBT travel is a competitive business, but Honolulu is a game changer.
Aloha for Everyone
One property to jump on the equality bandwagon is the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Few spaces in Honolulu are more suited for weddings on a grand scale: It is not one tower, but seven. It does not have one pool, but five. It does not have one restaurant, but 20. It has its own bazaar, zoo, fireworks show, Polynesian dance extravaganza - it even has its own port facilities along an exclusive stretch of beach with unmatched views of Diamond Head. And they are more than happy to appropriate their ward, a charming glen of palm trees, for ceremonies.
Some say that Honolulu isn’t a gay town, but think again. Honolulu may be no equivalent to the Castro, but from the gay stretch of sand at Queen’s Surf Beach at San Souchi State Park to the string of clubs and bars on and around Kuhio and Kapahulu Avenues, it’s clear gays are everywhere: Bacchus for the young ones, Tapas for the older ones, and Lojax for the sports fans (we all have our priorities, witnessing the NFL draft of Michael Sam, for example) join the classic bastions Fusion, Wang Chung, and the cavernous Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. Who said Honolulu wasn’t gay?
The city is falling over itself to prove its LGBTQ chops. Chef Chai Chaowasaree, whose eponymous eatery reigns supreme over Waikiki’s fickle palate personally came by my table to tell me so, but what blew my mind is that one of the most striking wedding sites in the city isn’t a hotel, but the Shangri La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures. The repository of art collected from Morocco to Iran by heiress Doris Duke, Shangri La and its gardens warp into the romance of the Arabian Nights sans the Shariah laws. As center officials told me, the spirit of aloha imbues everything in Hawaii; all are welcome.
Honolulu and Oahu have become synonymous to where the whole island is written off as paradise lost, when in reality the city is actually fairly compact. When natives speak of "doing the island", it is code for a day-long drive around Oahu that shows just how quickly urban sprawl gives way to open fields. South of Honolulu is picturesque Hanauma Bay. A flooded volcanic crater, it stays picturesque until 9:00 a.m., whereupon the beach opens and the entire tourist population of Oahu descends in a swarm.
Natives urged me to take the Kalanianaole Highway to Kahauloa and Halona. Two jagged points thrusting into the Pacific, the former is a photographer’s darling for its contorted, primordial scarps; the latter for whale watching and its famous blow-hole. Less known are the tiny two inlets they overlook. Blessed with powdery sands, the coves at Kahauloa and Halona cleave into the sea, their high walls quietly keeping the outside world at bay.
I hit pay dirt when the huli-huli chicken stands appeared (road-side barbeques that give maximum bang for minimum buck) and the highway turned into a country road. I was in the eastern, windward side of the island and as anti-Honolulu a place can get - something the people take great pride in. Taking it slow is the mantra in these parts.
Tropical Farms, a fresh produce stand that has become a culinary icon, embodies this laid back attitude, and a peruse through the aisles is a virtual tour though edible Oahu. Kona coffee? Check. Macadamia nuts? Check. Macadamia Nut Honey Coconut Peanut Butter? Check - and don’t knock it till you try it. Going a little further down the road, near the Polynesian Culture Center, I found Giovanni’s and Romy’s, two legendary shrimp stands rivaling anything Honolulu whips up. Who needs five-star chefs when you can go around back and scoop fresh shrimp from the breeding ponds yourself?
Legends abound in eastern Oahu, and not just on your plate; city slickers in Honolulu may scoff, but respect for gods, ghosts and a whole cast of characters that go bump in the night runs deep - for example, do not swipe a piece of lava rock from anywhere on the islands. They belong to Pele, Goddess of Fire, who will rain down ill fortune on anyone who slights her.
And then there is the mo’o. Mokolii (a.k.a. Chinaman’s Hat) is a small islet and big photo-op off the coast at Kualoa Point and said to house the remains of a mo’o, a fierce dragon the goddess Hi’iaka cut (literally) down to size. Seemingly floating on the ocean, Mokolii is indeed other worldly - an irony considering it is one of the most popular backdrops for weddings in the state.
I take in the sunset at Ka’ena Point, Oahu’s westernmost reach. Studded with tidal pools and beaches, Kaena is less than an hour’s drive from Honolulu but so far off the beaten track it may as well be on another planet. In fact, all the people there along with me (that is, eight) were all natives, and the whole point of Kaena is to be somewhere where the tourists aren’t. There are no kiosks at Kaena, no stands, stalls, or even a road; it is a place the first settlers to Hawaii would instantly recognize.
Perfect for holding hands, getting engaged, or dare I say... married.