On Friday night, the Obamas will arrive in Hawaii for their sixth, annual Christmas vacation. At this point, they've pretty much perfected their Hawaii itinerary, which means that we lucky observers can simply take note and learn from the experts.
Here's how the Obamas vacation in Hawaii:
1. Stay in a $25,000/week house in Kailua on Oahu
Kailua is a posh neighborhood on Oahu's windward side (i.e., the side of the island that enjoys steady breezes). It has gorgeous, white-sand beaches, adorable boutiques, and one of the two Whole Foods on the island.
The town has drawn attention to itself lately, however, separate from the Obamas' visit. The town's board recently petitioned the Hawaii State Tourism Authority to stop promoting Kailua as a destination for visitors, complaining that the influx of tourists has prompted rental properties and bed and breakfasts to spring up without proper permits. "It doesn't feel like a neighborhood when you don't know the people there," board member Lisa Marten said.
Well, at least everyone knows who Obama is.
2. Get Shave Ice at Island Snow
Shave Ice is a Hawaii staple; it's more refreshing than ice cream and more delicate than a snow cone. Whereas snow cones are made by dousing artificial flavors on crushed ice, shave ice is finely shaved (like fresh, powdery snow), which allows it to absorb the natural flavors like guava, coconut and pineapple that Hawaii is known for.
Obama's reported favorite has three flavors: "choo-choo cherry," "da kine lemon-lime" and "tangy guava-orange." ("Da kine" is a versatile Hawaiian pidgin term most closely resembling "whatchamacallit.")
3. Golf at Marine Base Kaneohe
For servicemembers, golfing at Marine Base Kaneohe is just one of the perks of being stationed in Hawaii. The course is stunning and secluded with mountain views for the front nine and ocean vistas for the back nine. It's consistently ranked as one of the best Department of Defense golf courses in the world, and while it is open to the public, getting a tee time can be difficult since priority goes to active and retired servicemembers.
Obama golfs here every year not just because it's gorgeous, but also because it's an easy spot for the Secret Service to secure.
4. Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor and/or the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl
Pearl Harbor is an obvious stop for visitors to Hawaii, but the Punchbowl cemetery is a lesser known gem. Visiting a volcanic crater is cool on it's own (this one offers panoramic views of Honolulu), but the Punchbowl crater intertwines Hawaiian and American history. Known as the "Hill of Sacrifice" in ancient Hawaii, the crater was used for human sacrifices. That name takes on a different meaning now that the crater is used to honor servicemembers and their sacrifices.
President Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, a World War II veteran, is buried here. Obama lived with his grandparents for a time as a child and is known to stop by the cemetery to lay a flower lei on his grandfather's grave.
5. Have dinner at Alan Wong's
With influences from across the Pacific Rim, including Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam, Hawaiian food is a diverse and yummy culinary treat. Alan Wong's restaurants use locally sourced ingredients (a big deal in Hawaii since imported items must travel a minimum of 2,500 miles!) and feature such tantalizing concoctions as the "New Wave” Opihi Shooter (local limpet, or sea snail, in spicy tomato water with fennel basil ume shiso essences).
Obama has eaten here with friends and family, including his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives in Honolulu. Alan Wong has been added to the prestigious American Chef Corps and Obama invited him back to the White House to cook a luau for the Congressional Picnic in 2009.
According to Wong, the President's favorite entree is Twice Cooked Soy Braised Short Ribs with Ko Choo Jang sauce, and his favorite dessert is "The Coconut": Haupia sorbet in a chocolate, coconut-shaped shell with lilikoi (passion fruit) sauce.
6. Stay active with hikes & workouts
Plenty of hikes in Hawaii feature waterfalls, but there are only so many that you are allowed to swim in, which apparently matters to the Obamas. The Maunawili trail, which the family has been known to hike, winds through a lush tropical jungle (thus keeping the Obamas cool and out of the sun!) and ends at a great swimming hole and waterfall. Courageous hikers usually jump from the top of the waterfall, but we doubt the Secret Service lets Obama do this. It can be muddy, especially after it rains, but is otherwise a pretty easy-to-moderate hike.
For his more vigorous workouts, the President uses Semper Fit -- the gym at the Marine base, which is only open to military ID holders. “They make the gym spic and span before he comes," according to one Marine spouse. "It’s great for us.”
7. Enjoy family time
Vacation is a chance for everyone in your family to unplug from the rest of the world and reconnect with each other. As Arianna Huffington -- who will be escaping to Hawaii as well this holiday season -- recently blogged, "Big Data, unfettered information, the ability to be in constant contact and our growing reliance on technology are all conspiring to create a noisy traffic jam between us and our place of insight and peace. Call it an iParadox: our smartphones are actually blocking our path to wisdom."
Between school, homework and running the country, the Obamas don't get many opportunities to unplug and focus on family time. Their annual Hawaii vacation receives a lot of scrutiny from the public and the press, but it's clearly an important family tradition for them. Michelle Obama once said that, "You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii," by which she meant the unique local lifestyle and the values held by many in the island community.
8. Bodysurf at Sandy's Beach
Believe it or not, there is more to bodysurfing than just letting the waves pound your body into the shoreline. Watch the President in the below video and you'll notice he cuts lines and maneuvers within and around the waves, rather than slamming into them. Impressive stuff.
Sandy's beach is a favorite among locals on Oahu because the waves break close to shore, making it ideal conditions for bodysurfing. It can also be dangerous, however, so novices might want to brush up on their skills before attempting anything like the President's smooth moves.
9. Grab lunch at Zippy's
Georgia has Chic-Fil-A, California has In-N-Out Burger, and Hawaii has Zippy's. It's a local obsession, the appeal of which is confusing to outsiders, but the diner chain features such Hawaiian comfort foods as Korean fried chicken and saimin noodles. With locations all over Oahu, it's no wonder Obama grew up loving Zippy's and it's easy to understand why he has to have it when he comes home.
Obama has cited his favorite dish as the "Zip Min," a hot soup with saimin noodles, won tons, breaded shrimp, choi sum, fish cake, dried seaweed egg, sweet pork and green onions.
10. Enjoy the wildlife at Hanauma Bay
Located near Sandy's beach, Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu's most popular snorkeling destinations. As a nature preserve, it's home to over 400 types of fish and an abundance of green sea turtles. Obama and his family have been known to both snorkel there and to visit Sea Life Park, the only place in the U.S. that raises green sea turtles in captivity.
Green sea turtles are known as honu in Hawaii and are revered for both their dopey expressions and seemingly lazy lifestyle. It's not uncommon to come across them while paddleboarding or snorkeling, but because of their protected status (they're categorized as endangered species) you can be fined up to $2,000 or jailed for 30 days for touching them.
**Bonus points: Get everyone in your entourage to wear aloha shirts!
Although the President himself doesn't don the classic threads, his entourage of Secret Service does its best to fit in in Hawaii. According to Honolulu magazine, they sport high-end aloha shirts like Iolani and Tori Richard.
They apparently embrace the aloha spirit as well. Despite the many complaints about traffic and security measures when the President is in town, Hawaii locals had nothing but nice things to say about the Secret Service agents themselves.
“You'd think they’d get tired of their job, wanding people," one Kailua resident told Honolulu magazine. "They’re so kind about it, and they’re not pushy or arrogant. They are so gracious. I’ve been impressed by running into them.”
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