We just returned from a trip to Honolulu to help our son move into an apartment. Our last trip was 8 months ago, in January 2010, and the changes in Waikiki were dramatic. In January, the streets of Waikiki were empty and the parks were packed with homeless. Now the streets of Waikiki are so packed we could barely get through the crowds and the homeless have been moved out. All along sidewalks in front of the beach front hotels on Kalakaua Avenue, mimes, bands, fortune tellers, street dancers, and even the Hare Krishna cult members assaulted us and other tourists trying to maneuver along the sidewalk.
Walking around the Waikiki beach-front hotels in the morning, we were asked for money three times in less than five minutes from people dressed in upscale Aloha-wear. This was a surprising change from the sparkling clean and hassle-free Waikiki sidewalks of the past. Over half of the tourists seemed to be from Japan and the stores and restaurants are making sure to cater to them with Japanese signs and menus.
Ala Moana Mall has transformed into a super upscale designer mall, taking over for the stores that use to line Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Security at the mall protected us from the onslaught of street performers and beggars but not the huge crowds and tight parking. One section of the mall was like a micro-Tokyo with a Japanese bakery, Japanese home products, food and even an impressive selection of silk kimonos.
Traffic was bumper to bumper on the streets and freeways. The surprise was the road rage of frustrated drivers shaking their fists and cursing at our unpracticed lane changes. It felt more like Los Angeles than the Aloha State. We don’t get experience doing freeway driving on the Big Island so it is easy to get out of practice. Everything is close in Oahu, as the whole island is about the size of Puna, but the number of cars, one way streets, and complex traffic rules that change depending upon the time of day, makes everything seem far away.
Helping to stock up a new apartment gave us the opportunity to do a lot of comparison shopping as well as experience the traffic and parking challenges of Oahu. We often hear about how much more Oahu has to offer in shopping as compared to the Big Island. We went to the new Target store, hidden next to Pearl Harbor Naval Reservation, K-Mart, Wal-mart, Costco, Pearlridge Shopping Center, Ala Moana Mall, Best Buy, Borders, and numerous grocery stores. We found clothing to be much cheaper and with more size and style selection. Some electronics were cheaper, but the offerings in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Costco matched the prices we pay and food was the same or more than what we pay on the Big Island. We are attached to the Big Island beef at KTA and their other local and organic offerings. The most similar store to KTA on Oahu was the Times Market, but Big Island beef was nowhere to be found except in expensive restaurants.
In spite of the inconvenience of maneuvering through Honolulu’s traffic and crowds, we are happy to see that their economy is in good shape, tourists abound, and businesses are holding their own. We did not see empty store fronts and deserted malls like we have on the Big Island. Hopefully, business will continue to improve in Oahu, the homeless will find jobs, and the frustrated residents in Honolulu will rediscover the laid back Hawaiian lifestyle.