When New York Yankees Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra famously said of a popular restaurant, “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded,” he could have been speaking for Hawaii residents as well. Residents have found in recent decades that the ever-growing hordes of visitors — who are essential to the state’s economic survival — have made many island landmarks too crowded to enjoy.
Then came COVID-19.
With visitor numbers reportedly down by 99% from this time last year, places that have been the domain of visitors in recent years now have room for local folks.
Hanauma Bay remains closed for the foreseeable future, but other Oahu landmarks are open and available to be enjoyed by local folks willing to comply with responsible social-distancing protocols.
Here are five places to consider:
Hawaii residents have complained for years that they don’t feel wanted in Waikiki. Maybe it’s the prices, which reflect at least in part the cost of doing business there. Maybe it’s the steady elimination of on-street parking, and the higher prices the city now charges to park in public lots. Or maybe it’s just the crowds of “tourists covered with oil,” as Jimmy Buffett once said, taking up all the beach space. Well, not these days.
For Oahu residents who want to enjoy Waikiki’s public beaches and off-shore water sports there’s no better time than now. The beaches are as empty and as open for residents as they’re likely to get.
King Kalakaua built Iolani Palace in the early-1880s to show the world that Hawaii was a modern nation; the palace had electric lighting years before the White House went electric. When the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom came in 1893, some furnishings were auctioned off, others were straight-out looted, and the palace was in sad shape by the time the new state Capitol was completed on the mauka side of Hotel Street in 1969. The Friends of Iolani Palace have worked diligently to restore the palace ever since. The COVID-19 shutdown has left the organization in desperate need of funds.
The palace is open for self-guided audio tours from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays only, with special prices for Hawaii residents and active-duty military personnel. Visit iolanipalace.org.
Laniakea (promoted in tourist-oriented websites online as “Turtle Beach”) on Oahu’s North Shore is famous for its beautiful beach, for surfing, and for the opportunity to watch sea turtles from a respectful distance. It is infamous in equal measure for its lack of adequate parking, and for the people who recklessly cross Farrington Highway without regard for oncoming traffic. What a difference a lockdown makes. Two recent visits — one on a Saturday afternoon; one on a Sunday morning — found the beach almost empty. There were a couple of people fishing, and no surfers or practitioners of other water sports. Parking spaces were available right across the highway.
Matsumoto Shave Ice, Haleiwa
There are dozens of places on Oahu that sell shave ice, and then there’s Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa. The unobtrusive shave ice stand and its adjoining general store have become a popular stop for people passing through Haleiwa — both for its shave ice menu with island add-ons like ice cream and azuki beans, and for its extensive line of branded T-shirts, tank tops, caps and other gear.
A visit on Monday found Matsumoto open for business. Small groups of people were observing social-distancing protocols while enjoying shave ice outside. Masks are required to enter the store, but there was no line outside and no delay in entering. Plenty of parking was available in the lot that’s hidden behind the building, and almost no traffic at all going through Haleiwa. Open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit matsumotoshaveice.com.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, brought the United States officially into World War II, almost a year after the start of its undeclared war against Germany, and “Remember Pearl Harbor” was America’s battle cry for the duration. 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 formal surrender ceremony that ended the war in 1945. Add the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park honoring the service of American submariners during the war, and Pearl Harbor is a “must see” for more than one million visitors each year.
Time out! The USS Arizona Memorial is still closed, but the Pearl Harbor National Memorial’s two large museums and the additional exhibits are open. There’s still that great view of the harbor from shore, and there is much less competition for parking. For details, go to nps.gov/valr/index.htm.