I never realize how desperately I miss the rain until it rains. I grew up in Louisiana, land of bayous and swamps and torrential downpours, but after two decades in Los Angeles, my body has grown accustomed to drought. My nose, ears and eyes have learned to forget the sky’s nourishment. Until, that is, a few drops fall and hit the soil, waking up that unmistakable scent that only rain merging with dirt can make. That scent — and the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof — sends me running to the window in childlike wonder.
You probably do the same. Seconds after a Southland drizzle, Twitter gets a deluge of #LARain tweets. My tweet is always among the Twitter pour.
Recently, while planning a trip to Honolulu, I saw that rain was in the forecast and smiled. A thought rushed at me: When in long droughts, consider chasing rain elsewhere.
In October, my mother-in-law granted my husband and me the gift of babysitting our son as we set off for our first couples-only trip in three years. On the plane to the island of Oahu, Marcus and I huddled together in our seats and took a selfie. We didn’t post it. We just looked at it and giggled like second graders.
Sometimes, you don’t realize how much you need to get away — just the two of you — until you’re rising 35,000 feet in air, all your daily cares melting into miniscule grains beneath you.
A red hammock at sunset
My publishers recently wrote about their visit to the lush island of Maui, but I knew we would not have that experience in Honolulu, a bustling city of 345,000 people. What drew me, instead, was the opportunity to stay right across from iconic Waikiki Beach. With just three days to enjoy our getaway, we decided to stay close to shore, soaking in every sunrise and sunset.
While the beach is only 20 minutes (on a good day) from our home in L.A., this convenience is easy to push to the back burner of our busy lives. Walking out of our Waikiki Beach hotel and then onto the sand and into the translucent aquamarine ocean in mere minutes was the morning refreshment I needed.
We stayed at the newly renovated Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, which boasts two towers and more than 1,300 guest rooms and suites (including the new “queen suites”) with balconies overlooking the ocean or the island’s inactive volcano, Diamond Head. Eateries onsite include Queensbreak Restaurant, Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar and d.k Steak House, Arancino di Mare Italian Restaurant and Starbucks. There’s also the Royal Kaila Spa, a surf school, two swimming pools (one for kids and families, one for adults), a 10-person whirlpool; a fitness center, business center, shops (including a ukulele shop and one selling the work of local artists) and Hawaiian cultural activities.
During check-in, hotel staff greeted us with a fresh leis. We slid them over our heads and rid ourselves of our baggage, then headed up to the resort’s newest rooftop restaurant, Queensbreak, which features Pacific Rim cuisine. While the heartier options were mouth-watering, I opted for the papaya salad. Marcus chose fish tacos topped with a citrusy cabbage slaw and salsa fresca, and we both relished the freshness in our meals. For “dessert,” we got a side of crinkle cut fries and could not stop talking about how superior they tasted to any fries we’d ever had. “That’s that Hawaiian soil,” Marcus said.
Bellies satiated, we floated out of the restaurant and checked out the rest of the amenity deck, which looks out over Queens, the most famous surf break on Waikiki. A Honolulu-based author I’ve only met through social media, Stephanie Han, author of “Swimming in Hong Kong,” surfs there regularly. It’s her dose of daily joy, she told me.
With each passing hour, I tried to follow our own threads of joy. While walking on the beach, I thought of our son as Marcus and I stopped to watch a large group of shirtless boys, their shoulders taut with anticipation, as they lined up along the edge of a pier. “Jump, jump!” one of them said, egging on his peers. Their bodies teetered and tottered as they contemplated their decision until — splash! A younger boy who sat a few spaces away from the crew — and didn’t seem to be phased by all their fanfare — let go of his safe spot on the edge. On the other side of the pier, a girl who looked to be about 10 did the same.
I cheered as my camera caught the back of the girl, her arms stretched in the air, her back deeply arched, her legs straight behind her as she flew. A bird over water.
As dinner reservations quickly approached, I was determined to stay on the beach to catch the glorious sunset. We checked the time of sunset, then found an empty bench facing the water. To our left, a woman slept in a ruby-red hammock stretched between two palm trees. “How can she sleep and miss this view?” I wondered, my eyes darting between the hammock and the butterscotch disk slipping past clouds and into the water. The sun show was soon over, which always leaves me a little wistful. But the woman in the hammock was still peaceful, her dreams no doubt sweet, her joy her own.
A rainbow surprise
After returning to Queensbreak for dinner (I highly recommend the “drunken clams”) and being serenaded by a singer, the next morning I got up early to take a walk through the neighborhood surrounding the resort. While a few tourists were out for their morning jog, it was nice to see locals, too, walking their dogs or catching up with neighbors.
For breakfast, I met Marcus at the resort’s Kuhio Beach Grill, where an island-sized buffet is served daily from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.
After eating, we explored some of the many shops lining Kalakaua Avenue, the lively main street of Honolulu. I bought a bikini in a color I never wear — a deep fuchsia (perhaps inspired by the island’s orchids), then slipped it on for our lunch at one of the resort’s poolside cabanas. While Marcus swam, I tried to read inside the cabana, but mostly found myself daydreaming as I watched the cabana’s curtains blowing in the wind. I let my usually wired-up mind unravel its knots.
The rain held off until that evening, just as we were about to board the Haleiwa Queen, a 50-foot power catamaran, for a sunset cruise. Marcus enjoyed a Dole Whip (pure pineapple-y joy) and I sipped nectar from a humongous coconut. We welcomed the feel of soft rain on our skin as the captain took us on an hour-and-a-half-long ride across the ocean, circling around to our resort and spectacular views of Diamond Head and the shore where, just the evening before, we had watched boats sail into the sunset.
Hawaiian music floated throughout the vessel, the twangy strings of ukuleles matching the waves of the ocean beneath us. The boat had a glass-bottom section, and we ambled over to get a closer look at fish and sea turtles. I turned and saw the lowering sun glinting the last of its light across the windows of hotel towers, then looked up even higher. “Guys!” I yelled. “Look — a rainbow!” There were no children on our boat, but we let our inner kids out, squealing a little and taking dozens of photos.
A hike-able volcano
On our last full day on Waikiki Beach, we were tempted to squeeze in as much as possible — without tiring ourselves out. Popular Honolulu options include a tour of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu Zoo (which is in walking distance of the resort), Waikiki Aquarium and Iolani Palace, home of Hawaii’s last reigning monarchs. For the more adventurous, there are water sports options, kayak and snorkel adventures, helicopter tours and shark encounters.
We settled on a visit to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, which first opened in 1979. With more than 400 vendors, crafters and artists, we were sure to get some delicious treats and gifts from local artisans.
But first: the volcano. I knew I wouldn’t be happy if I left the island without spending some time in nature, so early that morning I took a short Uber ride to Diamond Head while Marcus was content to sleep in before our shopping excursion.
My driver dropped me off at the mouth of the Kahala Tunnel, which I had to walk through to get inside the Diamond Head State Monument park area. He explained that the drop-off and pick-up area is designated by park officials, but if you have accessibility concerns, call the park ahead of time. Park facilities on the crater floor of Diamond Head are fully accessible to those with disabilities, but the hiking trail to the summit of Leahi is steep.
The 1.6-mile hike round trip takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. It consists of a narrow trail that rises to 560 feet above the crater floor. The trail to the summit was built in 1908 as part of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system. The military designed the narrow dirt trail for foot traffic and mules, who hauled materials for the construction of the fire control station at the summit. With relics still onsite, it’s easy to slip into imagining those early days. Visit the park’s website for the history of the military project and, of course, for the ancient history of the volcano itself.
I took my time exploring every nook and cranny I could (though venturing off designated trail areas is prohibited), including several different sets of steep stairs, feeling especially accomplished after reaching the top of the “99 Stairs” area, which leads into another semi-dark tunnel and out into the camouflage-painted fire control station. I climbed through slits that were once covered with metal shutters and saw remnants of old military equipment.
My favorite part of any hike is the sense of sweat-drenched exhaustion I feel when I get to the mountaintop. The summit at Diamond Head will steal the little bit of breath left in you, but I was happy to hand it over as I turned and turned, following the panoramic view of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu.
A little solo time on any shared vacation makes getting back together again even sweeter. After my driver dropped me back off at the hotel, I joined Marcus at Queensbreak to make our own leis under the skilled guidance of our instructor, who showed us how to pierce the thickest part of our orchids with our needles and pull the needles and thread through the center of the flower without breaking the delicate petals.
Our finished pieces might not have been as perfect as the ones we were gifted upon arrival, but they were works of art by our own hands. Joy created by our own hands.
Cassandra Lane is Editor-in-chief of L.A. Parent.