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In June I made my long-awaited return visit to Hawaii, this time on assignment for traveldk.com. I only had 10 days to canvass the island of Oahu, so while I tried to “when-in-Rome” it and relax on the beach now and then, I spent most of my time running around the island doing research: eating, drinking, shopping, discovering, etc.

To give an idea of the pace at which we ran around the island, G and I ended up driving about 500 miles … quite a feat considering Oahu's roughly half the size of Rhode Island!

The North Shore

We started off on the North Shore with the Turtle Bay Resort as our home base. Highlights included a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a couple of Kamehameha Highway’s famed shrimp trucks, and a tour of the Kualoa Ranch (the filming location for much of “Lost” and several other movies), where we dined on burgers made from the same grass-fed cows grazing along our route. All this rich culture and beauty could not keep us away from watching the Bruins win the Stanley Cup (at around 5pm local time), and while fans celebrated through the night in the streets of Boston, we were able to enjoy a sunset toast to the team on the beach.

Waikiki

After leaving this laid-back, development-averse part of the island, we headed south for a killer weekend at the new EDITION Hotel on Waikiki Beach. The hotel, which instantly became the island's coolest destination when it opened in late 2010, features a Miami-ready pool scene, a “sunset beach” made with sand imported from the neighboring islands, and a tiny but uber-trendy nightclub.

The real showstopper, however, WAS the hotel's signature restaurant - Morimoto. Here we enjoyed a 12-course kaiseki and a friendly chat with the Iron Chef himself. He's a frequent visitor to his Waikiki restaurant (his only one in the state), and given the breezy lanai and swank bar scene, it's hard to blame him. The relaxed atmosphere does not distract from the quality of his work, and we enjoyed an amazingly intricate meal complemented by innovative cocktails and well-crafted sakes.

It wasn't all gold-leaf desserts and celeb chefs though, as we also hit Honolulu's (relatively) seedy Chinatown to snack on old-school island favorites like saimin and pu-pus. Chinatown has become a more lively nightlife area since our last visit, but we were happy to see that many of the traditional shops featuring handmade fresh leis and muumuus remain.

Ko Olina

After a brief stop in the nearest town to pick up a few local treats like spam musubi and fresh pineapple, our grand tour continued to the island's west coast, where we enjoyed the Ko Olina Beach Villas' secluded beaches, stunning sunsets, and - at the Ihilani’s Ushio Tei - the largest yellowtail collar I've ever dined on.

While much of Oahu has become over-developed (with traffic becoming a huge issue), the windward (west) coast remains relatively quiet. That quiet was interrupted by the buzz surrounding the opening opening of Disney's new Aulani Resort. We enjoyed a sneak preview tour of the property (no Mickey ears on the hard hat!) and came away impressed with the property's commitment to native Hawaiian culture. As a bonus, we stumbled upon the filming of a national TV commercial and a photo shoot featuring Mickey & Minnie hand-in-hand on the beach.

Back to Waikiki

We finished up our stay back in the more traditionally tourist-heavy part of Waikiki. Past the clutter of Bubba Gump, Hooter’s, and faux luaus, we enjoyed dry-aged steaks at Wolfgang's, impressive cocktails and smooth jazz at Lewer's Lounge, traditional island favorites (kalua pig, lomi salmon) at Young's Fish Market, and a return visit to our beloved Puka Dog.

While Oahu kept us busy for more than a week, we lamented not being able to make it back to Maui, Kauai, or any of the other islands. But any trip to Hawaii is a good one, and if you're one of the many Americans who, for whatever reason, have never been, I'd suggest you keep your eyes open for airfare deals ($600rt from Boston is not unheard of) and get out there. Sure, it's a long journey, but for a raft of foreign tastes and experiences without leaving the country, it's worth it!

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