We knew we were in for a memorable weekend when the driveway to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar (fairmont.com/san-diego) took its sweet time delivering us to the resort. A canopy of autumn colors rustled in a lazy and surprisingly warm San Diego breeze as we made our way into the canyon just a couple of miles inland from the 5, which might as well have been 500 miles from kids, laundry, work, obligations. The autumn colors eventually broke to reveal an expertly meandering golf course, which in turn gave way to the fountained entrance to our longtime-in-coming getaway with girlfriends.
Situated adjacent to the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego, the Grand Del Mar is a mere hour’s drive from most of Orange County, but, once there, you feel utterly removed to the warmth of a Mediterranean estate. That utter removal can be of just about any flavor – we were making it a girl’s weekend, with a focus on rejuvenation and simple togetherness, but golf aficionados, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, families and foodies will all find something exceptional at the Grand Del Mar.
It is remarkable to think that, with all the affluence and attraction of Southern California, with swank people desirous of swank accommodations, it is the Grand Del Mar, nestled rurally in North County San Diego and quite out of the way of Rodeo Drive, that consistently earns the highest ratings from all the swankest reviewers and publications. Travel+Leisure named the Grand Del Mar as “California’s #1 Resort” and one of the world’s best; TripAdvisor called it the United States’ best hotel; it has swept all categories – hotel, spa, dining – with five stars from Forbes.
The Grand Del Mar is not an historic hotel – it opened in 2007 – but for those who love the richness of historic luxury, it satisfies abundantly. Many varieties of wood, marble and tapestry abound in artisan expression that is opulent without gaudiness, a balance struck by the best historic hotels. Of course, if you are one of those history types, you’ll know that historic properties are typically high on charm and low on space. Not so here. The rooms are commodiously cozy (or cozily commodious, per your preference), where you can sprawl out and never feel cold. Our suite was on an upper level with a balcony overlooking the canyon and portions of the golf course, with palm fronds swaying in the breeze just feet from us as we sipped our morning coffee.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon is a nature preserve with historical significance as the first route from Yuma to San Diego, which is today a beautiful hiking, biking and horseback riding destination. Guests of the Grand Del Mar have access to all the canyon has to offer, with bikes available for pickup at the front desk, and horses at the on-site stables ready for trail riding. For those whose outdoor adventures entail a driver and a putter, the Grand Del Mar features the only Tom Fazio-designed golf course in San Diego, complimented by swing analysis technology services, a SAMPutt lab, specialized practice areas used by some of the world’s top professionals, and more. If you’re of the aquatic persuasion, the property features two pools, one ideal for families and one infinity (read tranquility) pool for adults only. Not far beyond pools are the resort’s private beach and oceanic excursions including sunset sails and whale watching. And this only scratches the surface.
For spa enthusiasts, the Grand Del Mar offers one of the most acclaimed in the country. Naturally it features a comprehensive menu of treatments, such as cleansing facials and therapeutic massages, as well as a custom line of organic products; but it also offers a world-class spa experience, with wet and dry saunas, indoor whirlpools, separate men’s and women’s relaxation lounges with fireplaces, access to the adults-only relaxation pool and all the hot tea, snacks and chocolates you could ask for.
The dining experience at the Grand Del Mar stands on its own and is itself the reason that many travel long distances to visit the resort. Six on-property dining venues offer something for every taste, mood and interest, often to the sound of live music. Addison, led by celebrated executive chef William Bradley, is the Grand Del Mar’s signature dining feature. Local ingredients are combined with contemporary French influences and presented with exceptional service to make Addison Southern California’s most awarded fine dining restaurant.
Amaya is a more casual option fusing Spanish, Italian and French fare with expansive, sunny views of the canyon and golf course. We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast of various benedicts and the “Black & Blue” Brioche French Toast with granola, lemon crème fraîche and berries, and an immunity smoothie for good measure (the effects were immediate). But excellence does not stop at Addison or Amaya. From its restaurants to its in-room dining, from its robust wine program to its seasonal menus and Afternoon Tea, the Grand Del Mar has something for every epicurean.
With all that the Grand Del Mar has to offer in activities, amenities, services and dining, the delight of being there is ultimately of the atmosphere, and that comes down to two things: beauty and people.
The staff members at the Grand Del Mar have a special quality. While hospitality professionals are typically welcoming, of course, the folks at the Grand Del Mar are authentically welcoming. So much so that either the resort has found hundreds of matchless thespians to do everything from valet the car to turn down the sheets, or the Grand Del Mar’s people truly enjoy being there. I want to believe that it is the latter.
As to beauty, the Grand Del Mar is simply an exquisitely designed place with lovely spaces; from the driveway to the marbled entrance to the furnishings and the vistas, you cannot escape a floor-to-ceiling sense of beauty of the most approachable kind. And so at every turn you are inspired to tranquility and delight. In the end, that is how we spent our 24-hour break from our everydays – enjoying each other, and simply basking in what the Grand Del Mar is. Long, slowly winding driveways always lead to something good.
It is rare to find someone who can say that they appreciate adverse events in their life. More rare perhaps to find someone who will admit that such a calamity led them to a job that they love with a company that treats them with mutual respect and admiration.
Nancy Stewart, a long time South County resident and mother of two filed a claim for a water leak with her insurance company and was repeatedly denied. While the problem stagnated, Nancy looked for help. How to go about maneuvering the claims process? How to protect her property and equity?
Fortunately she found the professionals at Roby & Associates Public Insurance Adjusters who worked on her behalf to negotiate the claim.
Roby & Associates specializes in helping clients negotiate their claim or claims for damage under any insurance policy covering real or personal property due to fire, water, wind, vandalism, theft – any first party claims.
“Wayne Roby and his contractor, Jack Paulus, assured me that I had a legitimate claim for damages. They immediately went to work, and we carefully and diligently managed my claim to the very end.”
Typically, homeowners hire out contractors to take care of things they can’t themselves: kitchen remodels, home automation. The work is planned and executed - such was with Roby & Associates.
“Wayne built my claim to maximize the monetary features and benefits of my policy coverage based on my actual damage,” she says. “He taught me what customers need, and how to most effectively manage an insurance claim.”
By the time he was able to help her resolve her claim, Wayne had recognized a kindred spirit in Nancy – someone who believed in the process and possessed a desire to help others who found themselves in a similar situation. So he offered to help Nancy obtain her Public Insurance Adjusters License. She is now proud to represent Roby & Associates as their Consumer Advocate.
Seeing both sides of the business helps, and Wayne has worked for insurance companies as well as in adjustment for the last thirty years. “We help consumers maximize all of their policy coverage’s,” he says. Beyond that though, Nancy states: “You’re surrounded by a team of quality people who truly care, who are willing to deliver an unparalleled level of service to the consumer.”
Without a keen construction eye, most consumers are left in the dark when it comes to household claims – a situation that can easily can end up escalating into a repair cost nightmare.
Having an advocate to fight for you can be the most direct route to protect, secure, and repair the damages done, without incurring more in the process. Wayne, Jack, and Nancy are all active in various organizations and charities around South Orange County - from the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce to raising support for cystic fibrosis. But for Wayne, and all those who work with him, “working with our clients to get them back to a pre-loss condition is the reward in itself.”
For a complimentary consultation to determine how a Public Insurance Adjuster can help you navigate your insurance claim, call Nancy at (949) 842-5821 or Wayne (310) 251-8091.
Call me old fashioned, but I believe that physical photos are a medium worth preserving. When I recently sat down to put together my daughter’s baby book, I thought of how printed images might at times seem like a thing of the past. But then I can’t imagine showing off my family photos by scrolling through all the images I posted to Facebook once upon a time.
Diana Schmitt of the San Juan Capistrano-based Accents Portraits by Diana understands the desire for individuals and families to preserve their most precious memories in more than merely a digital format. She has spent the better part of 30 years specializing in family portraits, wedding photos and capturing the most priceless of moments in all types of life celebrations.
With nearly 30 years of experience, Diana’s focus is families, and she always aims to deliver “extraordinary customer service.”
“Diana is amazing,” says Heidi Hitt. “She has taken so many special pictures over the years for me and my family. They all turn out so beautifully. I am so blessed to have someone I can trust to help me capture special moments in time. Everybody loves when we send out our Christmas cards; they can’t believe how beautiful the pictures are. Thank you Diana for all the beautiful memories.”
Accent Portraits by Diana and San Juan Photo and Digital is located at 32281 Camino Capistrano, Suite C-104 in SJC. They can be reached at (949) 661-6465 or online at www.accentportraitsbydiana.com
It’s no wonder Carolyn Franks is always smiling ... as the owner and operator of ZOOMARS Petting Zoo, her days are defined by pony rides, hundreds of fluffy bunny rabbits and guinea pigs, creatures big and small and unforgettable children’s excursions punctuated by squeals of delight.
Located in the heart of San Juan Capistrano’s charming historic district, ZOOMARS Petting Zoo opened in the early 1980s as a “backyard barnyard” called the Jones Family Mini Farm. Its buildings date back to the 1800s and the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 12 years since she originally envisioned the innocent, affordable family entertainment opportunities that would come to define this local landmark, Carolyn has continually grown its offerings - both in both in animal attractions and unique activities.
Today, ZOOMARS is home to many different kinds of animals, including goats, sheep, llamas, ponies, horses, alpaca and hundreds of bunnies and guinea pigs to feed, cuddle and love. Although activities currently include pony rides, train rides and gemstone mining, Carolyn has recently introduced new musical merchandise (a CD of children’s songs created especially for ZOOMARS by a local singer/songwriting parent of kiddos who have long enjoyed the zoo) and has other equally fun ideas in the works (think jewelry design using the semi-precious stones your little ones have “mined”).
Carolyn has been harboring a not-so-secret wish to bring a special guinea pig “mascot” to life on the pages of a children’s book. While she had a very “specific idea” of Gillie the Guinea Pig’s “story” and what he would look like, the artists and illustrators she enlisted over the years weren’t quite able to truly capture the character’s personality and “sparkle.” That is, until she met Michele Dodds , a local artist - and fan of ZOOMARS - who created a “spot on” rendition of Carolyn’s vision.
From the minute you arrive at the ticket counter, you are greeted with smiles and happiness that is found throughout the zoo. If you need a quick lesson to hold a guinea pig, an extra pair of hands to set up a party, or a fun-loving miner to help your little guy strike gold, there is sure to be a caring zookeeper at every turn.
“The things I hear every day from people who have been coming to this petting zoo for years are just inspiring beyond words,” says Carolyn. “Especially when I hear things like, ‘I used to take my kids here and now I take my grandkids here.’ Wow, that’s so amazing to me. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed or had a challenging day, I just GOOGLE ZOOMARS and watch the stream of endless pictures, blogs and videos from moms and dads who have posted their child’s first pony ride or a story about the wonderful time everyone had at their 4-year- old’s birthday party. Then I sit back in my swivel chair and say, Yep, this what I do. How blessed am I that I can create these milestone memories for people? That feeling makes it all worth it.”
Connect with Carolyn by visiting ZOOMARS at 31791 Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano, by calling (949) 831-6550 or visit www.zoomars.com
When we moved into our home three years ago, the property came with a very pretty pond stocked with colorful koi and goldfish.
But for someone who can barely keep a potted plant alive, the prospect of being responsible for the livelihood and longevity of these beautiful fish was daunting – I don’t have a clue about the right ratio of additives in the water or the importance of algae or how to combat fish disease.
A koi pond is clearly much more than a backyard water garden feature. It is a living, breathing eco-system which requires the expertise of a pond professional.
Thankfully, we also inherited the services of Glenn Cecil, owner of the South County-based Water in the Garden. He had maintained this particular pond for the previous homeowner for several years and it was clear from our first meeting that he was committed to quality care and customer service.
Serving Orange County since 1999, Glenn specializes in “total koi pond and water garden maintenance,” repair, construction, pond and filtration design and consultation.
Glenn specializes in “total koi pond and water garden maintenance,” repair, construction, pond and filtration design and consultation.
Aside from feeding the fish, Glenn literally takes care of everything during his weekly visits, including removing excess debris and dead plant matter, inspecting the pond equipment for proper function and making adjustments as needed and inspecting the fish for signs of distress or disease. He also tests the water quality, back-flushes the filters and adds bacteria or other agents as needed and offers 24-hour emergency service. In short, he keeps our pond looking beautiful and our fish healthy and happy.
To connect with Glenn directly, call (949) 872-3833 or visit www.waterinthegarden.net
Many local businesses boast great customer testimonials of recent transactions, but few can credit true “relationships” with clients dating back 60+ years.
Kevin and MaryGail Hentzen, owners of the Laguna Niguel-based Tuttle’s Carpet One Floor and Home, have had clients bring in their old invoices from carpet installations in the 1960s.
Today, Kevin and his wife Mary Gail bring more than 30 years of expertise to every job. Design consultant Nancy specializes in window coverings and with years of experience in their own right, staff design consultants Delis and Frank round out the Tuttle’s Carpet One team.
“Much of our business is from customers that I’ve known for years. It is more of a relationship with the client,” says Kevin. “People enjoy the personal experience that you won’t find in a big box store. It is very rewarding to beautify people’s homes. It’s a great feeling when the client calls to say how much they love their new floor.”
Tuttle’s Carpet One specializes in all types of carpet, hardwood flooring, tile, stone, area rugs, vinyl and window coverings. They carry top brands such as Karastan, Masland, Lees, Armstrong, and Hunter Douglas and offer the largest wool carpet selection in Orange County.
Because expert installation is so important, Kevin and Mary Gail only work with highly trained professionals who can install complex jobs and handle high-quality materials.
The company’s growth in more recent history can be traced to Kevin’s decision to move the operation to a more visible location Laguna Niguel in 1994. In addition to enjoying increased foot traffic, Kevin joined Carpet One two years later, which lent itself to capturing even more market share – for a variety of reasons.
Carpet One is a co-operative that has over 1,000 stores worldwide. Although all are independently owned and operated, because they are a co-op, Carpet One can negotiate the best prices and warranties as a large group. For example, Carpet One offers “the Beautiful Guaranty” which allows the customer up to 120 days from installation to have the carpet replaced for ANY reason (even if they decide they don’t like the color). The carpet and the labor are covered. No questions asked.
Another offer that only Carpet One offers is the “Healthy Living Installation.” This is a process that cleans the sub-floor with a HEPI-VAC and the installers then spray the subfloor with Healthinex anti bacterial spray. Then they use a special carpet cushion that minimizes symptoms from mold, mildew, allergens and pollens.
The bottom line is that Tuttle’s Carpet One Floor and Home offers the great advantage of the buying power as a group while still retaining the independence and specialty of a small store.
Connect with Kevin and Mary Gail by visiting the Tuttle’s Carpet One Floor and Home showroom at 27751 La Paz Rd. in Laguna Niguel or by calling (949) 831-1332.
I have to admit, I had often pointed to the staggering volume of laundry our family of four seems to generate each week as an excuse for why my poor husband’s shirts were rarely without wrinkles. But truth be told, even before the arrival of our children, doing a good job of pressing his shirts (or my own for that matter) was a skill that simply eluded me. Ironing involved little more than a quick pass to make the clothes a bit more presentable.
But that was before I discovered the ease and convenience of having our better attire (and anything we’d prefer to wear without creases that weren’t meant to be there) professionally laundered. And for someone who doesn’t own a sewing machine but often buys pants or skirts that need to be hemmed or dresses that could be taken in (or let out), having easy (and affordable) access to alterations is invaluable.
For these reasons and more, it’s great to have a “go to” local professional like Polo Cleaners. Located in the Marbella Plaza in San Juan Capistrano, Polo Cleaners has been around since 1992 so they obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to handling their clients’ everyday drycleaning, laundry, household and alterations needs with an emphasis on couture items and specialty items that require special care.
All dry cleaning and laundry services are not the same. A fact not lost on San Juan Capistrano residents, who have bestowed upon Polo Cleaners its annual Golden Horseshoe Award for “Best Dry Cleaner” for the past seven consecutive years.
“We inspect each garment, clean them with the best care and solution possible, re-inspect them and mend any minor repairs and buttons for free and finally package them with tissue, by gender and type of article to make it easy on the customer when they get home,” says Owner Riaz Chauthani.
Connect with Riaz and the Polo Cleaners team by stopping by 31105 Rancho Viejo Road in San Juan Capistrano (in the Marbella Plaza), call (949) 496-7354 or visit www.polocleaners.com
Anyone who has shopped for an engagement ring will tell you that it’s a little nerve-wracking to put your romantic fate in the hands of any old department store or the shop at the mall. The same holds true for finding the perfect piece to mark life’s most memorable of milestones – wedding anniversaries, graduation, birthdays (and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner).
For the most precious purchases of rare stones and metals, it’s best to be able to trust family – in this case, the family of Monaco Jewelers in San Juan Capistrano, widely regarded as one of South County’s leading independent jewelry dealers.
For our part, my husband and I also much prefer to patronize local, family owned and operated businesses rather than spending our money at the homogeneous chain department stores. This holds true for purchases big and small – everything ranging from clothing for our family to home appliances. So when we are in the market for a little bit of bling, we like to go where it feels more like we’re visiting friends than entering a high-pressure sales environment.
At Monaco Jewelers, there is the added bonus of having “friends” here who happen to have nearly four decades of experience in the Orange County jewelry industry. Owners Jason and Meray Gulvartian and the Monaco Jewelers “family,” (which includes Aram “Ron” Pashaian and son Jason Gulvartian, Jr.) offers new and antique jewelry for every budget from custom bridal sets and GIA/EGL-certified diamonds to necklaces, bracelets and earrings, as well as pre-owned and new fine watches from Cartier, Rolex, Breitling and more. For those pieces that are most important to you, Monaco also offers expert on-site repair services.
Thirty-six years in this business and having serviced over 30,000 satisfied customers certainly speaks to Gulvartians’ success in the industry.
Since expanding from his original location in Lake Forest into the South OC market with his current 2,400-square-foot showroom in San Juan Capistrano (located in the bustling center that is also home to Costco), Gulvartian has built his business by maintaining high standards for quality and customer service.
“Our goal is to ensure that our customers are happy with their overall experience,” says Gulvartian. “We have a large inventory for excellent selection, and if you can’t find what you are looking for, we will make it for you, exactly the way you picture the piece in your mind. We strive for maximum satisfaction for each individual – if our customer is not happy, we are not happy.”
Cash for gold
Gold values have reached record highs in recent years. We’ve all seen those ads on television calling for us to send in our old, broken or unused gold and platinum for a cash return. Monaco Jewelers has been offering their “Cash for Gold” service for years, except that they have strict standards in place to be sure that the jewelry they handle is being ethically bought, sold or recycled. It’s become increasingly clear that many of these TV companies offer people over 70% less than the value of their gold. In an era of big-box retail, warehouse shopping and distant online vendors, the mail-in cash-for-gold rip-off is a sparkling example of how getting away from our local business roots really comes back to bite us on the ring finger.
Monaco also offer help to people in need for quick cash by lending money on jewelry for a temporary period of time, with no questions asked about credit or the hassle of a lengthy loan application.
“Sometimes it’s hard to communicate to prospective customers the value of working with people you can trust, especially when it comes to decisions about precious gems and metals,” says Ron. “When you work with Monaco, you can rest easy knowing that we are going to be around and we’re going to stand by our work.”
Monaco Jewelers is bonded and licensed to sell, buy and pawn jewelry and is an A+ member of the Better Business Bureau.
Connect with Jason and the Monaco Jewelers’ family by stopping by 33955 Doheny Park Road in San Juan Capistrano, calling (949) 489-3510 or visit www.monacojewelers.com
They say those who can’t do, teach. But they also say that while we teach, we learn. In fact, Seneca said that. The Roman philosopher Seneca. (Not Seneca Crane from the recent Hunger Games films.)
So which is true? Stephanie Frisch hails from a family of teachers. And she would have to agree with Seneca. “I’m always learning. I want to know everything there is to know.” In the world of insurance, the demand is high for those who are dedicated to teaching the consumer, rather than taking them simply as a commission.
What do you really know about your insurance policies? Has anyone ever sat down and explained insurance to you in a way you really understood? Medicare. Prescription drug coverage. Covered California individual family plans. The chances are about as slim as Katniss escaping the Hunger Games alive. As the owner of Insurance 101, Stephanie is taking an industry norm and turning it on its head.
“I come from an all-teacher family. I learned a long time ago how to properly and thoroughly inform my clients. And I believe that a personalized, caring approach is what it takes to garner trust with folks who at a base level, have no idea what the terms are, or what the provisions of the plans mean.” Specializing in senior needs - such as Medicare plans and prescription drug plans for South County residents, Stephanie is faced with unique situations daily. “As the demand grows for this type of ser- vice, I find that my successes lie in earning the trust of my clients. The actual business is just one factor. Caring for the whole person is the key.”
Her old-school approach is unrivaled. Rarely does a broker find the time to spend one-on one with a client, let alone achieving any sort of true human interaction in the world of text messaging, multi-password online applications, and automated 800-number customer service recordings.
“I keep contact information and notes from past conversa- tions with all of my clients. When someone calls me, I see their name pop up on my phone and I greet them personally. I love helping people, and bringing a personal touch to the impersonal world of insurance is key. You can’t rush when you do what I do.” Having the knowledge and savvy to navigate the insurance world is one thing. Having the patience to wade through the headlines and get to the heart of the issues speaks to a deep desire to do right by her clients. “It’s my responsibility,” she notes.
Sifting through the sludge of government issues, printed articles, and healthcare propaganda is enough to drive any American toward feeling as if the premium they are really paying is in lifeblood, not dollars.
“What I provide is ‘value added’ to what customers pay in their insurance premium,” says Stephanie. “I don’t per- sonally charge for my consulting service. I’ve been told that my method of explaining insurance makes it easier to understand than any other way my clients have been told before. And I’m really trying to
help them, not sell them. I want to know everything about the products I offer to people and what is going on out there. 65 looks and acts a lot younger than it used to. They want the information that will help them be proactive about their lifestyle, and I help them find that.”
Be it working, traveling, parenting, surfing, running marathons, practicing yoga, or training for the next Hunger Games - you should be informed. If you’d like to understand your options and benefits better, Stephanie’s the one to call.
If you’re interested in learning more about what Stephanie can do for you, contact her at (949) 351-2443. If you need help with the next stage in your life or have any questions about insurance, you can count on her to point you in the right direction.
Each year in Hawaii as the winter temperatures drop to a lovely 81 degrees, the groundswell charges the shores of Oahu with monstrous waves, sometimes reaching 60 feet tall. For many, the spectacle is overwhelming - the only chance most of us have to see the terrifying immensity of nature up close. For others, it brings the chance to enter into the annals of history by riding down the face of one of those monsters on a three inch thick piece of fiberglassed extruded polystyrene (for those of you who don’t surf, glassed EPS equals one intense wave-riding surfboard).
Some picture Oahu, and think only of Waikiki Beach and Waimea Bay. Some imagine the bustling metropolis of the Honolulu - all traffic and big business; island style, of course. A quick TripAdvisor search produces pages of information on museums, snorkeling excursions, beaches to stroll: helicopter and hot air balloon tours, aquariums, nightclubs and for the courageous, even a submarine adventure. Undeniably, any way you look at it, the waves and sunshine combine into one big beautiful postcard, airmailed straight from the tropics. But 45 minutes away from Waikiki, through the heart of the island via Interstate 2, past the Dole Plantation and Aloha Stadium, lies an entirely different picture postcard. The black and white kind - with a December 1941 stamp.
Beneath the Waves: Uncovering History on the Shore of Oahu
Since 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I thought we’d begin our family’s exploration of Oahu with quiet reflection and a reminder of where World War II began in America. Part of the Pacific National Monument, spanning 9 distinct sites in California, Hawaii, and Alaska, the USS Arizona, USS Bowfin, USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum draw over 1.8 million guests to their doors each year. Operated by the National Park Service, the Monument has grown steadily - now covering a total of 17 acres. From start to finish, guests can immerse themselves in relics of American history: from the people and politics that brought the war to American shores, to the mighty battleship Missouri, where the Japanese finally surrendered.
The most popular visitor destination in Oahu, the USS Arizona memorial sees millions of guests from all over the world. Built atop the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, the memorial looks over the final resting place for a great many of the 1,177 crewmen killed when their ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces. Daily tours include a 23 minute film, and an unforgettable boat ride to the memorial itself.
Launched one year to the day after the events of December 7, 1941, the submarine USS Bowfin, dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger,” completed nine successful patrols before peacefully arriving home at its berth in Pearl Harbor. Like her namesake, the Bowfin was a scrapper with a voracious appetite. Sinking 44 enemy ships during the course of the war, the Submarine Museum boasts a 10,000 square foot interior featuring over 4,000 submarine-related artifacts. Not to be overlooked, the Pacific Aviation Museum offers a stroll through two hangars among authentic World War II-era planes, including a Japanese Zero, a Stearman N2S-3, and a flight simulator which leads visitors through an exhilarating dogfight in the skies over Guadalcanal.
If you haven’t purchased your tickets ahead of time, don’t worry: over 1,300 free walk-up tickets are available for the tours on a first come, first served basis. The National Park Services advises guests to set aside plenty of time - allowing you to immerse yourself in the visitor experience, and feel your way back to one of the most influential moments in American history. For more info, visit www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org.
Polished elegance and a primo location: Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort
Location, location, location. The Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort (www.outriggerreef-onthebeach.com) proved to be the perfect place for our family to call home base. Located right on the beach in the heart of Waikiki, every destination on our traveler’s checklist - with the exception of the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was definitely worth the drive - was within easy driving distance (including Diamond Head, Sea Life Park and the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites).
At the entrance of this full-service resort, the spirit of the sea is embodied in a gleaming koa canoe and masterworks of Polynesian voyaging art create a theme that carries through the entire property and immediately encourages visitors to reset to “island time.”
Our spacious guest room was wonderfully appointed and showcased a private balcony with breathtaking views of the panoramic Pacific Ocean and iconic Diamond Head Crater. The hotel offers an unrivaled array of indoor and outdoor amenity - from the sparkling pool and daily Hawaiian cultural activities, in-lobby shops and a trio of dining destinations. But arguably the property’s best feature is the fact that guests can walk out of the elevator and onto the sand. Hotel guests can rent chaise lounges and umbrellas, boogie boards and other water toys or just spread out a towel under a tall palm and while away the afternoon watching the kids frolic in the surf. Looking for a more active vacay? Go canoe surfing with certified instructors, arrange a sunset catamaran or Oahu circle island excursion at the Outrigger Activities Center. Prefer a more relaxing stay? Rejuvenate with a soothing lava-rock massage at the resort’s LaaKea Spa Hawaii.
For an additional fee, guests can upgrade to a Voyager 47 Club room or suite which allows access to a private lounge and large outdoor deck with locally inspired breakfast bites, early evening light pupu (appetizers), cocktails and Kona Brewing Company’s craft beers. There are weekly featured artisan tastings and signature cocktails from local liquor purveyors.
Judging by the crowds that fill the tables in the early evening, it’s easy to see why the resort’s Kani Ka Pila Grille is renowned as a popular gathering place for casual fare inspired by the flavors of the islands, including ahi poké, fresh fish, steaks, sandwiches and salads, craft cocktails and entertainment. Recognized as Honolulu’s top restaurant venue for Hawaiian music, Kani Ka Pila (which means “to make music”) Grille showcases beloved local musicians who perform contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music, including Oahu’s legendary slack-key guitar.
Off property, we stumbled upon what might be one of Honolulu’s best-kept “local” secrets - Nico’s Pier 38 restaurant and fish market (www.nicospier38.com) located off the beaten (tourist traveled) path. Started by a pair of local fisherman and a young French born/chef owner Nico Chaize, the popular eatery started out as a pioneering, tiny plate lunch place serving auction fresh fish and local island favorites. Today, the family-friendly restaurant has grown to more than four times its original size and serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner and live entertainment indoors or outside on a gorgeous covered lanai. Nico’s specializes in fresh line-caught fish caught by Hawaii’s local fleet, handpicked daily by Nico and their expert fish buyers. The resulting menu showcases an array of delicious dishes designed to please even the most discriminating seafood aficionado, including Poisson Cru (Tahitian style fresh raw fish, cherry tomatoes and cucumber tossed in coconut milk and lime), the signature fried Ahi belly bites served with lomi tomato and sriracha aioli. The Furikake Pan Seared Ahi was prepared to flavorful cooked-to-order perfection coated with Japanese seaweed and sesame seeds.
Polynesian Cultural Center
Why come all the way to Polynesia and then never truly experience it? Explore the rich heritage of the Pacific Islands by wandering through authentic villages from six Pacific cultures (Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii) as natives demonstrate their arts, music, history and games. With regard to the latter, guests can learn how to toss a spear to hit a coconut perched atop a tall pole 20 feet away or hop aboard a native-style outrigger canoe like the Islanders used centuries ago and paddle around a tropical lagoon that meanders through 42 acres of lush tropical vegetation. See, feel and smell the wonders of Hawaii in a stunning, big-screen immersive cinematic experience and at the end of the day … enjoy an award-winning royal feast fit for a king at the Ali’i Luau - renowned as the island’s “most popular” and “most authentic” way to celebrate special occasions with ohana (family) and friends.
Held in a covered outdoor venue against a backdrop of waterfalls and lush gardens, the Ali’i Luau features a Royal Court procession, presentation of the imbue (pork baked in an underground oven), delicious traditional food (steamed tropical fish, shoyu glazed chicken, teriyaki marinated strip loin, lomilomi salmon and poké) and lively Hawaiian entertainment.
The showstopper here is Ha: Breath of Life - a spectacular evening show (think Broadway. Then add flaming knives). The touching storyline follows the symbolic Pacific Isle saga (of birth and death, love and family, triumph and tragedy) of Mana and his beloved Lani. Punctuated by Polynesian dance, music and blazing fire knives, Ha: Breath of Life features a cast of over 100 Polynesian natives, stunning special effects, animation and surround sound. Pardon the pun, but this show will literally take your breath away!
Stairway to Heaven
If you’re looking for a memorable way to work in a bit of exercise on your trip, try hiking the Diamond Head Crater. I have to say, there’s something rather empowering about walking up the inside slop of an extinct volcano. More than 3,500 feet in diameter with a 760-foot summit, Diamond Head is a lasting remnant of a volcanic explosion that occurred about a half a million years ago. Ancient Hawaiians called it Laeahi, which translates to “brow of the tuna.” The name “Diamond Head” has more recent roots in the 1800s, when British sailors mistakenly believed that the glistening calcite crystals embedded in the lava rock were diamonds lodged in the lodged in the crater’s soil.
It takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit, and half that time for the trip back down. The trail is a switchback with the mountain on one side and a railing on the other. After a lookout point that doubles as a rest stop, the trail takes a steep upward ascent through a series of stairs and tunnels carved into the mountain. The last set of stairs is a 99-step climb that my husband and kids clamored up with little effort while I took the slow and steady - and decidedly less “in shape” approach - that eventually ends at a World War II bunker. From there, you step out to one of the best panoramic views of the island. We lucked out with the weather during our four-day trip to the islands which meant that once we summited the crater, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Oahu’s entire leeward side (the side to which the wind is blowing). Entry into the state park is $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian.
Sea Life Park
Situated just 15 minutes from Waikiki along a scenic stretch of coast called Makapuu Point, Sea Life Park (www.sealifeparkhawaii.com) is a family-friendly marine-attraction that focuses on educational and interactive programs. Small enough to enjoy on foot, but diverse enough to spend the better part of a day, the park is home to dolphins, seals, stingrays and (small) sharks and features a 300,000 gallon reef aquarium, a breeding sanctuary for the state’s endangered sea turtles, habitats for Hawaiian monk seals and penguins, touch pools, an aviary and seabird sanctuary. The kids loved exploring the various exhibits, but the real highlight of our visit here was the unforgettable interactive Dolphin Encounter, where they could get up close and personal with these magnificent sea creatures (there are also Seal, Stingray and Shark Encounters). Our 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter thrilled at the opportunity to stand in waist-deep water while the dolphins performed high energy behaviors, play, kiss and even “dance” with guests.