Dive deeper into Oahu's culture

LA Times | Travel

A little bit of culture, a taste of history and perhaps a dash of shopping turns an ordinary Oahu trip into something much different. Here are some choices that will provide a refreshing twist to your time: Sunday morning service at Kawaiahao Church. If you're lucky, as I was, it will be an Al...

By Beverly Beyette // 04.23.09

A little bit of culture, a taste of history and perhaps a dash of shopping turns an ordinary Oahu trip into something much different. Here are some choices that will provide a refreshing twist to your time:

Sunday morning service at Kawaiahao Church. If you're lucky, as I was, it will be an Alii Sunday, honoring royalty of old. I saw a colorful procession of Alii society members, resplendent in red and gold capes. The church, dating from 1842, has a New England simplicity and a mix of traditions. Scripture is read in Hawaiian and English. Muumuu-clad women and girls perform a hula before the altar. The music is lovely. I found myself holding hands with an elderly Chinese woman as we sang the Lord's Prayer. 9 a.m. 957 Punchbowl St., Honolulu; (808) 469-3000, www.kawaiahao.org.

Hawaii's Plantation Village. When sugar was king, an insatiable demand for cheap labor brought Chinese and, later, other immigrants to the plantations. This village is a splendid re-creation of a plantation camp, circa 1900, with fascinating glimpses into the hard lives of the various ethnic groups whose children and grandchildren diversified Hawaii. There's a Japanese bath, a tofu-making house and a company store. Guided tours only, on the hour, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Admission is $13, ages 12 and up, $5 for children ages 4 to 11. 94-695 Waipahu St., Waipahu; (808) 677-0110 www.hawaiiplantationvillage.org.

Heiaus and birthing stones. Lore has it that human sacrifices made at Puu o Mahuka Heiau (temple) near Waimea included a trio of hapless sailors from Capt. George Vancouver's ship in 1792. This 17th century heiau is bigger than a football field, with low walls of stacked lava rocks. The heiau is reached by a narrow, pothole-filled road off Pupukea Homestead Road. For the less adventurous, there's a smaller heiau, Ulupo, behind the YMCA on Kailua Road in Kailua. Just park at the Y and walk over. Both are state historic sites. Free. (808) 587-0300, www.hawaiistateparks.org.

Manoa Heritage Center. A triple treat: historic home, Hawaiian garden and Kukaoo, the only restored heiau in the Waikiki area. On a drizzly morning, I had a docent all to myself. He could have made crab grass sound fascinating. For example, did you know that in ancient Hawaii women weren't allowed to eat most bananas because they were thought to bestow power? Kuaali, the 1911 Tudor-style residence, can be admired only from the outside because it is occupied by descendants of its first owner, Charles Montague Cooke Jr., an American zoologist who specialized in the study of snails. Tours by reservation only, Tuesdays through Saturdays. $7. (808) 988-1287, www.manoaheritagecenter.org.

Pacific Aviation Museum, Pearl Harbor. Entering this museum -- which is in a huge former Seabee hangar -- visitors hear, "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. . . . " Aircraft exhibits include a Japanese Zero and a little orange Aeronca that was hit by Zeroes as the private pilot and his son were in the air Dec. 7. (They landed safely.) The Stearman N2S-3 is the one in which Naval Aviation cadet George H.W. Bush first soloed. Would-be pilots can do battle in simulators or pose in the nose of a P-40 fighter. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, $14; with guided tour, $21. (808) 441-1000, www.pacificaviationmuseum.org.

Walking tours

Pick up the paperback "Discover Downtown Honolulu" ($6.95) and set out from Aloha Tower to explore downtown and Chinatown. The city center has some architectural gems, including the Royal Brewery (1900), the Mediterranean-influenced 1929 Alexander & Baldwin Building and the Richards Street YWCA (1927), whose architect was Julia Morgan, designer of Hearst Castle.

Honolulu chapter, American Institute of Architects, offers 2 1/2 -hour Saturday morning walking tours of downtown through architects' eyes. By reservation, $10. Tours start at the AIA office, 119 Merchant St., Suite 402. An illustrated AIA booklet of downtown buildings, with map, is available for $5. (808) 545-4242, www.aiahonolulu.org.

For those with the shopping gene

Into. This chic 4-year-old shop is a serendipitous find in a not-so-fashionable part of Chinatown. Small on space, big on style, it has a huge and varied selection of gifts and accessories -- books, lovely textiles, jewelry, glassware and whimsical objects from different corners of the world. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 40 N. Hotel St., Honolulu; (808) 536-2211, www.intohonolulu.com.

Bailey's Antiques & Aloha Shirts. Boasting the "world's largest collection of aloha shirts" -- more than 15,000, many vintage -- this funky place is a treasure-trove of Hawaiiana. Perhaps you yearn for a tiki or two, a neon sign or a 78 rpm by Elvis? Fans of Reyn Spooner will save by buying pre-owned. My find was a hula-dancing tabletop flamingo wearing shades and a grass skirt. (I triumphed in a family competition for worst Christmas gift.) 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. 517 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu; (808) 734-7628, www.alohashirts.com.

Bali Moon Hawaii. Matsumoto Shave Ice isn't the only reason to stop in the artsy North Shore town of Haleiwa. Once you've done the galleries and grabbed a good burger at Kua Aina Sandwich, head here for gifts for the home imported from throughout the Pacific region, including beautiful trays, baskets and wood carvings. I was definitely "just looking" -- until I spotted those plump felt elephant pillows with floppy ears.10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. 66-145 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa; (808) 637-6666; www.balimoonhawaii.com.

Aunty Mary Lou's Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau. The name means "skilled hands touch the feathers." This shop sells traditional Hawaiian feather work -- leis, combs, hat bands. Aunty Mary's daughter, Paulette Kahalepuna, gives lessons by appointment, and there are bins of colorful feathers from which to choose. (Most, I was told, come from New York. Are we to believe those ancient Hawaiians really didn't kill the islands' birds for their plumage?) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. 762 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu; (808) 732-0865.