Oahu, Hawaii Like a Local

Wednesday May 28, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience the Hawaiian Islands, like myself, you will certainly feel like you are in no way, shape or form in the United States.

Upon landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, my entire family and I were graced with fresh leis that smelled just as good as the sweet Hawaiian island air.

Our family does not lean toward the all-expenses included resort kind of vacation. We prefer renting a house or villa where we can essentially “move-in” for a few weeks and experience Oahu, Hawaii like a local.

 

"Lanakai Beach"

Oahu like a local at Lanakai Beach in Hawaii


 
Hawaii’s Lanakai Beach
 
We rented a home that was about a half hour away from downtown Honolulu. Our home was just a short walk away from a secluded bay on Lanakai beach. Because the beach was mostly used by the Oahu locals, there were plenty of friendly dogs and islanders that seemed to “catch up” on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Having a family full of older adults, college students and even an energy-filled two-year old there were plenty of requests for different activities. One place we could all attend was the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu.
 
Polynesian Cultural Center
 
Hearing “cultural center” led me to believe that we were going to walk through a museum filled with artifacts and ancient stories, I wasn’t sure how my little nephew would feel about this. I was completely wrong. The Polynesian Cultural Center was like the Hawaiian version of Disneyland, without all of the mascots running around. Our family opted to experience the Cultural Center like a VIP; our package included daily admission, personal private guided tour, prime rib buffet, HA: Breath of Life Show (front row seats), private backstage tour and Kukui Nut Lei greeting upon arrival.

"Polynesian Cultural Center"

Hawaii’s Polynesian Cultural Center

We were taken on a trip into each of the Polynesian Islands (Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Marquesas). Every island we visited, we learned about the ancient culture and customs accompanied by traditional song and dance. At the end of the day we attended a traditional luau and were privy to front row seats at a Hawaiian cultural show, complete with grass skirts and fire breathers.
 
 
Hawaiian Cuisine

"Honolulu Burger Company"

Honolulu Burger Company

Most of the time spent on the beautiful island of Oahu was hanging out with family and indulging in the classic Hawaiian cuisine. Make sure to check out the hidden treasure of a restaurant, Honolulu Burger. Tucked away in downtown Honolulu, the grass-fed burger joint is a local secret. With burgers such as the Kona Burger, which is rubbed with a coffee spices atop a bed of sautéed onions, beets and chipotle sauce, this place is culinary lovers dream. If the burgers weren’t so filling it’s worth ordering more than one of these unique creations. Besides the local Hawaiian grills and fresh Farmers’ Markets, the fruit on Oahu is something you do not want to miss. We cut up a fresh pineapple almost every day and it was gone by the end of the day. To embrace this cultural fruit, we even visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation, specifically for the Pineapple Whippie Ice Cream.

The Dole Plantation is located on the North end of the Island, where all the real surfers hang out. We ventured up to Kee Beach, secretly called “Turtle Beach” because of the sea turtles that tend to swim right up onto shore in front of you. You might even catch them laying their eggs. But what the North Shore is known for is the 20-80ft waves that happen almost every day. We caught a few surfers toward the end of the day that told us the Nalus (Hawaiian for waves), were supposed to be the best at the end of the week.
 

Whale watching

Whale watching in Oahu

Whale Watching in Oahu

We ended our trip in a possible cliché way by Whale Watching off the West Coast of Oahu. The winds on shore were about 15mph, so out at sea they kicked up to 30mph. This gave us an incredibly bumpy boat ride that felt more like an amusement park ride than a smooth catamaran boat. But the trip was well worth it when we finally saw a female Orca Whale with her calf only a few hundred feet from our boat.

Ocean Joy Cruises was an excellent company that took us safely out in the middle of the ocean. The staff was incredibly accommodating, and cute I might add. Lunch was provided along with some margaritas. While anchored for lunch we also had the opportunity to snorkel atop a large coastal reef. Let’s just say, I have never seen a tropical fish that looked as big as if he could swallow me in one bite.

The small town of Lanakai was a calm and unique part of Hawaii but Honolulu was incredibly busy and even the drive to the north shore was breathtaking.  Filled with local residents and young surfers, the island of Oahu is like taking a break from the hectic world and indulging into the sweet ways of island life.
 
Insider Tip: No matter where you are headed on the island of Oahu and no matter what the forecast says, make sure to always pack a rain jacket. Many of the storm clouds get stuck just above the mountains, which is the pass between Honolulu and the rest of the island.

This is a guest post by Natalie Crandall

Do Napa Like a Local

Friday May 23, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 15 Comments

"Silos"

Silo’s for live music in Napa

A lot has changed over the years in the world famous Napa Valley wine country. My husband and I lived in downtown Napa in the early 1980’s. While there were plenty of things to see and do in Napa in the day time, the night life was like a vintage California wine in an underground cellar – cold, dusty and waiting to be uncorked. We’ve since moved to the East Bay, but when we visit Northern California wine country I still like to do Napa like a local.
 
 

 

"Luna Vineyards"

Wine tasting at Luna Vineyards in Napa, California

Napa wine tasting like a local
 

With over 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when wine tasting. To do Napa like a local, pick up the downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card. This ($30.) wine tasting card offers access to 12 downtown Napa tasting rooms all within walking distance. On my latest visit to downtown Napa I visited Bounty Hunter Bar, Capp Heritage, NakedWines.Com (yep, the online retailer has a tasting room in downtown Napa), Napa General Store and Trahan Winery. Dog lovers, taste Sadie’s Red Wine, an adorable wine label with the winery mascot, Sadie, who is now in doggie heaven.
 

"deviled eggs" "Kitchen Door" napa

Dining like a local at Kitchen Door


Napa dining like a local

For the foodies visiting Napa, there are currently 65 restaurants in downtown Napa within a 20 block radius. I noshed my way through Napa with dinners at Carpe Diem and City Winery, breakfasts at Napa General Store and C Casa (inside Oxbow Public Market), followed with lunches at Oenotri, Bounty Hunter and Kitchen Door (also inside Oxbow Market.) Napa locals know to order the house made pasta and charcuterie plate at Oenotri, the beer can chicken at Bounty Hunter, the deviled eggs and mushroom soup at Kitchen Door, huevos rancheros at C Casa and olive oil cake with caramel gelato at City Winery. I may not be a local any more, but I can personally recommend all of these local favorites.
 

"City Winery" cake

Locals know to order City Winery’s Olive Oil Cake with Caramel Gelato


 
I was also impressed that sophisticated City Winery, with locations in Chicago, New York and Nashville, chose to open a joint in downtown Napa – inside the historic Napa Valley Opera House! Not only do they serve good food paired with live music, locals know that City Winery offers 35 local wines on tap.

 

"Alan Shepp" mosaic

Alan Shepp mosaic fountain tells the story of Napa Valley


 
Napa culture

If you think Napa only offers a food and wine scene you’d be wrong. Explore the ARTWalk in downtown Napa, with outdoor sculpture exhibitions – you can even learn the dance moves to the Cha, Cha, Cha! Or wonder over to the Veterans Memorial Park Amphitheater by the Napa River Walk for free Friday night concerts in the summer.

Looking for big name entertainment? The Uptown Theatre, with its restored 1937 art deco interior, has hosted Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Chris Isaak, Pat Benatar and even Snoop Dogg. Silo’s, a wine bar and jazz club located in the Historic Napa Mill, is also an evening option with blues, rock, jazz, pop and country music. The Napa River Inn is also part of the Historic Napa Mill and has a sweet waterfront location.
 

"Nancy Brown" bike

Nancy Brown explores Napa like a local at Luna Winery


 
Explore Napa outdoors like a local

Napa locals love their outdoor adventures and are generally fitness-minded. When I stayed downtown, I noticed visitors and locals alike walking and jogging on the river front promenade. The Vine Trail is currently under construction with eight walkable miles in downtown Napa. It used to be that horseback riding was open to the public in Napa, but horse lovers have to head to Sonoma for wine country horseback riding. Kayaking is popular on the Napa River and, my personal favorite, bike riding on the Silverado Trail. Our group used Getaway Adventures and they set us up with new Specialized bikes & helmets for a leisurely ride from Oxbow Public Market to Luna Vineyards – one of the first wineries on the Silverado Trail – so an easy bike ride.

 

"Trahan Winery" "sadie"

Do Napa like a local at Trahan Winery


Insider Tip:
The Spa at Napa River Inn is new since my last visit to downtown Napa. Tell me what you think?
 
How do you do Napa like a local?

Article, photos and YouTube video by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. Thanks to the folks at Downtown Napa Association and the Napa Tourism Improvement District for inviting me to Do Napa like a local.

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Arlington National Cemetery: A Visit Worth Making

Wednesday May 21, 2014 at 8:08 PM | 0 Comments

Changing of the Guard and a new wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Changing of the Guard and a new wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

When I took my son to Washington D.C. when he was 10 years -old, the age I was when I first visited D.C., we headed to Arlington National Cemetery for our last stop of our three-day vacation. I had images of my own Arlington experience etched in my memories that I wanted to share– in particular the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and John F. Kennedy’s grave.

There is a feeling of solemnity at both spots–a feeling of longing and loss. At age 10, I felt the weight of both of these places as significant markers in American history. I was also mesmerized by the constancy of each. At Kennedy’s grave, the Eternal Flame never goes out. At the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, military guards stand watch each day. Sharing these landmarks with my son before the threat of adolescent angst set in seemed like a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Changing of the Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Changing of the Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as people were gathering to watch the Changing of the Guard, a meticulously executed, white glove ceremony that happens every hour on the hour Oct. 1 to March 31, and every half hour April 1 through Sept. 30.

The sound of the soldiers’ shoes clicking across the concrete as they marched, and the precision of their movements as they changed the positions of their weapons are things not forgotten. The careful attention to these graves of four soldiers–one for each war: WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, whose identities are not known, holds a certain comfort that these sons of mothers and fathers are being cared for day in and day out without fail. Along with the Changing of the Guard, we also witnessed a Public Wreath Laying ceremony where four high school students, along with soldiers assigned to this duty, placed a fresh wreath at the tomb.

The wall around JFK's grave

The wall around JFK’s grave

John F. Kennedy’s grave is another must see in this vast acreage where white tomb stones follow the dips and rises of the various sections in seemingly endless ribbons.

Kennedy’s words that called out to Americans to take part in their country are forever etched in stone here. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and two of the Kennedy’s children–Patrick Bouvier who was an infant when he died and a stillborn daughter are also buried at this site. Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy are close by.

Because we only had an hour and a half to spend wandering Arlington National Cemetery’s grounds, we missed other sites that I hoped to get to, particularly the Women in Military Service to America Memorial.   We did start our visit at the Welcome Center, something I recommend. Here you’ll find maps, a gift shop, an overview of the cemetery and special exhibits.

Ribbons of graves

Ribbons of graves

We hoofed it from the parking lot near the Welcome Center to each of the sites which was a bit of a hike.

If I had planned ahead, I’d have purchased a guided tour. Tram type bus tours depart from the Welcome Center. This is where you can buy tickets for the tour. You can also purchase tram tickets online.

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, VA 22211

Hours:  7 Days a week: 365 days
8am – 7pm (April – September)
8am – 5pm (October – March)

Parking garage closes 1 hour after cemetery

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association