Since everyone keeps asking me for Hawaii recommendations…
Some Hawaiian classics include kalua pig (shredded pork rubbed with sea salt and slow-cooked in an underground pit), lau lau (meat steamed inside taro leaves), and lomi-lomi salmon (fresh tomato and salmon salad, with Maui onions).
The poke trend is finally slowing down in New York, but that’s only because it was never real poke. Poke was invented in Hawaii and is completely different from the glorified salad found at fast-casual poke shops on the mainland. The raw fish (usually tuna, octopus, or salmon) should be marinating in sauce (usually soy sauce, salt, green onions, and seaweed) all day and served in a plastic tub, sold by weight. The most satisfying day you can possibly have in Hawaii is going to Foodland, ordering a tub of poke from the fish counter, and eating it on the beach on a hot day.
Malasadas are originally from Portugal, but when Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii in the 1870s to work on plantations, they brought these fried balls of dough covered in sugar, and they became an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine. Pipeline Bakeshop is the best place for them.
Shave ice is smoother than the shaved ice you find on the mainland. Waiola is my favorite. You can also add ice cream, azuki beans, and other toppings.
Honolulu has the best Japanese food outside of Japan, so obviously there are too many Japanese restaurants to list, but here are some of my favorites. For sushi, go to Mitch’s Sushi (Obama’s favorite!), Kin Chan, or Imanas Tei. For onigiri (triangular musubis), head over to Mana Bu’s early and bring a few to the beach. Try Izakaya Gazen for tofu, Marukami Udon for udon, Inaba for tempura and soba, and Nisshodo Candy Store for some of the best chi chi dango mochi of your life.
Late-night dinner: Zippy’s (get a ZipPac at any of the locations around the island, like a local)
Coco puffs: Liliha Bakery is a diner, but everyone comes for the Coco Puffs, made of choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly with sugar.
North Shore: Where all the famous surfing competitions take place. The North Shore all the way on the other side of the island, so make a day out of it — explore the touristy but charming town of Haleʻiwa, pick up a sandwich at Storto’s and eat it on the beach, and stop by Matsumoto for shave ice after.
Sandy’s: Obama’s favorite beach! If you’re not a strong swimmer, it can be pretty dangerous out here, but of course that’s why people take pride in it.
Makapu’u: Named after the Makapu’u lighthouse on the cliff beside it, this beach is right next to Sandy’s
Lanikai: Best beach for photos! The sand is super soft, the waters are calm, and the two islands out in the ocean were just made for the ‘gram.
Hanauma Bay: This is one of the most touristy beaches in Hawaii (you have to pay and watch a safety video before entering), but there’s a reason why — it’s a protected marine life conservation area, so you can actually snorkel with fish. It’s also gorgeous.
Maunawili Falls: This is a very lush trail, so make sure to wear bug spray, waterproof clothes, and shoes with traction. At the end of the hike is a waterfall, so you can reward yourself by taking a swim and jumping off cliffs if you’re feeling brave. Bring a change of clothes (or water bottle to wash yourself off) before you return to your car; you will get muddy!
Koko Head: This is basically a Stairmaster, but the views of Honolulu are worth it the steep staircase.
Diamond Head: Yes, this is extremely touristy and you actually have to pay to enter, but come before sunrise and you’ll understand why.
Mariner’s Ridge: I forget if this one is still “officially” closed, but you know what? Just hike it. The views of both Honolulu and the Windward Side are worth it. This is a fairly easy hike.
Ala Moana: As someone who hates malls, I love Ala Moana. It’s the largest open-air mall in the world, and, while it does have chains, it also has some specialty shops and restaurants that you can only find in Hawaii, and sometimes there are cultural events and performances that occur here.
Hotel hopping in Waikiki: One of my favorite pastimes. I always make sure to stop by the Moana Surfrider (the oldest hotel in Hawaii), Royal Hawaiian (the pink hotel), and Halekulani (probably the classiest hotel in Waikiki).
ʻIolani Palace: Did you know that Hawaii was once a kingdom? We actually have a fascinating history (I’m surprised movies aren’t constantly made about it), and Hawaii is still the only place in the country with a royal palace. You can tour ʻIolani Palace and understand why many Hawaiians still want sovereignty.
Skydiving: Honestly, skydiving anywhere else seems like a waste. It’s hard to top the views of the coastline.
Sea Life Park: It’s like a toned-down Sea World.
Drive along the eastern coast for some of the most stunning views of your life. Just be careful!
I think Anthony and I always figured our wedding would be great, but we didn’t realize how life-changing it was going to be for so many people. Our families welcomed new family members, our friends made new friends, and our love for each other felt more supported than ever. Our wedding wasn’t just a day-long event; it was a Hawaiian vacation with loved ones from around the world, some of whom we hadn’t seen in years. It’s been almost a month since the wedding, yet guests have still been telling us how much fun they had and how much they miss Hawaii.
We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon, just four days before the wedding. We crammed in every last errand we needed to do in those first 24 hours (e.g., getting our marriage license and buying random food props for our ceremony) so that we were ready to start the festivities as soon as possible.
On Thursday, we organized a small hike up Diamond Head for those who had arrived early. We led our friends across the zigzagging paths, through tunnels, and up staircases until we finally reached the top and were rewarded with stunning views of Honolulu. After the hike, we rewarded some hungry hikers to Waiola Shave Ice, the best shave ice on the island. We taught them why “shave ice” different from shaved ice and snow cones, how to properly order one, and what the best toppings are.
That evening, Anthony and I had dinner at my parents’ house with two of my mom’s siblings and their families from Iowa and Idaho. It had been five years since I last saw both families, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed all of them. I used to babysit Brandon, the youngest of my cousins, and now he was going to be our ring bearer. Making this even more meaningful, I had been the flower girl at his parents’ wedding decades ago!
On Friday, Anthony and I roamed around Waikiki with Anthony’s groomsman James. It was my first time to really get to know him, and I could easily see why he has always been one of Anthony’s best friends. We ate udon for breakfast, got some tips for our honeymoon since James used to live in Japan, and sipped Kona coffee on the rocking chairs at Moana Surfrider (my favorite spot in Waikiki) before Anthony and I returned to my house to finally see all my bridesmaids.
Oh, my bridesmaids… I could write a whole blog post about how much I love these women. Three of them (Isobel, Mariah, and Carolyn) had flown in from New York, Boston, and Seattle for the wedding, and the other (Lauren) was an absolutely perfect Hawaiian host to them. For those of you who don’t have the privilege of knowing Lauren, she is the most charming person you’ll ever meet. It was no surprise that by the time I met up with my bridesmaids that day, they were already good friends despite having just met each other.
My bridesmaids and I made our way to Makapu’u Beach for the Welcome Gathering. The waves were rough that day, but when we weren’t struggling to swim, we were eating spam musubi and wasabi chips. Anthony and his groomsmen remained at Makapu’u while my bridesmaids and I left early to start my bachelorette party.
You can really tell how well your friends know you by how they plan your bachelorette party. The first thing we did? An epic photo shoot, of course. We changed into proper bachelorette party attire and took silly photos overlooking the windy coastline. I will cherish these photos forever.
Then we made our way to the Modern Honolulu, a chic hotel in Waikiki, perfect for a girls’ night out. After we got settled, Isobel and Mariah distracted me with some poolside tanning, while my other two bridesmaids fixed up our hotel room. When I returned to the room, Lauren and Carolyn had set up games, decorations, and booze throughout our room. Those next couple of hours, drinking champagne while playing adorably kinky word games and lingerie scavenger hunts in our room, were the perfect bonding experience, and knowing that my four best friends from different spheres of my life had Skyped and emailed for the past few months to organize everything warmed my heart.
For my bachelorette dinner, we went to Morimoto Waikiki, the Iron Chef-owned restaurant that I used to frequent when I still lived in Hawaii. We shared two 8-course omakase meals and a few entrées — more than enough food for five slender women. After dinner, we met up with some of my other friends at the bar downstairs, went dancing at Addiction, and sobered up (or fell asleep, in Isobel’s case) at a 24-hour diner.
The next morning, we did yoga by the pool and ate at a new organic restaurant called Goofy Cafe & Dine. It was a wonderful way to conclude my bachelorette party.
After breakfast we rushed to the wedding venue for rehearsal. The officiant, the DJ, the venue contact, and our families were all there on time — quite an accomplishment! We ran through the ceremony twice and worked out the kinks. However, I still felt nervous. The speeches we wanted our siblings to read at the ceremony didn’t sound right anymore. What if Anthony dropped my ring as he moved it from my right hand to my left hand? What if I messed up during our vows? After rehearsal, we met with our DJ to discuss the reception timeline, which still needed a lot of work. By that point, the stress that had started to build inside me almost became overbearing. We should have had a rehearsal for our reception, too! It was hard for me to enjoy the rehearsal lunch, even though the 8-course Chinese banquet that my parents hosted at Mandalay was incredible as always.
Best cure for a stressed-out mind? Staying at the Kahala Hotel. After rehearsal lunch, Anthony and I checked into our hotel, the hotel of my dreams. The Kahala Hotel has played such a significant role in my life — my family and I have celebrated numerous special events here, I used to sneak in with my friends to conduct amateur photo shoots; and I grew up just a few minutes away, so I always felt like it was mine. When we got to our room, all the stress I felt earlier melted away. Anthony and I didn’t even consider leaving our room until dinner that night.
That night, my parents hosted an epic Hawaiian feast at their house for our pre-wedding dinner. There was poke, kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, haupia, and too many other things, but to top it off, they also served a huge chocolate mousse pyramid from JJ French Bistro, my favorite pâtisserie in Hawaii. The dinner was such an ideal way to introduce some of our guests to more Hawaiian food. The night was also full of productivity. Our Best Man and Maid-of-Honor perfected their speeches together, and an assembly line of friends helped us organize the table decorations.
On the morning of the wedding, I woke up early and refreshed, still in bliss that we were staying at the Kahala Hotel. One of my bridesmaids, who was staying at the hotel as well, is also an early-riser, so Anthony and I picked up some free coffee in the lower lobby and met her on one of the peninsulas on the hotel’s beach. The sun was just rising, and a few fishermen were out in the water. The skies were overcast, which should have made me nervous, but I was too happy to care. An hour later, the rest of the bridesmaids met me in my hotel room, ready to get the big day started. We changed into our matching robes, opened a bottle of champagne, and inhaled our Zippy’s breakfasts before the hair & makeup artists arrived.
Our wedding photographers were Anthony’s Uncle Scott and Auntie Jen from Seattle, and it was such a pleasure working with a couple full of so much love. Auntie Jen photographed the five of us at the hotel, while Uncle Scott photographed Anthony and his groomsmen getting ready at my parents’ house. Later, Anthony returned to the hotel for our first-look photos, which began in a bright hallway, climaxed on the beach, and ended in the lobby before we headed to the venue.
When we got to our wedding venue, almost everything was already taken of, thanks to our friends and families. We were able to complete our wedding party and family photos well before the ceremony. Cafe Julia is a fantastic venue for photos, and we were able to use the historic Iolani Palace as another backdrop since it’s just across the street. The only issue we had was some miscommunication with my florist, who was completely MIA. But unlike the previous day, I couldn’t care less. It was too late to fix anything at that point, and flowers were never much of a priority to me. (But, don’t worry, turns out she had already dropped them off.)
The ceremony went perfectly. I loved that it was egalitarian — Anthony walked down the aisle with his parents, just as a bride would, and I walked down with both of my parents instead of with just my dad. I loved that it was secular — my dad’s friend, Judge Nakasone, was our wonderful officiant; and there was nothing even remotely religious about the ceremony. Most of all, I loved that it felt so personal. Our siblings performed readings that we had selected earlier — mine was by a feminist writer, and Anthony’s was from a movie. And instead of conventional unity candles and sand ceremonies, our union was symbolized by the sharing of food that represented us — I dramatically opened up a Ladurée box and fed Anthony a macaron, while Anthony, equally dramatically, opened up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and fed me one, causing our guests to chuckle.
While staff set up the outdoor courtyard for our dinner reception, guests were ushered to the open bar and served spring rolls and dim sum during the cocktail hour. My cousin provided a live band, led by the extremely talented Amanda Frazier, and it was a huge hit. The photo booth, which I had found last-minute after our original photo booth company cancelled on us, exceeded my expectations. Anthony and I were able to meet with each guest individually, which meant we didn’t have to roam around during our reception and could instead enjoy the program.
Our wedding reception wasn’t perfect, but I think it was as perfect as it could have been, considering we planned it from the other side of the country. People loved the authentic Hawaiian food served for dinner, but it rained for a minutes so our guests had to run into the hall while staff set up some umbrellas. Fortunately it only rained when most people had already finished eating, and the rain stopped as quickly as it had started. Our travel theme was able to manifest itself in the seating chart map and table decorations, but we had to shut down our slideshow of travel photos due to the rain.
Our DJ did an incredible job with the dance party, lights, and shoe game, but he told some awkward jokes throughout the program and played sappy love songs during dinner that almost put Anthony to sleep. (Celine Dion and that song from the Lion King were played; those were definitely not our choices!)
The four — yes, four! — wedding cakes that my Auntie Becky baked for us were gorgeous and exactly what I had hoped for, but Anthony’s cake topper broke and his head comically rolled off every so often. Bad omen?
Nevertheless, there were so many good vibes from all our guests, and everything — from the untimely rain to our DJ’s odd jokes — made our wedding seem more genuine, more Hawaiian, and thus more charming. It was an emotional night — at least two of our guests cried over our Father-Daughter dance; both the Best Man’s and the Maid-of-Honor’s speeches brought me to tears; and even a groomsman cried of happiness (I won’t name any names). One of the best moments of the wedding was when my cousin Kawena and Anthony’s cousin Jordan finally met. For the past four years, we’ve been wanting them to meet. As soon as they did, they were like long-lost brothers and even competed in a dance-off on the dance floor. The Ramils and the Bautistas may seem like very different families, but the fact that they both have a Kawena/Jordan in the family means those differences are superfluous.
The DJ had us conclude the night with our guests holding hands in a huge circle, surrounding us as we slow-danced to IZ’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. It was completely cheesy and something I would never choose to do, but somehow it worked. We were all slick with sweat from dancing, and yet it was a beautiful opportunity to face each of our guests and relish their love.
The following morning, some of our guests met us for breakfast at our hotel, and I can’t recommend doing this enough. A morning-after brunch is a great way to contemplate the events of last night, and to linger in the sentiment of such a momentous day. It was also an excuse to share with our guests another one of my childhood haunts, the Plumeria Beach House, a beachfront restaurant offering an amazing Hawaiian buffet. After brunch, we said good-bye to our family and friends and headed to the airport for our honeymoon.
So, to answer my first wedding post, is it possible to plan a semi-destination wedding without hiring a wedding planner and day-of coordinator? Yes, but only if you have family and friends to help you immensely. Much of the fluidity of our wedding is owed to my parents and Maid-of-Honor. My parents housed six relatives and two bridesmaids in their home, transported my friends around the island, and hosted a rehearsal lunch and pre-wedding dinner. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they must have felt during this time, yet they seemed to do all of this effortlessly.
Meanwhile, Lauren went above and beyond the typical Maid-of-Honor duties. Chauffeur, welcome bag deliverer, therapist, printer, coordinator … the list of roles Lauren took on is endless. She prepared whatever I needed before we even arrived in Hawaii, and she meticulously kept track of everything while I was there so I could enjoy my wedding. I may never know what I’ve done to deserve such a friend.
Anthony was able to meet more of my family than ever before — not just at the wedding, but at the various gatherings that took place in those few days before Sunday. Anthony’s family, though they have been to Hawaii before, were able to experience it through my family’s eyes by trying our favorite restaurants and spending time on our side of the island (they usually don’t spend much time in Honolulu). Our parents finally met each other (yes, they hadn’t met until two days before the wedding!), and their strong marriages continue to be a role model for us.
Tips for future weddings:
Make everything meaningful. A wedding might be the most personal party you’ll ever throw, so make it feel like your own. Our family members were key to so many aspects of the wedding. All the locations of our wedding festivities were significant to us. Our ceremony was food-themed, while our reception was travel-themed, as our love for food and travel defines us. Since all guests are there to celebrate you — not a national event, not some random cause that you’re helping out with — inundate them with as much of you as possible.
Don’t do a destination wedding unless you are prepared for all the shipping costs. We shipped so many boxes to my parents (thanks again, Mom and Dad!) for the wedding. We didn’t keep track of how much we spent, but if money is a real issue, you may want to reconsider how much you plan to ship.
Don’t choose your bridesmaids too early. Since Anthony and I had a two-year engagement, and I am excessively-organized, I selected some of my bridesmaids way too early. Over those two years, I made quite a few changes, and it wasn’t until just six months before the wedding that I finally had my perfect group of girls. Situations change, friendships change — it’s no one’s fault. But don’t waste emotions choosing the wrong people too early.
While I don’t regret going straight to our honeymoon the day after the wedding, I wasn’t able to do as much travel research as I usually do for our vacations. Unlike our Europe trip last summer, our honeymoon in Asia wasn’t impeccably planned because I had spent so much time and energy planning our wedding. If you don’t think you can prep for your honeymoon sufficiently, give yourself a week or two after your wedding before jetting off.
If you are inviting a lot of older guests, don’t force them to RSVP online. Many of our older guests are internet-savvy and breezed through our wedding website, but others had some trouble. To avoid confusion, just include a paper RSVP card with their invitation. It’s worth the few extra dollars.
If possible, rehearse your wedding reception with your DJ/emcee. Our ceremony was perfect because we ran through it twice the day before. If we had also run through the reception program with our DJ, we would’ve worked out the kinks beforehand.