Sweet Home Waimanalo
After you’ve built up an appetite watching (or counting) whales, continue on to Waimanalo.
There’s a bumper stickers that reads “Paris. London. New York. Waimanalo.” Three of the world’s greatest cities–and a small town that has nothing in common with the others, except that like all residents in great locales, they swear it’s the best place in the world. And they might be right.
On the surface, Waimanalo is a local, blue collar neighborhood. Kids with bare feet and big grins ride their bikes from one end of the valley to the other. The beaches are beautiful and surprisingly uncrowded. There are tents where homeless can live in a park near one end of the beach while those with money are slowly buying property along the coast. Deep in Waimanalo Valley, the land is abundantly fertile, housing nurseries and farms. But all this is just background, a glimpse into a simple community where many of the residents have lived for generations.
So what’s so great about Waimanalo? For starters, it’s Aunty’s homemade kulolo, a dark brown sticky dessert made from poi (pounded taro) and coconut milk. Sorry, no photos as Aunty had the nerve to sell the last piece just before I got there. She and her family are also known for their crafts which include woven bracelets, carved bone hook necklaces and wooden pendants.
It’s fun to watch people stop for fresh coconut that’s cut right in front of you by two local guys with big cane knives. Tourists have a heck of a time understanding them (they talk fast in da kine pidgin so hard for understand) but basically, the only things you need to answer are if you want to drink the coconut water (an excellent natural source of electrolytes) and what kind of coconut you want. The older the coconut, the thicker and harder the meat. If you ask them what’s best and they like you, they’ll cut you their favorite, really young coconut with a thin coating of meat so soft it’s like a translucent version of haupia, a Hawaiian coconut pudding. Most first-timers are also surprised that coconuts are not sweet–at least not like the shredded coconut you buy at a grocery store. Instead, their natural flavor is deliciously subtle.
Along the same stretch you’ll find a shrimp truck, guys selling dried aku (tuna), and the most incredible lilikoi butter in the universe. It’s sweet and buttery with a fruity tartness that lets you know, yes, you’re home in Hawaii after all.
NatHI Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that most of these roadside stands are just people trying to make a few extra dollars. They’re not fancy operations, so don’t go looking for nutrition labels or that sort of thing. Like Aunty with her kulolo, friends make up a good part of their business. And like everywhere else in the world where you travel, it looks suspicious, don’t get it.
Waimanalo is also home to a couple of wonderful casual cafes, Serg’s Mexican food (a NatHi favorite) and Sweet Home Waimanalo Market and Cafe (great fresh food). Sweet Home Waimanao is among the new generation of local businesses that are pushing the envelope, or in this case, their food, to be more ecofriendly. The restaurant features locally-grown produce and even has a rooftop garden.
A few more NatHI Notes: Waimanalo Beach and Bellows Beach are as close to perfect as you can get. Keep an eye out for warning signs or check in with the lifeguards regarding surf conditions. Mornings are gentle; waves pick up in the afternoon.
On most weekends, traffic through Waimanalo town is slow because it’s become a major thoroughfare between Kailua and Hawaii Kai. Our advice, pull off to the side of the road and have something to eat.