I remember my parents taking me to the golf course every day when I was a kid, and we would drive next to the cliffs and water and everything around Honolulu, and I’d be like, “Oh, please get me off this rock!” Funny how things change as you get older and—I think!—wiser. What I wouldn’t give now to be able to experience that like I did when I was a girl.
When people ask me where I’m from, I feel a great sense of pride building as I answer. I’m just so fortunate. I feel like my upbringing was special. And I didn’t really realize how special it was until I moved away. (I’m based in Jupiter, Fla., now.)
Luckily, the LPGA Tour makes a stop on my home island of Oahu every year in mid-April at Ko Olina G.C. , about 25 miles west of Honolulu. We typically have a week’s break between the ANA Inspiration and the LOTTE Championship at Ko Olina. I try to come early, so I have two weeks at home. It continues to be an amazing experience.
There’s no denying that Hawaii is one of Earth’s greatest destinations when it comes to golf, beaches, dining and activities (my photos below prove it). If you haven’t been there, you’re missing out. And there’s no better insider than a born-and-bred kama’aina to tell you why. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite tips, trips and must-dos in the islands. I’ll see you there!
The first hike I always tell people to go on is the Pillbox Hike in Lanikai (265 Kaelepulu Dr., Kailua, HI 96734). It’s just like…straight up! It’s definitely a “thigh-burner,” but you can take in the ocean the entire way. What’s really interesting is that, at the end, you find yourself at a lookout post from World War II. There’s all these pillboxes. And you go up and you sit and you can see the Mokes, which are a pair of tiny islands just offshore. It’s such a pretty view—the beaches at Lanikai, the crystal-blue water. You’ll never want to leave.
INDULGENT SPA DAY
I go to the Kahala Spa at the Kahala Hotel & Resort (kahalaresort.com) in Honolulu. The steam room is really nice. They have a great little hot-tub area inside the locker room, but it’s actually outside against a huge stone wall. I like to hang out there after a workout. Anytime, really!
I was raised on the eastern side of Oahu, so I’m a big fan of Waimanalo Beach. I basically grew up there. I love the beaches at Makapu, and now that I have a home in Kahala, I hit that beach a lot, too. The North Shore is really cool—you’ll get more surf up there. Best part? Any beach is within an hour’s drive of where you’re at—not that you’ll need to go that far.
FAVORITE HAWAIIAN BEVERAGE
I love to drink kava when I’m back home. I haven’t come across too many people on the mainland who know about it, but it’s getting popular. Kava is a traditional Polynesian drink, made from massaging the grounds of the root of the same name in water, usually while hanging out with friends and talking stories. It’s not an alcoholic drink—it’s more about the experience and who you’re sharing it with.
BEST PLACE TO SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH
Leonard’s Bakery (leonardshawaii.com) is great—everyone knows about it. But Pipeline Bake Shop & Creamery (pipelinebakeshop.com) is my fave. Pipeline makes malasadas [a Portuguese donut-like treat], and they’re super-local. They even make malasada ice cream sandwiches. I can’t eat ice cream, so I stick to the plain version, but I usually order it in a coffee flavor. Give me a Pipeline iced coffee and coffee malasada and I’m in heaven.
This one’s easy: the new Four Seasons in Ko Olina (fourseasons.com/oahu). The people who did the revamp are friends of mine, and it’s stunning. Sunday brunch is an experience: Oysters from Seattle, stone crab, a build-your-own poke bar—anything you want. It’s a gorge-fest. I’ll often grab a cabana at the adult pool, which I highly recommend. It’s simply a beautiful, relaxing place. For kicks, order a Bloody Mary. I generally like them spicy and peppery, but they do it differently there. The mix is as good as I’ve tasted, and I think they actually pour a little bit of lager in it. It’s very interesting—and very tasty.
ORDER YOUR POKE LIKE MICHELLE
Poke is an extremely popular food in Hawaii. It can be anything you want it to be. I describe it as different kinds of raw fish, or even shrimp or octopus, marinated in a soy-based concoction that I don’t really know how to make but absolutely love. Sometimes you can liven things up with a spicy aioli, which really goes well with ahi tuna. I know you can get poke on the mainland, but trust me, it’s nothing like how we do it in Hawaii. Even the poke from a grocery store in Honolulu is better than the poke they serve in restaurants where you live.
When you go to a poke store, like Fresh Catch on Oahu (freshcatch808.com), you can either get a bowl or buy it by the pound. I always go in and say, “I want a poke bowl with brown rice, with furikake [a dry Japanese seasoning] on the rice.” Then I order the fish: “I want a bit of spicy tuna, Hawaiian style, with limu [seaweed] in it.” That’s my standard order. When I deviate, it’s usually to add a little kick. Sometimes I’m in the mood for garlic ahi, and sometimes I’m in the mood for something else. Then I add seaweed on top, with extra Sriracha. Half the fun of having poke is mixing it up.
MOST AUTHENTIC HAWAIIAN EXPERIENCE
Everyone’s so welcoming in Hawaii that you can just go to the side of the road, sit down, crack a coconut and drink out of it. That’s Hawaii. It’s about being super chill and sharing experiences with people you meet.
MOST RANDOM HAWAIIAN EXPERIENCE
I was with my girlfriends [on the Big Island, Hawaii] and we stopped on the road and saw some baby goats. We talked to the lady who runs the goat farm, then played with the goats—for hours. It was the cutest thing!
Tough question! I love Ko Olina. It’s a great one. Turtle Bay is fun, and it’s right on the water. Kapalua (on Maui) is a world-class PGA Tour stop, as is Waialae here on Oahu. And I’ve heard great things about Hualalai on the Big Island. I don’t think you can go wrong wherever you play. Admittedly, I don’t play much golf when I’m home, other than at my favorite stop of the year, the LOTTE Championship, at Ko Olina.
My favorite mochi [a soft and chewy Japanese rice cake] spot is off the beaten path: Nisshodo Candy Store (nisshodomochicandy.com) in Honolulu. It’s in the back of a warehouse, and it’s been there for almost 100 years. Amazing food. The old ladies in there also make ChiChi Dango [a sweet, soft and chewy Japanese dessert made of rice flour], which is very popular here. They make it fresh every day, and you pay by the pound.
MY EXCELLENT HAWAIIAN ADVENTURE
Last year, [fellow LPGA Tour player] Marina Alex came to visit me. We did a hop over to the Big Island with my friend Jen Hong, who used to play on the Symetra tour. We had booked rooms at Volcano House (hawaiivolcanohouse.com), situated on the eastern rim of Kilauea crater. It was awesome—we were literally on the edge of the volcano! We drove around a little, then decided to go on a hike. Our quest: Find lava. Like, flowing lava.
We looked up the cost of a tour guide: $150. We agreed: “Nah, we can do it on our own.” So we started walking. We went about four miles—maybe more—and suddenly there was no one else around. I mean, literally, not a soul. We had no idea where we were going, and then all of a sudden these steam vents started going crazy. I touched the ground to see if it was getting hot, and then, just in front of us, there it was: flowing lava.
My heart goes out to the families that have been affected by this year’s eruptions, but that day was one of the most heart-pounding of my life. And it reminded me that my always beautiful, sometimes dangerous home is unlike any other spot in the world. I can’t wait to get back.
A TOURIST TRAP THAT’S ACTUALLY PRETTY COOL
Sky Waikiki (skywaikiki.com) is a bustling rooftop bar. It’s so touristy, but it has the most gorgeous views of the city, especially at sunset. It gets crowded, so go early or on a random night. There’s so much [other] stuff around there, that we just park, try the bar, and if it’s a no-go, we try somewhere else. Make an effort for Sky if only for a cool Instagram moment.
ONE THING VISITORS MUST KNOW
On any island in Hawaii, it’s a different gear. People from the mainland have to adjust when they visit. Even I do if I’ve been away for too long. When you’re here, just relax, take it easy, have fun and don’t take anything too seriously. I see a lot of people who try to pack too many things in. Set aside plenty of downtime. And though you may come for the sights and the food, don’t forget the people. They’re some of the friendliest in the world.