One word is worth a thousand pictures: Waikiki. Go there for the first time and you may get sense of preternatural “thereness,” as if you have visited many times, yet fused with a feeling of being captured in the unique moment. The place delivers its postcard image and then some.
The bald facts are that Waikiki is made up of some half-dozen beaches along two miles of oceanfront, backed by thousands of high-rise hotel rooms amid both designer and cheesy shops, which are hemmed in by the Ala Wai Canal and the familiar countenance of looming Diamond Head. Hawaiian cultural sites stand beside a Trump tower. Flip-flopping sunburned Midwesterners saunter Kalakaua Boulevard beside a covey of made-up Japanese bridesmaids. All the cabbies and bellhops and shopgirls seem to know each other.
Yes, to visit Hawaii and only see Waikiki (as many visitors do) is to leave the essence of Hawaii untouched. But the converse is also true: To know Hawaii you need to spend some aimless hours here wandering about.