Why you should care
Because the nation’s first Black president was shaped on the shores of Oahu.
Long before the kid called Barry was finding himself as a grassroots organizer in the streets of Chicago, the future president grew up on the island of Oahu. And for those who are feeling nostalgic, paradise is the perfect place to better understand the former president. The exercise isn’t just about chasing ghosts — you actually may see him if you visit around Christmas, as Obama and his family spent their winter vacation there each of his eight years as president. Here are the places where you can walk in the footsteps of America’s first Black commander in chief.
Walk through Makiki and visit Manoa Falls
Obama was born at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in 1961, and returned to the Makiki neighborhood of Honolulu after living four years in Indonesia. While much of the skyline is dominated by high-rise apartments flourishing with tourists, Makiki is working-class, humble and diverse. Nearby is the Punahou School where Obama attended from fifth to 12th grade. In Dreams From My Father, the president says his earliest conversations around race and identity took place in these hallways, which are not open to the public. At 1618 South King St. is a faded Baskin-Robbins, where the teenaged Barry first found work — interestingly, Barack took Michelle to a Baskin-Robbins in Chicago on their first date years later (today, a plaque commemorates the spot where they shared their first kiss). Four miles north is Manoa Falls, a popular hiking trail and waterfall that served as a watering hole for a younger Obama.
Bodysurf at Sandy Beach
The waves roil the coast at this innocuously named beach east of Honolulu, where Obama has been known to, as the native Hawaiians call it, he’e umauma — slide with the chest. With yards and yards of open sand, it’s a great relaxation spot for tanning tourists. However, be careful about entering the frolicking spray. Signs warn that if you’re unsure, it’s better to stay out. “No. 1 in the nation in broken necks,” a lifeguard tells OZY. As you make your drive out there from Honolulu, watch out for the hang gliders landing in a nearby field — you won’t need to swerve, but it’s jarring nonetheless to see feet dangling just a few feet above your car’s roof.
Take an Aerial View of a Presidential Paradise
When on Oahu, the Obamas have stayed in beachside rentals in Kailua, a paradise for the wealthy. In the past, residents have paddleboarded and surfed to the surrounding ocean tides to get a better view of the former first family. But if you want to go a step above, visit the Nu’uanu Pali, a lush jungle perch that overlooks Kailua and much of windward Oahu. For just $3 for parking, you can drop the car off and soak in the vista. The cliffs here were the site of an ancient battle when the native King Kamehameha united the islands of Hawaii under his kingdom by driving a number of Oahu warriors to leap off the cliff edge.
Order a “Snowbama” at Island Snow
Sensing a trend here? Obama undoubtedly has a sweet tooth. When on vacation, he almost always visits Island Snow, a snow cone and clothing store in Kailua. Inside, the walls are filled with photos of the smiling president and his daughters. In his last visit as president on Christmas Eve of 2016, Obama ordered a snow cone with ice cream on the bottom and watermelon, lilikoi and cherry flavors — that you can get too on the shop’s secret menu by asking for a “Snowbama,” one server says. If you time it right, you might even have your treat comped by Obama himself. “If there are already customers in line, the president pays for them,” says KeKai Hirata, a store manager.
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