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Barack Obama's Hawaii

Explore the Places and Culture That Shaped the 44th President of the USA


President Barack Obama points out different flavors of shave ice

President Barack Obama points out different flavors of shave ice at Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks at Koko Head Marina shopping mall on December 26, 2008 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Photo by Kent Nishimura-Pool/Getty Images

When I first received an email from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau a few years ago about their new microsite GoHawaii.com/Obama I had to laugh, but that laugh was short-lived once I realized how good an idea this was and why.

The site highlights some of the significant places tied to the President's earlier days in Hawaii and where he and his family have vacationed every Christmas/New Year holiday since his first election in 2008.

The concept is sound. Honolulu and all of Hawaii are proud to be the birthplace and boyhood home of President Barack Obama and the site shows how visitors to Hawaii can easily explore the sites and favorite places that shaped the foundation of his life and rise to becoming the leader of the free world.

A Unique Man from a Unique Society

There's no question that Barack Obama has already forged a unique place in history. He is the first non-white man ever elected President. With his election in 2008, he has shown an ability to build a support group of young and old, white and non-white Americans in every region of the country.

Many like to call Obama the first African-American man to be elected President. That is only partially accurate. In reality, he is the first man of both African-American and white heritage to be elected President. We can't forget that his mother was white and that he was raised by his white grandmother. His half-sister is Asian and white. Why do I mention this? It's because Barack Obama is the perfect representative of what Hawaii is all about.

Hawaii is the most racially diverse society in America. The people of Hawaii are Hawaiian, Polynesian, Caucasian, African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Mexican and, most importantly, a mix of any of those races.

Spending his formative years in such a mixed society has made Barack Obama the man he is today. It gives him the very rare ability to relate to the country's ever increasingly diverse society.

Why Visit Barack Obama's Hawaii?

Why is it worthwhile for travelers to Oahu to consider a visit to some of the places that helped shape the country's 44th President?

Visitors will get away from their plush hotels and resorts and see how diverse Hawaii's society actually is and how Hawaii can very much be a model for the nation's future.

In addition, visitors might just take the time to speak to some local folks and gain an even better perspective on just how this society functions.

As the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau explains, "The young Obama flourished in the Islands, where local values foster tolerance, compromise and mutual respect – and where diversity defines people rather than divides them. The social mores of the Aloha State and the experience of growing up in Hawaii's culture have had a deep and lasting influence on the President-elect."

The Locations

The reason I laughed when I read about the concept of the Barack Obama's Hawaii initiative was because of the first three locations mentioned in the release:

  • Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children where America's next president was born on Aug. 4, 1961.
  • Punahou, the celebrated private school that Obama attended from fifth grade through high school graduation in 1979.
  • Lower Makiki to East Honolulu where Obama lived in six different residences and spent most of his youth living in an apartment near Punahou School with his grandparents.


I would never encourage visitors to attempt to wander through Kapiolani Hospital or Punahou School and I can't believe that either are looking to see camera toting tourists wandering through their establishments. The one local you'd probably get to meet is a security guard.

Nor would I encourage visitors to go searching through Honolulu's residential neighborhoods in search of a former Obama residence. Locals tend to value their privacy, as do we all.

That being said, other locations mentioned are perfect places for visitors:

  • Obama had his favorite places to hang out with family and friends, which included Puu Ualakaa State Park on Tantalus, Kapiolani Park at the edge of Waikiki, and Sandy Beach, a popular body-surfing spot in East Honolulu.
  • In August 2008 while vacationing with his family before the campaign to the general election, the Obama family enjoyed some R&R on Oahu, which included golfing at Olomana Golf Links and Luana Hills Country Club, spending time at Kailua Beach Park, visiting Nuuanu Pali Lookout, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, enjoying a traditional local-style plate lunch at Zippy's, touring the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, paying respects to Stanley Dunham who is buried at Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and much more.


The Real Value - Seeing What Hawaii Is All About

It's really the concept of Barack Obama's Hawaii that is more important than some of the specific locations mentioned. I have long told potential visitors that if they go to Oahu, spend a week at their hotel or resort and never leave Waikiki, they are really missing what Hawaii is all about.

Rent a car or take The Bus and see the rest of the island. Oahu is a beautiful island filled with wonderful people, many of whom are eager to share their stories and culture with you.

So, if you decide to explore some of Barack Obama's Hawaii, go for it. Just respect those places that are private property.

Hopefully you'll come away from your exploration with a better understanding of just how key growing up in Hawaii was in making the man who is the 44th President of the United States.

As Barack Obama said, "What's best in me, and what's best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii."

If You Go

If you decide to explore some of Barack Obama's Hawaii visit the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's microsite GoHawaii.com/Obama.

People interested in learning more about President-elect Obama's boyhood in Hawaii can read The Dream Begins: How Hawaii Shaped Barack Obama written by Honolulu journalists Jerry Burris and Stu Glauberman and published by Watermark Publishing.

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