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Kailua( Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times )
Why people ignore it: How does a community compete with Waikiki, which is nearly a straight shot from the airport, boasts a host of glitz and glam stores and hotels and some top-drawer restaurants? It can't.
Why they shouldn't: The drive alone is worth it. You take Hawaii Highway 61 out of Honolulu, climbing gently upward. Above the tunnels is the lookout, and on a clear day, you can see Kaneohe and Kailua bays. On any day, you can recall the battle that Kamehameha I waged in 1795 as he fought to unify the islands; here, it's said, about 400 of the enemy troops went over the cliffs -- the Pali -- to their death. It's said that on some nights you can hear warriors chanting, although nonbelievers think it's the wind blowing.
As you descend into Kailua town, you may be underwhelmed. It's the anti-Waikiki. In fact, it's so unglam that you'll be tempted to turn around and go back.
Don't. Drive to Kailua beach park and park yourself on the beach. Dip a toe or 10 into the ocean; it's bathwater warm but the waves are generally gentle. Take a mental snapshot of the gently curving bay, the ironwood trees, the ocean lapping at the sand. It is a harmonic convergence of the senses, and as you drift off to sleep--and you will--you will know this is how Hawaii was meant to be experienced.
-- Catharine Hamm