Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Hawaii doesn’t have large national parks like California or any other state on the mainland (the exception is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). But we don’t have deep, gorgeous valleys, large Sequoia trees that stretch into the sky, or vast deserts.

No, we have gardens full of greenery.

But I was taken into a “desert” when we visited Koko Crater Botanical Garden last week. I knew that it was going to be hot, with the terrain being dusty and full of rocks–it was inside of a crater, after all.

But I didn’t know that it was going to be that different from the other gardens around Oahu.

On our way to the garden we were in the middle of the bicycle portion of the Tinman Olymic Triathalon on Kalanianaole Highway. Cones and cops were sectioning off a lane on the road, and continued until halfway up to the garden.

We arrived at 7:30am and after passing the security guard sitting at a picnic table under the shade we went to grab a brochure from the mailbox. We read the sign describing the garden and headed off, following the Loop Trail signs to the plumeria section. Even in the desert-like conditions, they were pretty. Among the grown ones, we noticed a bunch getting ready to bloom on some bushes.

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So picturesque

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A group of plumeria

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Baby plumeria

After following a pair of hikers on the trail, we ended up in the Americas section, which was an area with a lot of cacti: tall, strange looking ones, ones that looked like bushes, and round ones were all scattered on the terrain, up and down a hill. The weather was starting to get cool, and the view in front of us reminded me of being in Arizona or the Nevada desert.

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Are we still in Hawaii?

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It was MUCH larger (and thornier!) from where I was standing

We thought we were following the path, but ended up veering off of it a bit when we reached the Madagascar section. The path we were on became more narrow as we continued walking, so we cut through some plants and got back on track.

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More cacti!

Throughout the 2-mile loop trail there were shady spots to stand under, and a nice gentle breeze. It wasn’t sweltering hot, but we needed water once we arrived back to the car!

As we were making our way down the to entrance we noticed more people coming: families and couples decked out in hats, shirts, shorts, and shoes. One woman I saw was wearing sandals and jeans. (She must’ve been sweating after).

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So high up

Since the garden was next door to Koko Crater Stables, we stopped to watch two girls ride very groomed horses. The muffled sound of the hooves on grass filled the (mostly) silent atmosphere with noise.

We completed the hike at 9am and made our way back to town. Out of the gardens that we visited, Koko Crater Botanical Garden is different: besides the obvious dirt paths and heat, it’s more of a hike than a leisurely walk (but I guess you could do that), and the plants are different from what Foster’s or Ho’omaluhia have on display too, which shows the diversity of Hawaii’s ecological system. It was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning.

Music Monday: “A Simple Song”-John Mayer

In anticipation of his NEW song being released on Thursday, my favorite, John Mayer!

This was recorded a few weeks ago in LA, and I’m happy that I found this. The night that this was filmed, a former classmate of mine announced on Facebook that he was giving a free, impromptu performance there and I was so sad because I was ~45 miles away, in Newport Beach. She has some videos from the show posted onto her Facebook page, which made me jealous.

SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR!!!! (Okay, not THAT far, but still).

I will see this man live in concert again. One day.

Note: I apologize for the recording cutting out at the end.

Food Friday: Newport Beach Eating Guide

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Photo Credit: meditateinthesouthbay.org

My family and I came back Monday from a four-day trip to Newport Beach to attend my cousin’s wedding. We had never been to Newport but were told that it was an upscale area in California, and it really is. The shopping malls are huge with high-end shops, the area is very clean, and there are a lot of BMW’s, Mercedes, Lexus, and Escalades roving around. I felt like I was in Beverly Hills!

Given that Newport is a fancy area, the restaurants are also elegant. However, we mostly ate at affordable places in and around the city and they were just as good! Here is my short list of eating in Newport Beach and its surrounding areas.

Roll It Sushi & Teriyaki-When we arrived at our hotel at 7:30pm, we were hungry. Unfortunately, we were in a business area and most of the eateries were closed or too far away to walk to. After a few minutes we saw this place in the corner of a strip mall. We got a small steak bowl with white rice, regular chicken teriyaki plate with brown rice and potato salad, and a salad. The thin steak pieces with teriyaki sauce is bursting with flavor; the chunks of white meat chicken are moist, and the salad is fresh. Roll It is a healthy version of Japanese food, and this place makes eating healthy really, really yummy.

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Balboa Candy-Located on the quaint Balboa Island, this candy shop has every sweet piece of confection for sale: from saltwater taffy and jellybeans to gummies and chocolate. We went a little crazy in here…’nuff said.

Too Sweet-Right across the street from Balboa Candy is Too Sweet, which specializes in chocolate. There are chocolate dipped pretzels, frozen bananas, and caramel apples among their selection. I chose a peanut butter and chocolate seashell. Too cute, and really soft, creamy, and gone in a minute.

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In-N-Out Burger-Newport Beach doesn’t have the iconic California burger restaurant, so the closest is in Irvine, across the street from the University of California Irvine. If you’ve never eaten at one, make a trip out West now (if not California, get your In-N-Out fix in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, or Utah). It’s a simple menu (along with a Not-So-Secret Menu) with good quality food. Everything is freshly made and you can taste it.

Lemonade-Californians are all about healthy eating, and this place caters to them. Just from looking at the menu of sandwiches, hot food, and flatbread Lemonade screams “healthy!” We split some mixed vegetables and a grilled mozzarella sandwich. Both are good, and the sandwich is huge, with a good crunch from the bread and the yummy blend of cheese, tomato, and avocado.

The Pizza Press-Located in the Metro Pointe at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, The Pizza Press makes thin-crust pizza with the option to build your own. The concept is cool: Pre-made pies are named after the country’s most well-known newspapers (The Sun, The Times), and each section of the ordering process is labeled like a publisher’s, well, process (editorial, proofing). We made our own pizza of red sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, and pepperoni. The pizza is crunchy, flavorful, and doesn’t make you feel bloated afterward.

And, that’s about it. Have any other affordable restaurants we have to try the next time we go to Newport Beach and/or other Orange County cities? Let me know in the comments!!