Last week, President Barack Obama and his family arrived in Hawaii to spend another Christmas on the island of Oahu.
After so many holiday seasons spent in the Aloha State, it’s safe to say the first family has pretty much perfected their routine. Here are nine reasons POTUS wants to come to Hawaii for the ninth year in a row:
In the wake of a severely stressful presidential election, Obama probably needs nothing more than a five-hour time difference and a 5,000-mile buffer between him and Washington, D.C. After all, Hawaii is the most isolated population center on earth, making it the ideal place to get away from it all.
Even though the island chain is part of the U.S., there is something uniquely exotic about the Aloha State, making it feel like a true escape.
Hawaii has its own culture, its own time zone, and its own way of doing just about everything. The idiosyncrasies that make Hawaii so distinct are precisely the reasons Obama can let his hair down there.
Though Obama grew up in Honolulu, he and his family have stayed in Kailua, on Oahu’s east shore, for the past eight years. Once you see the homes they’ve rented in the past, you’ll understand why they’re so attached.
Known for its gorgeous white sand beaches and laid-back lifestyle, the upscale neighborhood boasts some of the most beautiful scenery on the island ― and that turquoise water is just steps from the Obamas’ rental. It also doesn’t hurt that Kailua is close to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, providing easy and essential security.
If the president is hankering for some familiar comfort food, he’ll get just that in Hawaii.
POTUS has his go-to upscale restaurants on Oahu, including Alan Wong’s and Nobu Waikiki, but he also has a soft spot for the local favorites of his childhood, like spam musubi and Hawaii’s favorite frozen treat, shave ice.
Island Snow, a shave ice and surf shop in Kailua, is the Obamas’ spot of choice when in need of a post-beach sugar rush. But this is no mere snow cone. The ice is fine and fluffy, and many of the syrups at Island Snow, such as lychee and lilikoi, are made locally. Obama’s go-to combination is lemon-lime, cherry, and passion-guava, AKA the “Snowbama” at Island Snow.
For an authentic shave ice experience, get ice cream, mochi balls or azuki beans added to the bottom of your cup. (Or all three. #Yolo.)
The Obamas have their pick of beautiful beaches when they come to Hawaii, but they tend to stick to a few favorites, including a gorgeous stretch of beach on Bellows Air Force Station. The gentle waves at Bellows are perfect for boogie boarding.
When Obama’s looking for something a little more thrilling, however, he likes to revisit his high school days spent bodysurfing at Sandy Beach. (In 2014, there was a proposal to rename the beach after Obama. It didn’t go over well.)
The waves at this famed shorebreak can be dangerous ― more injuries occur here than on any other beach in Hawaii ― so we hope POTUS stays safe out there.
President Obama is an avid golfer when in Hawaii. The Olomana Golf Links and the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club are regulars in the rotation, but the Kaneohe Klipper golf course on Marine Corps Base Hawaii seems to be his clear favorite.
During Obama’s 2014 vacation, the president’s golf game forced a couple to relocate their wedding at the Klipper course, but the apology phone call they received was surely worth it.
Featuring both mountain and ocean views, it’s no wonder the president heads here multiple times per visit. Feast your eyes on the 13th hole:
If you’ve seen “Lilo & Stitch,” you know that ohana means family and is of the utmost importance in Hawaii. When POTUS is in the islands, he takes full advantage of that sentiment.
He has regular dinners with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who still lives in Hawaii, and makes trips to Punchbowl cemetery to visit the grave of his maternal grandfather, World War II veteran Stanley Dunham. The cemetery, used to honor service members, is situated in a volcanic crater with sweeping views of Honolulu.
The president also gets to spend some much-needed quality time with daughters Sasha and Malia. After all, who knows how much longer they’ll let him hold their hands after a long day of snorkeling at Hanauma Bay?
7. Making History
In addition to some well-deserved rest and relaxation, Obama has some historic business to take care of during his time in the Aloha State.
The outgoing POTUS will visit the Pearl Harbor memorial with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where the two will remember victims of Japan’s attack 75 years ago.
Abe’s visit marks the first time an incumbent prime minister of Japan has been to the historic site after the attack on December 7, 1941, which launched the U.S. into WWII.
President Obama called Abe’s visit “a testament that even the most bitter of adversaries can become the closest of allies,” in a statement earlier this month.
Michelle Obama has said “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii.” Well, you can’t really understand Hawaii until you understand aloha.
Aloha is somewhat of a catch-all word, but it is something you cannot quite comprehend until you’ve spent time on the islands. The word is a greeting, an expression of love, and a way of life. The aloha spirit is everywhere, and it is something that permeates the lives of those who live and have lived in Hawaii, including the president.
Once you know the meaning of aloha, Hawaii will hold a place in your heart, just as it does for the Obamas.
9. It’s home.
Though the first family has lived in a number of places, spending the holidays in Hawaii has become an important annual tradition. Michelle Obama has said that her family’s time in Hawaii includes an annual talent show with many loved ones present.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world,” she said.
And as President Obama reminded the world at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Hawaii is home. “I am an island boy,” he told the leaders of several island nations.
There’s nothing better than being home for Christmas.
A version of this story was originally published in December 2014.
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