Returning home from Hawaii in a “toy” airplane — not a jumbo jet or luxury ocean liner

Room with a view of Diamond Head in the historic wing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Room #484 in the historic wing of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was the perfect way to wrap up my “spring break.” It had a wonderful view of Diamond Head and the ocean, reminding me what it must have been like when the Matson ocean liners, such as the Malolo, brought West Coast tourists to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the late 20s. (We have collected colorful dinner menus from those journeys, framed them, and hung them on a wall in our kitchen at home — a daily reminder of “good times”).

“The year Malolo came into service coincided with the opening of Matson’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel,” said an exhaustive report titled “How tourism began in Hawaii” from the University of Hawaii. “The Royal Hawaiian provided ‘elegance and service.’ Matson now could provide tourists with luxury accommodations at sea and on shore in a package, something that no other shipping company could do.”

In then’30s, Hawaii Calls began broadcasting Hawaiian music from the Royal Hawaiian. Movies such as Waikiki Wedding starring Bing Crosby made songs like Sweet Leilani and Blue Hawaii famous.

PanAm’s Clipper Ships

In the ’30s commercial air travel came along, replacing the ocean liners. In 1936, Pan American World Airways inaugurated its Clipper passenger service from San Francisco to  Honolulu, using the long-range flying boat, the Hawaii Clipper.

In 1970, Pan Am flew the first commercial flight to Hawaii in a four-engine Boeing 747, followed by Continental and United in the same year.

My first plane trip ever was a flight to Hawaii in the mid-’70s to visit my childhood friend in Honolulu on a United 747″Friend Ship” from SFO. It was awesome. The upper deck was a lounge. Later, my wife and I flew to Hawaii on a Continental Airlines DC-10, with a long L-shaped bar for in-flight libations. These were dubbed “Pub Flights.” The motto: “On Continental Airlines, we really move our tail for you” (an inappropriate tagline nowadays). But that glamorous era of flying came to an end: United flew its last 747 this fall with retro flight attendant uniforms and menus.

Now small, more fuel-efficient, twin-engine jets have replaced most flights from the Mainland to Hawaii — supposedly in the name of “progress.” In 1980 an FAA administrator said: “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let twins fly long haul, overwater routes.” But it happened. In 1989, the FAA approved twin-engine flights to Hawaii, ushering in an era of cramped narrow-body flights to the islands.

“Toy” airplanes

My longtime friend at United, a Boeing 747 captain, joking called the 737s that fly to Hawaii nowadays “toy airplanes.” From a passenger’s point of view, at least mine, that’s not progress. The plane flies slower than a jumbo jet and the passengers are more cramped together. There is no lounge or stand-up bar; just two small lavatories.

This afternoon, I’m going to fly from Honolulu to Oakland in a Boeing 737 from Alaska Airlines. Yup, Alaska. The Seattle-based airline has been flying to Hawaii for just over a decade. ““I never thought Alaska would fly to Hawaii,” as one flight attendant put it. Now after completing its acquisition of Virgin America this week, Alaska Airlines is one of the biggest carriers to Hawaii, along with United, American and Delta.

Alaska Airlines unveiled a flavorful new First Class menu inspired by the West Coast food scene.

I upgraded to first class for this trip, thanks to frequent flier miles. It’s an excellent service. The menu features fresh, local ingredients, such as a steak salad with green papaya, mint and lime wedges, on Schönwald serving pieces. The flight attendants hand out Microsoft tablets for watching movies.

Times have changed for ground transportation too. I’ll use my smartphone to book a ride on Uber. But some things don’t change: I’ll ride home on an Amtrak train to Sacramento, the same route as the California Zephyr, whose roots date back to the ’40s. It’s scenic but slow.

Here’s a Continental Airlines commercial from the ’70s, featuring the “Pub Flights”:

Larry Ellison plans to launch hydroponic farming venture in Hawaii later this year

Ellison discusses his hydroponic farming startup (Photo: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

Editor’s note: I used to regularly interview Larry Ellison when I was the chief technology writer at The Chronicle, and I enjoy following his ventures. Later this year, Ellison plans to launch a hydroponic farming venture in Hawaii, which imports 85 percent of its food. The plan is drawing more local attention, I noticed on my trip to Honolulu this past week.  This is not the first venture of its kind on an island. The Caribbean island of Anguilla, which we have visited several times including on our honeymoon, had a hydroponic farm at the CuisinArt resort. The background about Ellison’s venture is here:

“Billionaire Larry Ellison is getting into the sustainability and healthy eating game with a new company based on his very own private island (on Lanai in Hawaii),” as Celebrity Net Worth is reporting. “It’s called Sensei, a network of hydroponic farms developed in conjunction with Steve Jobs’ old doctor, cancer specialist Dr. David Agus. In a recent press statement about the project, Agus had this to say about the new venture:

“‘As a society, we’ve become so detached from knowing our food, knowing where it comes from and why we eat what we eat. With Sensei we hope to increase transparency and restore our relationship with food.’

“Sensei is starting out with ten hydroponic greenhouses, 200,000 square feet each. Together, Ellison told the Honolulu Star Advertiser he expects them to yield about 1.7 million pounds of produce per year. That amount is said to surpass that which could supply Lanai, the private Hawaiian island

“Ellison bought 98 percent of back in 2012 for $300 million, and the business plan for now is to sell the produce in Hawaii, where 85 percent of the food is imported.

“The plan is also for Sensei to be a technological leader in the industry, as the company’s president Daniel Gruneberg explains in a statement:

“‘For so long, agriculture has been one of the least digitized industries. Now, we can combine software, sensors and robotics to make giant leaps in sustainable farming and perhaps, more importantly, the quality of our food.’

“Sensei hydroponic farming will work by first importing fruit and vegetable seeds from all over the world, which will then be cultivated hydroponically (in water, rather than in soil) on the island. This method requires 90 percent less water than traditional farming, and the greenhouses will also be outfitted with Tesla brand solar panels for even greater environmental sustainability. If all goes according to plan, the produce itself will be more nutritious and better tasting, too, since data will be collected digitally from the yield to be studied by researchers in order to maximize the produce in those two areas.’

“And in case you’re wondering, Sensei’s first crops will be Black Trifele tomatoes and Komatsuna mustard greens.”

The article is here.

A lifetime of memories of Hawaii

Room with a view: #2201 at the Waikiki Parc Hotel — a budget-friendly hotel soon to go upmarket

To be sure, the best part about Hawaii is finding a near-deserted beach for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking. One of my favorite memories of Hawaii was the time we camped on the Big Island for a week, circumnavigating the island counterclockwise from Kailua-Kona to Waimea to Hilo to the south. We camped at beach parks along the way, barbecued fresh fish, and saw the red-hot lava flow near Volcanos National Park spilling into the ocean. One afternoon, I unknowingly swam in an eel pond near Hilo, as the local teenage girls told me after I jumped in the water. I quickly jumped out, and they laughed out loud.

On Maui, we once rented an oceanfront place near Paia (before Airbnb existed) and watched the windsurfers from our lanai near Ho’okipa beach with a homemade pineapple-infused vodka martini in hand. (Chef Alan Wong’s recipe is here). It was a modest place, but it had a Wolf range, so I cooked Kalua pulled pork in the oven for our own luau, again from Alan Wong’s cookbook. Toward the end of the trip, the gas stove stopped working. Later, we learned why: It was attached to a propane tank — not a pipe — and we had emptied it completely with the “low and slow” cooking. Ha!

On the “windward” side of Oahu, at Lanikai, we regularly rented a place from a former Chronicle colleague that had stunning views of the “mokes,” two offshore islands. The beach at Lanikai is superb. We barbecued fresh fish we bought from the Tamashiro market. We also enjoyed Buzz’s Steakhouse. (Windward Oahu is a popular but uncrowded destination: President Obama rented a house at nearby Kailua, and Wally Amos, founder of “Famous Amos” cookies, had an oceanfront home at Lanikai).

We’ve also enjoyed the Princeville Resort on Kauai (where we took our son to his first luau); the Mauna Kea on the Big Island; Fairmont and Maui Prince at South Maui (where we saw whales spouting from our room) and the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Oahu (where we enjoyed the stunning 82-foot heated pool, with a mosaic of an orchid, the restaurants, and the sunsets).

This weekend, I’m staying at the Halekulani Hotel for one night,  “bookended” by the Waikiki Parc hotel across the street on the nights before and after. The Waikiki Parc is a hidden gem. It is a “sister hotel” of the Halekulani, meaning guests have access to its private beach and dining privileges. And Waikiki Parc is half the price of the Halekulani. So over three nights, the experience blends together at a more affordable rate.

This photo is from room #2201 at the Waikiki Parc; it is stunning at sunset. And you can leave the sliding door open at night to hear the surf.

Times are changing, however. The Waikiki Parc is closing in October for a 16-month renovation. Locals are worried that renovation means another budget-friendly hotel will go upmarket. “It’ll be sad to see yet another decent, affordable option disappear with it, but that seems to be the norm in Waikiki these days,” as one commentator wrote.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying swimming in the ocean and swimming pools, walking along the beach, eating the fresh fish and other local cuisine, and visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art. (Honolulu has an excellent arts and culture scene). I’m looking forward to dinner at Alan Wong’s and the Sunday brunch at Halekulani, a locals’ favorite. Enjoy your week!

Our New Gold Rush

Introduction to the spring issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

PROSPERITY HAS COME TO OUR region in different forms, starting with the Gold Rush. “Gold was discovered just to the south of here in January 1848. You could literally pick it up in the creeks,” recalls local author Jordan Fisher Smith in a recent documentary called “Redefining Prosperity: The Gold Rushes of Nevada City.”

But that was just the beginning. “There was a gold rush, a water rush, and a timber rush,” Fisher Smith added. “About 1968, you have what I call this hippie diaspora where people are leaving the cities. There is a wholesale rejection of the traditional sense of what wealth is.”

This “back to the land movement” led to a burgeoning arts and culture scene, thanks to the arrival of Beat Generation poet Gary Snyder, folk singer Utah Philips, San Francisco artists David Osborn and Charles Woods and countless others. In the ‘70s, Snyder became the first chair of the California Arts Council.

Now a new era of prosperity is further redefining the region — as a destination for arts and entertainment, farm-to-table cuisine, and historic boutique hotels, B&Bs and inns.

Last year, the California Arts Council provided a catalyst, selecting 14 districts to serve as inaugural state-designated Cultural Districts. Nevada County is home to two of the 14 districts — Grass Valley-Nevada City and Truckee — and the county is unique in California as having received two designations.

In addition, locals and out-of-towners are now investing tens of millions of dollars in the region, refurbishing historic buildings, expanding performing arts centers, even recreating downtowns. Examples include:

■ In downtown Nevada City, San Francisco entrepreneur Jonathan Rowe has acquired the historic Stone House in Nevada City, a handsome building that dates back to 1882. After an extensive renovation, Rowe has created a superb dining and entertainment venue.

■ In February, the National Hotel in Nevada City, one of the West’s oldest hotels, was acquired by Southern California hotelier Jordan Fife. It will be transformed into a boutique hotel with a cutting-edge restaurant and bar.

■ In downtown Grass Valley, locals have purchased the Nevada County Bank Building, the second-most architecturally unique downtown building behind the Del Oro Theatre. After an extensive remodel, it will house some unique retail businesses. The Center for the Arts also is undergoing a $3.8 million expansion.

■ Like Grass Valley and Nevada City, Truckee is poised for further growth. The Truckee Railyard is a redevelopment project that includes affordable rental apartments, a movie theater and an amphitheater — recreating the downtown. It also features public art throughout the site.

This issue is dedicated to the new era of prosperity in our region: in food, beer and wine, art and music, and destination travel.

(Photo: Kial James)

Spring issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine is now circulating — in print and online

A digital version of our spring issue is here. The theme is “The New Gold Rush,” featuring new investments in our region, including the Truckee Railyard project, the National Hotel and The Stone House in Nevada City, the Nevada County Bank Building in Grass Valley, and a new hotel in Auburn, among others. (Cover photo: Will Edwards)

Enjoying a visit to the “Pink Palace” in Honolulu

A room with a view at the “Pink Palace”

The spring issue of our magazine is finished, so I headed out to Honolulu for a quick “R&R.” I snagged a low fare on Alaska Airlines from Oakland, and started my trip at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (AKA “the Pink Palace”).

I love the history of the Royal Hawaiian. The pink stucco, Spanish-Moorish styled complex opened in 1927 to accommodate the Matson Nativagion Co.’s steamers from San Francisco. The hotel offers walking tours that recount stories about the iconic resort.

My first trip to Hawaii was in high school. I flew on a United Airlines 747 by myself to spend the summer in Honolulu with a longtime childhood friend, whose family had returned to the island.

His mom was born in Honolulu, a descendant of early Christian missionaries. She graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu — a storied private school — and Scripps College, Claremont. Before passing, she was honored by the Hawaii State Senate for her volunteer work.

I developed a love for Hawaii on that trip, getting an “insider’s view” of Honolulu, including the arts and culture venues. Later, my wife Shannon and I would return to the “windward” side of Oahu, where we rented a house from a former colleague of The Chronicle, who lived there. We would swim and grill fresh fish from the famed Tamashiro Market. We also would eat dinner at Alan Wong’s, who grew to become one of Hawaii’s most renowned chefs.

Since then we’ve been back to most of the islands: Kauai, the Big Island and Maui. In short, Hawaii has been a part of our lives together, including when our son was born. He has memories of going to a luau and swimming in the surf. He learned about Pearl Harbor firsthand from a visit there.

This time, I’m on my own for a little “R&R.” I will visit Alan Wong’s for dinner, visit the Honolulu Museum of art, and enjoy swimming in the ocean. I like to leave the sliding-glass door of my room open at night to hear the surf.

The three-hour time difference is an advantage too, because I can help my son with his homework before it even gets dark. And I’ll fly home in a narrow-body 737, a “toy airplane” as my friend who was a captain of a 747 used to joke. Times have changed. Enjoy your week!

Here’s a vintage United Airlines commercial from the 1970s, when I took my first trip to Hawaii in a 747:



Bent Metal Winery announces it will close in mid-July

Editor’s note: We received this email today from Bent Metal Winery — an official announcement of what we knew was in the works. Wishing Scott and Judy the best in their future adventures. Thanks for 10 years of wonderful wine and good times!

“After 10 wonderful years it’s time for us to move on to other adventures.

“Lot’s of recent changes for us, including selling our other business of 37 years.

“We will be closing Bent Metal Winery the middle of July 2018.

“We have met so many great people, And have made many good friends along the way.

“We want to thank all our Wine club members and repeat customers for all your support over the years.

“We hope to see you all before we close. We are planning a final party on June 23rd
( more details to follow ) .

“Our remaining wine inventory will be available at Huge discounts… come and get it.

“We will be included in this years Wine Trail on May 19th.”

Scott and Judy”