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Hawaiian Treasures

Can I walk?I ask him, sick at this point of taxis and trolleys (I may be the only nondriver in the history of travel writing). And, miracle of miracles, he says it's just a few blocks away. So I stroll over, and I'm virtually the only one on the sidewalk—Honolulu is, much like the mainland, car country. My reward for this brief exercise is the musty, cluttered Aloha Antiques & Collectibles, a multi-dealer collective in a 1912 building. I pause to consider a print of a waterfall with a lurid color scheme straight out of Maxfield Parrish and then proceed up Maunakea, which turns into one of Chinatown's main streets, full of tiny lei shops hardly bigger than stalls, where local women sit stringing colorful flowers. At the corner of North Hotel Street there's a reminder of rougher days: a crumbling neon sign that says, HUBBA HUBBA LIVE NUDE SHOW. (In its prime, Hotel Street was not home to places like the Halekulani.)

I have saved the illustrious Garakuta-Do for my last full day in Honolulu. The place is vast: there are entire rooms of mid-century kimonos and vintage silk obis. Wataru Harada, the owner, has been in business for 20 years and is visibly proud of his vintage Japanese goods. "I send so many antique tansu chests to the mainland," he says; it's no surprise, since they start at an inviting $500. I am drawn to the smaller items—mother-of-pearl combs, lacquered sake carriers—which is not to say I can't also see the beauty in a huge, circa-1850 step-shaped chest from Kyoto ($7,800).

I could linger here for hours, but Baby is waiting. As I exit the mall after picking up my ring, I catch a glimpse of a vast, rosy mirage winking through the trees. It's the 1927 Royal Hawaiian hotel, the pink palace, as it's known. I slide Baby onto my finger and walk over, but before I even hit the lobby I discover Newt, a hotel shop that looks as if it has been around since the 1920's. In the window there's something called a Dorothy Lamour sarong; inside are what seem like hundreds of panama hats. It turns out that the place opened less than two decades ago, but the effect is deliberate.

"You're meant to think that," says the salesman. A sign on the counter states, "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low prices is forgotten," a useful reminder for all dedicated shoppers, though I'm not sure it's sufficient to persuade me to spring for Newt's chapeau de résistance, a straw panama so intricate, it took six months to weave and costs $7,500.

Something about the shop—the old-fashioned hats, the wood paneling, the gleaming pink hotel just outside—makes me blurt out that I wish I could have seen Honolulu in the twenties. "Oh, just take what's still here!" my new friend says, gazing out at the lush gardens. "The sea! The air! The people!"

LYNN YAEGER is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.

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