KAPAA — Kenny Ishii was born on Oahu and has traveled all over the world, but he says there is no place like Kapaa.
“It’s a stronghold of what culture is all about,” Ishii said. “When I grew up in Honolulu, what I felt growing up at that time is what I feel here and along the whole Eastside. Honolulu now has changed and that’s growth in any big city … but what I’ve always believed about the Eastside is that there’s something special here.”
That something special, some say, will soon give Kapaa some extra recognition after Forbes Magazine named Kapaa as one of the nation’s 15 prettiest towns, the only town west of the Rocky Mountains to make the list.
Royal Coconut Coast Association President Troy Spalding, said the designation by Forbes Magazine is “tremendous news” for the organization and town as a whole.
“We’re working hard to expand recognition of the Eastside as a great place to visit,” Spalding said in an email. “This honor is really supportive.”
To help pick the towns recognized in this year’s list, Forbes Magazine writers called on travel experts from Frommer’s, National Geographic, Fodor’s and Midwest Living magazines to provide, “selections of what they consider to be among America’s prettiest towns,” according to the Forbes Magazine website.
The National Geographic Traveler writer who selected Kapaa, Andrew Evans, visited Kauai late last year. During his visit, Smith’s Tropical Paradise General Manager Walter “Kamika” Smith III gave Evans a tour of Kapaa.
“While here, I took him to have shave ice at Ono Family Restaurant and then took a walk along Kapaa town stopping at Pono Market to check out the plate lunch specials, then the ukulele store (where he later went back and bought an ukulele) and also to some of the smaller general stores along the way,” Smith wrote in an email.
In the Aug. 16 photo gallery posted on the Forbes Magazine website, Kapaa is described as having “a small-town Polynesian paradise quality that feels much more connected to the island’s past,” that is “unlike the high-rise strewn beaches that line so many of Hawaii’s stretches of coast.”
“It’s a very Hawaiian town with traditional ukulele makers and fish taco trucks parked under the palm trees.” Evans wrote. “It’s a small town with a lot of Hawaiian life, minus the tourist fray.”
Ishii, who lives in Wailua Homesteads and owns Ono Family Restaurant in Kapaa, said the town’s level of community involvement and outpouring of aloha spirit is what makes it unique.
“I’ve been through so many experiences where even people from the other islands cannot believe the aloha we have here,” Ishii said.
Robert Kubota, whose mother and father, Bob and Lynn Kubota, have run Pono Market for the past 16 years, said his family has seen generations of locals pass through the store. He wants everyone who visits to take away that same aloha spirit.
“I try to shine God’s love… so it’s the same thing through the aloha spirit, where we’re always helping each other,” Kubota said. “Sometimes I see people who aren’t having a good day, so I give the braddah one handshake and tell um, ‘Stay up, brah,’ and hope that makes his day.”
James and Nerida Brennan, visiting from Wilmington, Del., said they enjoyed Kapaa’s “nice, small town feel” during a recent stop at Ono Ono Shave Ice on Saturday
“People are very laid back and friendly,” Nerida Brennan said.
“It’s a lot different from the East Coast, where it’s really fast paced and you’re trying to get from here to there,” her husband added. “I actually had people wave to me and I didn’t know who they were.”
• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki.