When Barack Obama was last in Hawaii to visit his grandmother and sister, it was December 2006, and he was still a relatively unknown junior Senator from Illinois deciding whether to run for President. Obama was shocked, then, when a paparazzi shot of him emerging from the Pacific Ocean on one of his favorite Oahu beaches ended up in PEOPLE magazine. The episode added privacy concerns to his deliberations and gave him a taste of the fishbowl that is the Oval Office (as well as the campaign to get there).
He may have been annoyed by the attention, but clearly he wasn't deterred by it. Nineteen months later, Obama, now a worldwide celebrity and the presumptive Democratic nominee, is heading to his native Hawaii for a weeklong vacation, with dozens of reporters in tow shadowing his every move from getting a haircut to biking with his daughters. No matter how low-key his intentions, there's little chance of the trip not looking like victorious Caesar returning from the front: not only did Obama win the Aloha State's primary and the Democratic nomination, he is arguably already the best-known Hawaiian native ever.
While Obama years ago chose to make his home in Chicago, he's said his native Hawaii holds a special place in his heart. He's written about how time spent there with his family recharges his batteries and gives him perspective. He will need it: after the coming week off, there will be little sleep through the naming of his Vice President, the Democratic Convention and the final two-month sprint to Election Day. And surely the Obama campaign won't mind some relaxed snapshots of the candidate partaking in typical summer-vacation activities bodysurfing, playing with his girls, eating ice cream especially at a time when the GOP is doing its best to portray him as an aloof, out-of-touch celebrity more concerned with European crowds than with average Americans.
So what can a press pool, liberated from nearly eight years of "vacations" in dusty Crawford, Texas, expect in Hawaii? First and foremost, some time at Hawaii's justifiably famous beaches. Obama, who spent much of his childhood near Hawaii's best-known beach, Waikiki, is a big fan of bodysurfing. His favorite spot is a place called Sandy's Beach on the windward side of the island. Much of Oahu outside of Waikiki is for locals in fact, the island has permitted the construction of only four hotels outside of Waikiki and the eastern coast, where Sandy's is found, is no exception. Known as "breakneck beach" for its 5- to 10-ft. waves that crash into the sand vertically, Sandy's often leaves unwary bodysurfers with painful memories. (Note to first-timers: Hawaiians, like surfers, measure waves from the top of a person's back to the crest, so I don't recommend learning the art at Sandy's.)
Obama is also scheduled to hold a fund raiser at the posh Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki that could rake in more than $500,000, reaping the rewards of being the first presidential nominee to travel to Hawaii since Richard Nixon in 1960. There's no word on where he might be staying during his visit, but he may want to avoid that particular hotel, which suffered a plague of bedbugs in April, according to the Pacific Business News.
The Illinois Senator is likely to make one public appearance during his time in Hawaii: at a rally on Magic Island, a park peninsula between Honolulu and Waikiki, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. He has previously said he'd like to give a speech at Punchbowl National Cemetery, where his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, a World War II veteran, is interred, though the campaign hasn't disclosed yet if he will do so on this trip.
The island has felt the changes of his rising celebrity, and if Obama decides to do some reminiscing, he may find some surprising new faces at his old haunts. Teachers, students and parents at Punahou, the Úlite school that Obama attended for eight years on scholarship, don't quite know what to make of the Japanese tour buses that have begun to stop at their 76-acre campus; Obama's East Asian fans routinely photograph the banyan tree he likely climbed during fifth-grade recesses and surely speculate on which apartment he lived in with his grandparents on Wilder Street across from the school.
Most of the restaurants Obama frequented as a kid have disappeared. The Mr. Burger that he went to after basketball team practices on the corner of Dole and University streets not far from where his parents met at the University of Hawaii became a Pizza Hut and is now Robata Grill, a Japanese BBQ joint. Only Grace's Inn, a hot-plate diner full of favorite local dishes like chicken katsu, remains, though it has moved down the street a few blocks. One place Obama is likely to have patronized is Waiola Shave Ice, with the best frozen treat on the island, still popular with locals and students alike.
While Hawaiians may be used to tourists from all over the world, they have yet to encounter Obamamania in full force. "As the presidential election nears, we've seen media interest in Oahu increase dramatically due to the attention surrounding Barack Obama," said Les Enderton, executive director of the Oahu Visitors Bureau. "It's too early to tell how this translates into vacation bookings, but the interest is definitely there." And if Obama wins the race for the White House to become the first Hawaiian-born President, the meaning of the term Western White House, and of Oahu itself, will never be the same.