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Hawaii In San Diego: Luau at the Kona Kai

Ask 10 San Diegans where they would like to go on vacation and a good number of them will answer, "Hawaii." The islands are close -- about a five-hour flight -- tropical, beautiful, and they all speak English and use dollars. Actually, in some ways, Hawaii is not that different from San Diego. I think we have better weather as well as beautiful beaches, great hotels and fine restaurants. But, it is good to get away. That's what vacations are all about -- the getaway.

Each Hawaiian island offers its own magic and appeal. Oahu has, in addition to all its beauty, a dynamic city to explore. Kuai has mountains and "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." The Big Island offers a view of galaxies atop Mauna Kea to amaze. But, whichever island one visits, one can always find a luau.

The term "luau" first appeared in the mid-19th century and means something like "party" in Hawaiian. It is ceremonial, with old traditions about what to eat and how to prepare the food. Often, a whole pig is roasted in an underground oven using hot rocks and then served to the partygoers. Fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken often round out the feast. Because of fertile volcanic soil, proximity to the ocean's bounty and good weather, the Hawaiian diet is healthful and diverse.

Well, put away that credit card and cancel the flight reservations. Hawaii has come to San Diego. The Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island is now offering a terrific luau on Friday nights through Aug. 14.

The Kona Kai, now owned by Atlas Hotels, was renovated extensively a number of years ago. It is set on 11 acres on Shelter Island, with lots of sandy beach along the bay.

The luau, of course, takes place right on the beach, with a captivating view of large, expensive yachts and Point Loma behind them. The setting could not be better. Hawaiian dancers greet guests at the entrance and adorn them with leis or puka shell necklaces to set the mood.

Festivities begin with the parade of the pig. A roast pig is carried in by a small group of warriors and displayed to the guests. Then, as diners fill their plates at the sumptuous buffet, the music starts.

The food is good. And there's lots of it. Pork, chicken and seafood as well as pineapple, salads and other goodies are there, waiting to be stacked onto plates. Some people can barely carry them back to their tables. A small bar offers mai tai's. A larger bar nearby offers wine and other drinks.

The long tables, with mixed seating, create a real social opportunity. It is fun to meet and speak with the strangers who are dining across the tabletop. Kids are welcome. Lots of them enjoyed playing in the sand in front of the stage.

It is the band and dancers that really make the evening special. The music was well played, ranging from strong and rhythmic to sweet and mellow. At one time, a number of couples were dancing in the sand.

The Hawaiian dancers put on a great show, as they gyrated their hips and waved their arms to tell the story of the colonization of the South Pacific. They illustrated their "tales" with music and dances from Tahiti to Hawaii. At the end, diners were invited onto the stage for Hawaiian dance lessons, which were entertaining and amusing.

The luaus are scheduled to run for only a few weeks and they are economically priced to attract families and groups. It is a really fun way to spend an evening, well worth the food and entertainment.

The Kona Kai Resort is located at 1551 Shelter Island Dr., San Diego. For information and reservations, phone (800) 566-2524, or visit www.ShelterIslandLuau.com.

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