My Oahu: Ukulele Virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro

Shimabukuro on where to find the local music, his favorite spot for amazing island views, and where every traveler should go their first time

With all the fame and fortune that the ukulele has brought him, Jake Shimabukuro quips that he picked a good instrument. Indeed, the ukulele has gained much more street cred and moved light years from Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips, thanks to the Honolulu native who has taken the four-string, two-octave instrument to new heights.

As a kid, where did you first hear/see someone playing the ukulele?

My mom used to play the ukulele all the time and she put a uke in my hands when I was 4 years old. Ohta-San, though, was the first musician I saw play professionally at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. My inspiration still comes from traditional Hawaiian music and I’m very rooted in Hawaiian culture.

Where are some of the best venues to see Hawaiian music?

Because I’ve been traveling so much the past couple of years, I’m kind of out of the loop of the new places but I recently saw Benny Chong at Gordon Biersch and I know that Kani Ka Pila Grille features a lot of local musicians.

When you return from touring, what do you like to do? Where do you like to go for down time?

I like spending time with my wife and my 1-year-old Chase. We like to go to Kaimana Beach in the morning because the hotel provides shade and there’s a lot of room to run around for Chase. I also like to go fishing at either the Kahala or at Magic Island.

Is there a spot in Hawaii that holds a special place in your heart?

There are way too many special places. But because I grew up in Kaimuki, I like to go to all the restaurants, including Kona Kai Sushi, Coffee Talk, Town and To Thai For. Molokai is also a special place for me because I spent a lot of summers there with my grandparents. I learned to appreciate the simple living; getting up at 5 in the morning to go fishing and in bed by 9 because there really wasn’t much to do.

What’s your favorite local dish and why?

Definitely Zippy’s chili. When I crave chili, nothing can satisfy my craving except Zippy’s. Chili over hot white rice is my ultimate comfort food.

What do you recommend first-time visitors to Oahu do while they’re here?

Go on the Makapuu Lighthouse trail because the views are incredible. And if they want a different perspective from Waikiki, they should experience the North Shore culture and check out Kailua because either community will give them a totally different sense of the island.

Kaimana Beach offers shade and gentle waves. HTA/Tor Johnson

My Perfect Day

7 am: Farmer's market and the beach

My wife is into gardening so I’ll help her with that. Afterwards, we’ll go out for breakfast and maybe grab a bowl of acai from Diamond Head Cove Bar. We’ll check out the local Farmer’s Market and then head to Kaimana Beach.

Noon: Watch the surfers at Diamond Head

When I was in high school I used to always pick up something to eat and have lunch at one of the scenic lookout points at Diamond Head. It was therapeutic to sit on the wall and watch the surfers and see them ride the waves. I still do the same thing today.

3 pm: A workout in the park

I like to go for a short jog around Kapiolani Park or play tennis at Magic Island.

6 pm: Fresh sushi favorites

We love sushi so if I had to pick my top five favorite restaurants, they would be Kona Kai, Izakaya Gaku, Mitch’s, Tokkuri-Tei and Sasabune; and not necessarily in any ranked order.

9 pm: Close the day with ukulele

Come home and put Chase to bed, and maybe strum my ukulele.