Waikiki’s physical form is a row of ’60s slabs perpendicular to the beach; as JCB-toting Japanese tourists have displaced fat, ugly Americans, “boardwalk” has evolved (partly, which is the fun part) from t-shirt shops to marquee-name couture boutiques. Prada sits three doors down from a peep show joint. The truly wild thing is that Ala Moana, the near-downtown megamall less than a mile west, has all the same shops, plus oddball Hawaiian locals like the “Crack Seed Center” (a bulk candy and roasted-nut shop). Since the economy’s tied more to Tokyo than DC, there’s a lot of ’80s glitter but surprisingly little new since then, save a few monuments to the very latest real estate bubble.

High property values, high value agriculture, consolidated local government, and lack of buildable land (between coast and mountain, as they say in Vancouver) means relatively compact sprawl and bad congestion, even in the absence of any noticeable job center. Only downtown and the adjoining Chinatown have any real historic-district merit; it’s overwhelmingly a postwar city, and the “real” neighborhoods have that sunstruck, run-down look of, say, San Diego. (Not as dirty as LA, much less rain than Miami.) Ethnic restaurants are aplenty, but bohemia seems in little evidence: the only band posters I saw were in Hale’iwa, the little surfer town at the gateway to the North Shore’s heroic waves.

Bus transit is excellent, many intersections have scramble signals, and downtown has a ped mall, a bike/bus mall, little surface parking, and an old-line department store, besides the usual government offices in an old royal palace.

The overall feel crosses Las Vegas with Miami Beach and Myrtle Beach, but filled with pushy Asians. (whites are less than 25% of the population, and maybe half of the 100,000 tourists.) Just as strangely un-American as Canada in many ways, like the lack of major crime, residential high-rises in odd places, indifference to the Protestant work ethic and news from the mainland, and an oddly communitarian local political culture — apparently dating from the early days, of Japanese settlers, New England missionaries, and money-grubbing Yankee capitalists mingling with famously laid-back native Hawaiians.

Photos Flickr-ed to my “West Coast”:http://flickr.com/photos/paytonc/sets/462801/ set.