- Associated Press - Thursday, December 23, 2010

HONOLULU | President Obama eased into the first day of his Hawaiian vacation Thursday, opting for privacy over publicity after wrapping up a frenzied lame-duck legislative session back in Washington.

The president began with what has become a familiar routine during his trips to Hawaii — a morning workout at a gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. He ducked into the gym without being spotted by cameras.

Mr. Obama had no public events scheduled during his 11-day vacation, and aides said he hoped to spend much of his time at the luxurious oceanfront home his family was renting in Kailua.

“He is as much as anything anxious to spend time where he grew up with his family and to see his sister,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Mr. Obama’s half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family live on Oahu. The president planned to visit with several childhood friends while on the island, and he was being joined on vacation by Chicago friends Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker.

On the president’s vacation reading list: “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” reporter Lou Cannon’s biography of the Republican president.

The president’s vacation won’t be all rest and relaxation. He was to be briefed by advisers daily and planned to spend time working on his State of the Union address scheduled for January.

Mr. Obama arrived here shortly before midnight Wednesday after having pushed back his scheduled Saturday departure to stay in Washington while lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session. He donned a green welcoming lei as he exited Air Force One.

He began his vacation on a high note, having secured victories on a nuclear arms treaty with Russia and the repeal of the ban on openly gay service members. He also struck a deal with Republicans to allow tax cuts for all income earners to continue, a compromise that angered some liberals.

The waning weeks of 2010 provided the president a much-needed boost after a volatile year and a self-described “shellacking” in the November midterm elections. Awaiting Mr. Obama in January: continued economic woes, a more heavily Republican Congress and a host of GOP challengers poised to run for his job in 2012.

Christmas in Hawaii has become a family tradition for the Obamas, who were spending their third straight year in Kailua.